Digital vs Litho printing – why should you care?

For many companies printing costs make up a substantial amount of their total marketing spend. Whether printing business cards, brochures, flyers or posters, getting the right fit between quality, quantity, cost and lead time can be tricky. For the average Joe there are essentially two major solutions for printing on paper; Litho Printing and Digital printing. In this article we will try to shed some light on the two processes.

Litho printing

Litho printing dates back all the way to 1799 when Alois Senefelder patented the process. The system makes use of water based inks that gets transferred onto the paper and soaks into the page. The colour spectrum is broken down in four colours Cyan (blue), Magenta (pink), Yellow and Black. Back in the day litho printers made use of litho positive film to create printing blocks, these days the system is mainly computer driven but the basic premise stays the same. The process offers the best possible print quality available on the market today with crisp clear printing that really brings out the design. Typically lead times vary between 5-7 working days.

Litho printing is best suited for larger print runs. Traditionally this meant having to print thousands of copies or even tens of thousands of copies to justify the cost. Modern day printing presses however print incredibly fast and although you still need to print a sizeable number of copies to make it worth your while, require a far smaller print run, when compared with 10 years ago. The mantra for the litho printer is quantity is king. By that we mean that whether you print 1000 copies or 3000 copies the difference in total price is relatively small.

Digital printing

Digital printing is a nice name for colour laser printing. Many of the systems use wax based inks that are fused onto the paper using a laser imaging unit. Digital printing has traditionally been the stop gap for smaller print runs. If you need to make 10 colour copies, you just hit print and there you go. The pro’s of digital printing is that it is essentially on-demand printing. Just print what you need and no more, but when you start talking volume the costs skyrocket when compared to litho printing.


There is a quite a bit more to choosing the correct printing process and we do not have time to explore it in detail in this article, but the general rule of thumb when it comes to printing is that if you print more than 500 full colour A4 pages, consider litho printing.

As always having someone with the necessary experience to guide you through the process will make things much smoother. With printing costs potentially running into the thousands, it is better to make use of someone that knows the industry well and can advise you on the best process to suit your budget, deadline and quality requirements.

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