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Digital or litho printing?

A thorough explanation on how you should be printing your next marketing campaign!

12 September, 2019 Digital or Litho Printing? A thorough explanation on how you should be printing your next marketing campaign!

We discuss the differences and let you in on a trade secret that could make this tricky decision for you.

When you run a print marketing campaign, you need to get your materials, well, printed.

Doesn’t take a genius to work that one out.

But what you might not know is that there’s more than one way to go about the printing process.

The two most common printing methods that you’ll come across are lithographic (or “litho” as we call it in the trade) and digital.

The two methods offer different possibilities and, undoubtedly, there’s a time and place for each.

So let’s take a look at the differences between the two approaches and discuss how to choose which is the right route for your next print job.

What is digital printing?

If you’ve been living on planet Earth for even just a couple of years, you’ll probably know what a digital printer looks like.

(They’re the ones you find in offices across the world, and many homes too.)

In the digital printing process, computer-based images are applied with heat to paper (or whatever material you’re using), in the form of thousands of teeny tiny dots of toner.

(For anyone who’s been wondering what on earth toner is for the last however many years, it’s simply a very fine, coloured powder.)

Office-type laser printers have turned the world around in their ability to run off small batches of whatever print you need in your day-to-day.

But when it comes to print marketing, industrial digital printers (like the ones we use at Flow) are bigger and better.

They’re built specially to produce much higher volumes of print on a regular basis, and they don’t drop quality or colour variation as they go.

Sounds simple enough.

What’s litho printing then?

Where digital uses dry toner to print, litho uses wet ink. Crudely put, the process is essentially putting an image onto a printing plate as a stencil, covering it in ink and using it to print.

Your printing material (e.g. paper!) feeds into the printing machine from a large sheet.

And as your materials’ fed into the machine, the image is offset from the plates to the roller before being applied to the paper.

Then, once the print’s taken place, the paper gets cut down to the right size for your intended use.

You get a super-even distribution of ink, thanks to those fast, rubber rollers. And, like digital, you can do litho printing in both monochrome and full colour.

Digital printing: the advantages

Using digital printing, you can work on most types of paper thickness with no problems; laser printing is usually from A6 up to SRA3 but inkjet can be from stamps to the side of a building.

You avoid set-up costs because, unlike with litho printing, there isn’t an intricate setting up procedure.

But for a marketer, probably the most handy of all the digital’s plus points is its flexibility.

As digital file handling programs have become more sophisticated, so has print personalisation.

Now, using digital printing, you can print changing sets of data and personalise content to individuals without really batting an eyelid.

You do that with VDP (variable data printing). Perfect for direct marketing, customer relationship management, advertising, invoicing and addressing, VDP gives mass distribution a one-to-one feel.

Using variable data, you can create a more targeted printed marketing campaign and expect great returns if you do it right.

Litho printing: the advantages

Digital might sound like the best option for your print job right now but litho’s been around since 1796 for a reason. Many reasons, in fact.

See, the thick liquid applied to the print rollers means that you can use special spot colours, metallics and pantones to get the exact effect you’re looking for.

You’re pretty much guaranteed a high quality finish with a lower price tag.

You can also use nearly any paper thickness you like with litho too; from a lightweight 35gsm to a thick, heavy card.

And while drying times might be longer (they’re virtually non-existent with digital), it can be a more cost-effective method for printing large numbers of exact copies.

So litho or digital printing?

As you’ve seen, there are plenty of reasons to go for either method. But here are a couple of clues to help you decide.

If you need a quick turnaround on a smallish batch or want personalisation throughout the campaign, digital’s the way to go.

If you’re looking for a premium print on a bigger batch, you’re using exact brand colours or you’re featuring large areas of solid, single colour, litho’s your man.

And if you want all of the above?

Do both.

See, at Flow we can do magic. Well, we can apply both methods of printing to the same marketing campaign.

That’s because, after your high end litho print’s been trimmed, you can actually finish it through a digital printer for personalisation.

Doing so will reduce your digital print costs because personalisation tends to be done in monochrome and the ink coverage will be tiny compared to a full page digital print.


With years of experience in managing, sourcing and running every type of print job under the sun, Flow are here to help.

Tell us a little about what you’re looking for and we’ll show you how to get the very best results and returns at the very best price.

One response to “Digital or Litho Printing? A thorough explanation on how you should be printing your next marketing campaign!”

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