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Digital Printing vs Litho: What's The Difference?

Digital and litho printing presses both use the standard four-colour printing process: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK). However, each method requires different types of ink. Here's what you need to know:

  • Litho presses utilize a thick, tacky, wet ink paste, which means your prints must be left to dry before finishing. Additional processes can speed up drying, but it won't be immediate.

  • HP Indigo Digital Presses use Electroink, a unique liquid ink combining the advantages of digital printing with liquid ink qualities. Prints are ready for finishing right after printing, allowing for faster turnaround and delivery times.

When it comes to special inks, litho printing frequently uses metallic and fluorescent inks, while digital printing offers a wider gamut of coloured inks, making it perfect for branded materials and themed events.

Regarding spot colours, both litho and digital printing can handle them effectively:

  • Traditionally, litho printing uses specifically mixed Pantone coloured inks to match the Pantone colour chart, which may cost more than using CMYK inks.

  • However, advancements in digital printing technology, such as HP Indigo Electroink, allow for the accurate reproduction of a vast number of colours using the standard four-colour process.

In terms of setup, digital printing requires minimal setup as print-ready files are sent directly to the press, enabling unique designs for each page, ideal for small to medium print runs. Conversely, litho printing involves creating printing plates before transferring the designs to paper, making it a more time-consuming and potentially costly process.

When it comes to paperweights and substrates, litho printing offers a broader variety due to its longer presence in the industry, ranging from 60gsm to 500gsm. Digital printing, while not as extensive, still provides an impressive selection of substrates with weights between 90gsm and 400gsm.

Traditionally, litho printing was regarded as having the best print quality. However, advancements in digital printing technology, such as HP Indigo Electroink, now offer comparable print quality with faster turnaround times and better pricing.

In terms of speed, although litho presses print more A4 sheets per hour than digital presses, the setup time can offset the overall turnaround speed. Hence, digital printing is considered faster, allowing for same-day production or express production for various products.

Regarding cost, digital printing often turns out to be more cost-effective due to its lack of minimum print runs. By printing small to medium batches, you can save both time and money, while litho printing may incur significant costs for larger quantities.

For personalization, digital printing shines since it can print images on a line-by-line basis, allowing each sheet to be different. This makes it ideal for invitations, place names, and other personalized items, while litho printing's reliance on printing plates can make personalization costly.

For faster turnaround times and environmental friendliness, digital printing is the preferred choice. Digital printing's ability to print only what's needed reduces waste, making it more environmentally friendly than litho printing, which often involves large print runs and potential overproduction.

In conclusion, digital printing offers fast turnaround times, cost-effectiveness, and environmental benefits, making it a superior choice for many print jobs. Whether you need high-quality prints delivered the next day or personalized materials, digital printing has you covered without the constraints of minimum print runs.


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