Digital Printing versus Litho Printing

With a wide range of printing techniques, machinery and print finish options on the market, choosing the right one can often be a confusing process. Here we explain the key differences between the two main forms of printing – digital printing versus litho printing.

Digital Printing

A digital printing press is basically a very big, fast, colour laser printer. A digital printer takes a file and prints a complete copy of that file, before starting the next.


  • Cost effective and fast for smaller print runs
  • No setup costs, you pay for what you use
  • Ideal for personalisation


  • Limited stock paper and card weight
  • Reduced range of ink and print finishing options
  • Can only print up to A3 in size

Range of Stock – most digital printers will cater for between 70gsm to 350gsm stock, up to A3 in size. For specialist stocks, printing Lithographically is often cheaper and produces a higher quality finish.

Run length – digital printers are suited to lower print quantities, typically between 1 to 500 off, but this is job-dependent. They are also extremely cost effective for printing in black and white, even at larger quantities.

Printing Speed – digital printing is widely accepted as being the faster printing option. A digital printer doesn’t need to be set up for every job or require plates to be produced, and the output is instant.

Quality – traditionally considered to produce a lower quality print compared to litho printing, digital printers have come a long way in recent years. The average layman, in most cases would find it hard to tell the difference between a good quality digital and a litho print.

Colour Range – digital printers print in 4 colour CMYK. Although able to match some specific Pantone colours, their accuracy does not compare to a Lithographic print. If a number of spot colours or specific Pantone is important then Litho print may prove the better option.

Variable Data – for the unique personalisation of every printed copy, digital printing is the only way to go, without proving to be an expensive and time consuming process.

Litho Printing

A lithographic printing press works by using a number of plates to press an inked image onto a piece of paper. All the copies of each plate are printed at once, and then the job is collated.


  • Superior printing quality and finish
  • Cost effective for larger print quantities
  • Flexible stock, ink and print finishing options


  • Time and cost associated with plate creation
  • Expensive for short print runs
  • Longer turn around times

Range of Stock – lithographic printers can take a wide range of printing stock weights, textures, finishes and sizes up to A1. Litho printing is the cheapest option for specialist stocks.

Run Length – litho printing is ideal for medium to longer print quantities, typically over 500 copies. For black and white printing, digital may still be the most cost effective alternative, even at higher quantities.

Printing Speed – lithographic print has longer lead times than digital print. This is because plates are created specifically for each printing job, and the printer must be set up accordingly. However, it is the most efficient way to print larger quantities.
Quality – lithographic printing gives a superior printing quality that is unrivalled by even the best digital printers.

Colour Range – litho printers provide the greatest accuracy in colour matching and printing specific pantone or spot colours.
Print Finishes – the use of many print finishing techniques, from embossing and foil blocking to metallic inks and UV varnishes is best associated with Litho printing.

Excel Colour Print now offer both Litho and Digital Printing. For more information or advice on the best printing method for your print work, get in touch today on (0115) 944 3377.