Print Priorities: Whether To Choose Litho or Digital? | DMA

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Print Priorities: Whether To Choose Litho or Digital?


Think print is just print? Wrong. These days there are various options to choose from. You must think carefully about how to print your brochure, book, magazine, or leaflet. And it’s vital to know the differences between the two main techniques: digital and litho.

There’s no clear winner in the battle between the two. Both have pros and cons. It depends entirely on the nature of your project. And you’ll need to balance factors like print quality, the vibrancy of colours required, print run size, and cost-effectiveness. It’s a fine line to tread.

The best thing to do – especially if you’ve got a lot on your palette – is to consult an expert. They’ll tell you which option is best for you. But in the meantime the guide below will help …

When to go Litho

Litho is short for offset lithography. It’s the most common high-volume commercial printing technique. Lasers etch images onto a metal plate that’s then loaded onto a printing press. Whereas toner from digital presses dries on the surface, litho uses wet ink that soaks in. This means the images created vary in final appearance.

Although critics claim litho’s smaller gamut means colours aren’t particularly bright, the depth of colour is top quality. In fact, litho is known for producing superior images whatever surface you’re printing on. Therefore, if your design requires large blocks of solid colour, look no further than litho. Imagery will seem a lot smoother.

When Litho is a no-no

The problem with litho, of course, is that setting up metal plates costs time and money. And once everything’s set it’s more difficult to make changes. If you want to send customised letters, for example, with variations for each recipient, litho simply isn’t practical.

Having said that, once the plates are set you can produce several copies with ease. Litho is therefore a great option if you’re planning a large print run. It could even save you money in the long term.

The digital difference

If flexibility and speed are important to you then digital could be best. There are no plates to set up. Your print professional will simply upload your design via a computer and away you go. This method keeps initial costs down so digital is certainly best for smaller print runs. What’s more, the visual results can be impressive.

There’s another important advantage too: if you want to play it safe, and see an accurate proof before printing begins, then digital is clearly best. After all, it’s far easier to tweak a digital file than it is to alter a plate that’s set.

The ability to make minor changes easily, and customise aspects of your print run, makes digital the clear choice for direct marketing campaigns. You can easily personalise letters and leaflets and alter the messaging for specific customers.

Digital drawbacks

Some claim digital has improved so much that there’s no discernable difference between digital and litho images. We wouldn’t go this far, however. Whilst digital printing occasionally creates more vibrant colours, litho really shows its worth when production values are highest.

Although digital performs just as well on glossy paper, litho certainly has the edge when it comes to rough or heavily textured materials. Printing pantone colours can also be awkward with digital. This can be a headache if your company logo requires a specific colour that digital cannot reproduce accurately.


Although litho is higher quality per se, and suits larger rather than smaller print runs, there are no absolute rules. For example, the quality of digitally printed images is just as good as litho if you’re using regular, glossy, silk, or uncoated paper. What’s more, although digital is generally cheaper, you might find litho more cost-effective if you’re printing large quantities of the same pages.

Overall, always consider the ‘five whats’:

What colours are you printing?

What material are you printing on?

What is the size of your print run?

What quality do you require?

What is your budget?

Your print expert will know what’s best once they have this information. Alternatively, if the integrity of imagery is all-important, seek advice from your graphic designer. Good art directors know which methods give specific marketing materials that extra oomph.

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