When it comes to professional printing, whilst there are a number of options available, these can essentially be classified as variations of one of two processes: digital, or litho.
How does litho actually work?
Litho (short for Lithographic Printing) uses the principle of the separation of oil and water to actually get ink on to the page. It has its origins in the 1700’s, and whilst the process has been tweaked significantly over the centuries, the fundamental principle is the same.
The basic mechanism of this method is to create a flexible plate on which the image is overlaid in an emulsion coating. This plate is bent into a cylinder, and dampened. As water is repelled by emulsion, and ink is repelled by the water, the cylinder is then “inked” and transfers the resulting impression of the image to a final roller, which squeezes away all the water and lays the text on the image.
Each project is split into Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, with then each put onto its own plate and overlaid in sequence to achieve the desired colouration.
How does digital printing actually work?
Digital takes a different approach altogether, and works on the basis of using dots of toner or ink to achieve the desired outcome by speckling the paper directly with dots of ink or toner. In some ways it’s similar to the way you print at home, in that the print medium can be printed directly without plates.
Naturally, professional digital printing doesn’t use the humble inkjet printer that most of us have in our offices! However, the process is similar even if the actual printing machines are far more advanced and expensive than any home printer would be.
Some advantages of lithographic printing:
Lithographic printing allows you do a few things you can’t really do with digital.
1. Go big
Digital works well up to A3 size – after this point, most commercial digital printers start to run into difficulty.
2. Use unusual colouration and custom inks/finishes
Getting digital inks mixed to order gets very expensive. Equally, you’re not going to be able to include things like metallic ink and mixing it up different gloss finishes on the page, etc.
3. Use snazzy print mediums
There are more limited options in terms of the weight of paper that can be used with digital, and the surface of the paper must be receptive to digital inks which restricts texturing and other options.
4. Print in enormous volume
The costs of litho are in the set-up, which makes it cheaper to print in large volume than digital.
Some advantages of digital printing:
Digital printing does have a few tricks up its sleeve.
1. It’s cheaper for short runs
Because lithographic involves having to create a number of plates to be individually coloured and transferred, etc, it’s just going to cost a lot more to set-up a printing run. Digital, on the other hand, is more a case of “print and forget” without the set up costs.
2. It’s easy to vary designs and customise
No set up means more flexibility for adding variations to a batch of printed material, split designs and bespoke data messages, etc.
3. It’s quick
If you need something turned around very fast, minimal set-up time makes digital a quick solution.
But … which one gives the highest quality finish?
Lithographic printing has the edge in terms of sheer quality. It has the most durable finish and it’s superior at printing solid colours or accurately replicating gradients. That said, the gap between digital and litho has shrunk dramatically with the introduction of new technology.
Which method is right for me?
If you need to print a short run, or if you need to customise each end product with names from a database, or are looking to work very quickly, digital is definitely the format for you.
It’s worth remembering that whilst lithographic printing has the edge in terms of quality, you may find that with the advanced printing equipment we have, many people can’t spot the difference.
If you are in any doubt, give us a call and we’ll make sure you use the correct format for your needs.
If you would like to speak to the experts about how printed marketing collateral could help your business, please contact Danny today for more information: email@example.com.