Litho Printing vs Digital Printing (Lithographic Prints Compared to Digital Prints + Pros & Cons)

What Is the Difference Between Litho and Digital Printing?

When it comes to printing technology, there are two primary methods: litho and digital. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, which can make one or the other more suitable for a particular job.

But before we look at the key differences between litho and digital printing, let’s quickly take a look at what litho printing is (since most of us are not familiar with this type of printing method).

What Is Digital Printing?

If you’ve ever looked at a modern art print in an art gallery, or on the wall of a trendy coffee shop, then you’ve seen the work of a digital printer.

Digital printing is the process of reproducing images by a computer. The digital files are sent to the printer, which prints the images on a sheet of paper.

The great advantage of digital printing is that it enables you to print any quantity, from one copy to millions. And because there is no need for plates or other equipment, there are no setup fees – so you can print as many or as few copies as you need, at any time.

Digital printers can produce very high-quality prints, rivaling those produced by traditional lithographic methods (which we’ll look at in the next section). They are also very versatile, and can be used to produce everything from small brochures to large format posters.

In recent years, digital printing has become increasingly popular with artists, who use it to create limited edition prints and other unique works of art.

What Is Litho Printing?

When you see a beautiful, colorful print in a magazine, or on a product package, there’s a good chance it was created using litho printing (also called lithographic printing or lithography).

If you don’t know what litho printing is, I suggest you watch the video below to get a beginner’s take on what litho printing is all about. (Don’t want to watch the videos below? No problem! Scroll down and keep reading!)

What is Litho Printing?

To see a more detailed, real-life look at how a lithographic printer works, check out the video below:

How Does the Litho Printing Process Work?

Basically, this is how litho printing works:

The whole foundation of litho printing is based on the fact that water and oil just don’t mix together.

Offset lithographic printing, the most popular type of litho printing, begins with the pre-press stage where a digital image is broken down by color (usually 4 colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, black).

Then, a laser etches these 4 different colored images into 4 different undercoated aluminum plates called printing plates (or sometimes called press plates).

Each of these 4 printing plates is then loaded onto 4 rollers known as the plate cylinders.

During the printing process, the plate cylinders start to continuously roll. Meanwhile, each plate cylinder is dampened with water and oil-based ink.

Now, why would you want the printing plate to be dampened with water and oil? Because the oil-based inks stick to the image area but do not stick to the negative areas (the areas where there’s no image).

Now, the image on the plate cylinder is printed on another cylinder with a rubber blanket, called the blanket cylinder. The addition of this “blanket” process results in a clearer and sharper final image and is where offset printing gets its name.

Paper is loaded, one by one, into the start of the press and is passed between the 4 different colored blanket cylinders and yet another cylinder, called the impression cylinder. When the paper is between the blanket cylinder and the impression cylinder, it receives the printed image in one of the CMYK colors and is then passed on to the next blanket/impression cylinders to receive another color.

After the page has traveled through each of the 4 different colored units, it is piled at the end of the press with a thin layer of powder separating each page so that the printed image can dry without sticking and marking the other pages above and below it.

What Are the Advantages of Litho Printing?

Perhaps the most obvious advantage of litho printing is that it produces a very high-quality print. Images are sharp and clear, and text is highly legible. This makes litho printing the perfect choice for high-end printed materials such as magazines, brochures, and booklets.

Another advantage of litho printing is its ability to produce large quantities quickly and efficiently. This makes it a popular choice for printing jobs that need to be completed quickly.

What Are the Disadvantages of Litho Printing?

The main disadvantage of litho printing is the high cost of setting up the press. This cost can be prohibitive for small businesses and self-publishers. Litho printing is best suited for larger volume prints as most of the cost is in the initial setup and the price per print will fall as the quantity goes up.

Litho printing also requires a skilled operator to produce a quality print.

Is Litho Printing Better Than Digital Printing?

The answer to this question is: It depends.

Litho printing is generally considered to be of higher quality than digital printing. Compared to digital prints, litho printing produces sharper images with more detail and can provide greater color accuracy and consistency. Litho printing can also use metallic inks (like gold, silver, and bronze).

Although digital prints can sometimes look less sharp or professional than litho prints, digital printing technology is evolving fast, the quality is continuously improving, and the quality often mimics offset lithographic printing.

Also, digital printing can be less expensive for small print runs because it doesn’t require an extensive setup as litho printing does.

Digital printing enables additional advantages, like quick printing edits, making small inexpensive test samples, and enabling print-on-demand companies to print a single art print only once a customer has purchased an item (like iCanvas, Society6, and Redbubble).

While digital printing does have some benefits, such as being able to print on a wider range of materials, litho printing is still the superior choice for most print jobs which require large print runs on paper.

Ultimately, the best type of printing depends on the specific needs of the project.

Conclusion: Litho vs Digital Printing

In conclusion, litho and digital printing are two very different ways of producing prints.

Litho printing is a traditional, time-consuming printing process that is much more expensive than digital printing.

Yet, litho printing produces a much higher quality product. If you are looking for a high-quality finished product, litho printing is the way to go. If, however, you are on a budget, digital printing is a more affordable option.

Also, litho printing is better for a large quantity of prints, while digital printing is better for smaller quantities or when prints need to be customized.

There are pros and cons to both litho and digital printing, so it’s important to weigh the options and decide what’s best for your project.