What is the difference between Digital and Litho printing?

A quick guide to the pros and cons of Digital and Litho Printing

What is the difference between Digital and Litho printing? Not as straight forward as you may think. Over the last decade Digital presses have made gigantic leaps forward in technology, performance, accuracy and quality, but Litho presses have done exactly the same.


Today’s Digital presses are more flexible and powerful than ever. They vary from A4 plus to oversize A2 and banner printer ( Longer lengths) They offer a comprable choice of stock, finishes, laminating and finishing options inline that is easily equal to Litho printing. Digital is great for short run printing, personalisation and meeting those deadlines.

Digital printing allows a job to go directly from a computer file direct to a printer or RIP (Raster image Processor), before being released to the printing press. This makes digital printing very quick to produce and extremely cost effective on short run work. Very much as you would send a file to your home printer. On demand printing is where digital scores heavily but it also has the option of variable data.


Variable data is where Digital outperforms litho. Personalised printing is where information can be added or changed to personalise letters, flyers, invitations, in fact virtually anything can be personalised. It can include a person’s name, address, product details, change images and graphics on each individual printed sheet. Personalising prints is easy and quickly done and set up costs are relatively small. Litho machines can also offer personalisation but normal this is applied on a second run.

Lithographic printing

Lithographic or ‘litho’ printing is a process is completely different. Your file is handled by a Pre Press or Reprographics department. It is checked and it is proofed, passed before sending to a RIP where it is digitised and a printing plate is produced. You need four plates to produce a full colour job, excluding any spot colours. The plates are then loaded onto a printing press where the plates are inked and this image transfer to a blanket before the paper.

Digital printing normally has a cost per click which does not vary and so has a limitation on its cost effectiveness. Litho printing is more expensive to set up but the cost reduces dramatically as the volume increases.

We are blessed to be in an age where printing has become very cheap. Prices have been drive down by cash rich, American and European Printer offering cut prices. These price cuts have seen the gap between the Digital and Litho prices narrow. Today’s modern printing presses have short run set ups, automatic plate changing which enable then to compete with Digital Print on shorter runs.

Stock Materials

Flyers, Leaflets, Business Cards, Brochures and other marketing materials can be printed on a range of materials such as silk, gloss, uncoated, textured stocks, all with different weights, which is measured as gsm ‘Grams per Square Meter’. Between both litho and digital printing there is little difference between weight and quality of stock. For instance Digital is on 120gsm, Litho is on 130gsm, Digital, 160gsm, Litho 170gsm, small but virtually indistinguishable differences. Litho printing however produces better quality work when printing rough or heavily textured materials.


  • No set up time or cost
  • Instant proof of finished job
  • Instant printing
  • Runs virtually the same stock as litho
  • Same finishing options
  • Cost effective short runs
  • Special spot colours and foil options
  • Personalisation


  • Most printers require sign of before printing
  • Plates have to be produced
  • Expensive hard copy proofing
  • Better quality
  • Significantly lower cost on high volume
  • Multiple spots and finishes can be applied inline
  • Better for heavy and texture paper


There is no specific printing technique that is better than the other. It all depends on what you are printing, how many prints you need, and the material you’ll be printing on. They only factor where digital is king is speed and if you need personalisation.

Put simply for the vast majority digital printing is cost effective when it comes to printing a few prints whilst litho printing works out cheaper if you are printing large quantities.

Litho printing is the better quality method when using textured paper and perhaps when the design requires a large colour block coverage. However, when you are printing on a more typical stock, the quality between the two printers isn’t noticeable. In fact many printers don’t even tell you if its litho or digital.

When it comes to choosing between digital and litho printing, you need to take these factors into consideration such as the quantity of the print, the material you want the print to be printed on, your budget and the design you are wanting to be printed as both printers have their pros and cons and certain aspects of the factors you need to consider.

If you need more information and you need advice please do not hesitate to call PrePress on 07974 407644, we are here to help.