What's the difference between litho and digital print?
The most obvious difference between printing your business cards lithographically and digitally, is the quality. The second difference will usually be price.
Generally speaking the ground rules are:
Â·The quality of litho print is better than the quality of digital print.
Â·But the set-up process of litho printing is expensive, which makes small print runs uneconomical
Â·However, once the litho press is set up, the cost per unit is very low.
Â·The set-up process of digital printing is fast and cheap, making low runs (or even one-off documents), relatively cost effective.
Â·But the cost per unit is more expensive with digital printing, so larger print runs become more expensive than litho runs.
Â·If you're printing large blocks of colour, gradients or tints, digital print will often cause problems with pixelating or banding of the image (not good)
Â·You can't always overprint digitally printed materials, meaning you might not be able to overprint your letterheads with the letter content without melting the colours in your letterheads (i.e. print your stationery lithographically!).
The short, very rough answer is this: if you want a short run (less than one thousand copies), you should probably print digitally and if you're printing more than a thousand copies of something, you should probably print it lithographically. BUT, if you want to print large images or large blocks of colour, it's likely that digital print will not produce the colours as consistently as a litho press. In this case, you should either a) remove the images or blocks of colour from your design and print digitally; or b) swallow the set-up costs and print lithographically.
Want to know more about litho print?
Amazingly, litho printing has been around for over two centuries. Lithography was invented and patented by Alois Senefelder in 1799, who, in much the same way as modern presses, took a flat stone, treated it so that the image areas attracted the oil-based inks, then pressed the stone against the surface he wanted to print.
Simply speaking, litho print will almost always give a better quality finish and more consistent colours than digital printing so if you're planning on printing something with a lot of colour - especially with large blocks of the same colour, litho print is almost always your best bet. The colours will be solid, whereas digital printing often leaves bands or stripes. But the problem with litho printing is the price, which comes almost entirely from the set-up process. The whole litho process relies on transferring or 'offsetting' an image from a metal plate to a rubber blanket, then on to the printing surface. It's mainly in the production of these metal printing plates that the cost lies. Once it's all set up, the ongoing costs are tiny (really just paper and ink), so the more you print, the more economical it becomes.
Want to know more about digital print?
Digital printing uses dots to produce an image from an electronic file, using ink and toner. No printing plates are required and there is generally less than with litho printing, as there's no need to check colour and registration. However, although the set-up process is cheap and relatively simple, the ongoing costs per unit are higher than with litho print, so larger runs are not cost effective.
Digital printing is particularly useful for personalisation, as each individual document can be tailored differently from a database. This means you could print a run of brochures, each personalised to a different customer, or you could print a Direct Mail piece with the address and name of the recipient printed as part of the design.
However, digital printing does have some disadvantages. Often, digital print has no protective film coating, which means it's vulnerable to the effects of UV, heat and moisture. It doesn't produce tints, gradients or solid colours as well as litho print and overprinting can be problematic (so if you print your letterheads digitally, you may have problems running them through your office printer when trying to print out a letter - clearly not ideal.
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