Understanding the type of paper required is difficult enough but knowing the right process for your printing Job is another test completely. Over the past few months we have briefly spoken about the various presses available. In many of the other blogs our focus has been elsewhere to avoid confusing the issue. After discussing paper type recently, now seems like the best time to explore the differences between litho and digital.

Of course you know that different presses produce different finishes. But it is important to understand when and how to use them. Your printer should always offer this advice of course. But with the million other things you have do, having a written reminder will always be helpful.


Let’s start with the basics and how the process works. Cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) ink make-up the four individual printing plates. When brought together, it produces the final image you see on the paper. There is a further option for another plate, using spot (pantone) colours. If you need fewer than four plates, using less is not always the cheaper option.

Litho printing is the original method used and one on which the whole industry was founded upon. The cost behind using litho is mostly found in the set-up process. Making the plates and getting the plates to ‘register’ ready for the job is what takes up much of this time. Although, CTP’s now make this faster than it used to be.

Economy of scale is where litho shows its true benefit to customers. This is why it is ideal for print runs above 250 units or so. You will have noticed that lower level batches are priced per 250, and the higher the order, the lower the unit cost. If your design has large areas of solid single colour, then litho is definitely the best option.

Because litho uses real ink, drying can become an issue. Turnaround times are a bit slower because of this. Although, next day deliveries are much more common place now. The biggest advantage litho offers is its flexibility. Paper is far from the only material it can print onto, as long as the surface is smooth. This, along with cost, is the main reason it remains the dominant choice of printing.


Digital print has come on leaps and bounds over the past decade. What was once looked down upon as cheap and inferior looking, is now a much needed part of the print industry. The technology has improved significantly in recent years and now produces higher quality work. Using the same four colour CMYK process, the image is produced by a number of small dots. Set-up time is a lot shorter than litho, as there no plates required and thus no registering.

This makes it ideal for small runs for leaflets and booklets under 250 units. Jobs with extremely short turnaround times should also look at this option. Items such as stickers, labels and posters are ideal. There is no drying time involved either, which means it is ready to be dispatched as soon as it is off the press. What many also find useful is the versatility found in digital printing. If a job needs personalising, it is much easier to do through this process. This is great for direct mail campaigns which require different names on each one.

Special finishes is not the strongest area of digital print either. Metallic or Spot UV finishes can be applied but they pale in comparison with what litho produces. Cost levels are also low because of the shortened set-up time. There are limits to the paper thickness that can be used, however, which stands somewhere in-between 80 to 300gsm. Litho offers a broader range in this respect, running from 60 to 500gsm. The variance of colour shade is far greater on digital, running into the thousands on some of more advanced machines.

As technology continues to improve then naturally the quality of digital printing will too. 3D printing is making vast leaps in that respect but the use of that tech extends beyond marketing. That does not mean that litho printing is on its way out, far from it. Its versatility will always mean it has a strong say in market forces.

Selecting the Right Process for your printing Job!

Print can be complex and confusing to newcomers – and to professionals like us too!  Understanding these differences will enable you to design and plan more effectively.  This is a simple start point to  improve efficiency and to make the job run more smoothly.

Our aim, at Evolution Print & Design is to empower you with the knowledge you need to produce exciting and successful marketing campaigns. We are always available to answer your queries, no matter how large or small. The important thing to remember is that help is always on hand and that we care as much as you do about getting it 100% right.

If you need any further explanations or clarifications please feel free to contact us on 0330 010 2264, email us on sales@evolutiondc.co.uk or simply fill in the form below.

13 + 4 =