We are often asked what the difference is between litho and digital printing and which promotional business calendar jobs are more suitable to each type of printing.

For those of you just looking for the short answer: Digital printing is more suitable for short runs whereas litho printing is more suitable for longer runs. This is mainly because of the preparation time (make-ready) needed for litho printing.

Digital printing uses toners and is like a huge office printer. Litho printing uses wet inks and printing plates for each colour.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is produced from four colours – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK), from artwork files such as PDF’s. Dots of colour produce an image using toner or ink.

Advantages of Digital Printing:

  • There is no set up required, just hit a button and print so it is cost effective for smaller run jobs.
  • Turnaround time is quick as there is no setup or drying time needed.
  • Digital printing is a good method for personalising print and calendars with variable data, for example a different company name on each item. This would be impossible on a litho press as a separate printing plate would be needed for each change of variable data.

Disadvantages of Digital Printing:

  • There may be some cracking along any creases if digitally printed sheets are folded.
  • There may be issues with applying additional processes onto digitally printed sheets, for example foiling, laminating, spot UV varnishing.
  • Exact colour matching is not as accurate as Litho printing

Litho Printing

Litho printing is how we create the majority of our Promotional Business Calendars. We litho print ‘blank stock’ of our promotional calendar range which are then overprinted with customer’s business adverts when orders are received.

A printing plate is created for each single colour in the image, for example there would be four plates for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. The printing plate is mounted onto the printing press and then it is inked. The inked image is transferred to a rubber blanket which is then pressed against sheets of paper to transfer the image onto the sheet. Together, the images from the four printing plates complete the finished full colour print.

It is also possible to have spot colours other than CMYK with a separate printing plate for this colour. This may occur if a company has a specific pantone colour or for metallic inks.

A lot of the promotional customer adverts that we overprint onto our calendar blanks are single colour adverts so only one printing plate is required for the single colour.

Advantages of Litho Printing:

  • Spot colours or metallic inks can be used so specific corporate colours can be matched exactly.
  • Litho printing is better for large blocks of solid colour, gradients or tints of colour.
  • Finished sheets have a coating which helps to protect the sheets from scuffing and marking.
  • Litho printing presses can generally handle a wider range of paper weights. For example between 60gsm and 500gsm paper weight is standard for litho presses but only 80gm to 300gsm paper weight on digital presses.
  • Litho printing presses can also handle heavily textured paper better.
  • In the past litho printing was perceived as higher quality, however advancements in digital print technology has brought the two methods much closer in quality and finish.

Disadvantages of Litho Printing:

  • A lot of time is needed to ‘make-ready’ which in turn means a lot of cost. Each of the printing plates has to be lined up or ‘registered’ correctly and this in turn uses a lot of paper.  This is the reason why litho printing is not suitable for short run printing as the cost of the ‘make-ready’ is spread over the number of units produced. Hence a smaller number of units would have a higher unit cost than a higher number of units.
  • Turnaround time is longer as time for the ink to dry has to be factored in before further finishing processes can be started.