What is the key difference between litho printing and digital printing?

Sprint Print offers you both digital and litho technologies so that we are able to pick the correct technology for each particular job depending on weight & type of stock, turnaround required, run length (number of copies) and quality required based on the original file supplied. We will make this decision with you in order to deliver the quality you expect at the price quoted and within the time frame that you expect…so down to the nitty gritty of just what is the key difference between litho printing and digital printing?

In a nutshell lithographic printing uses wet ink and printing plates whilst digital printing uses toners on a press similar to a giant office printer! Digital printing is more suitable for shorter runs and lithographic printing for longer runs.

Difference between litho printing and digital printingStock

Our digital machines will run on stock weights between 70 GSM and 300 (sometimes 350) GSM. Offset presses will run onto both lighter weights and heavier weights so should be used if the paper weight is of importance.

The digital machines we have at Sprint Print are generally more limited in the types of stock onto which they can print although the ranges are increasing all the time. It is still safe to say however that the ranges of stock for lithographic presses are still wider and generally cheaper if selecting a specialist stock.


For full colour printing digital presses are more suitable for the shorter run lengths, generally from 1 up to around 500 although this last figure may vary depending on the particular job requirements.

If you are printing in only one colour black, then this figure of 500 will increase considerably.


It is generally accepted that Digital printing is faster than litho printing since no complicated set-ups are required nor is there a need to make plates. This is where Sprint Print excel and can turn around your digital printing very quickly.


Historically, it has been said that litho printing produces the best quality and that is still true today. However, Digital printing quality is now so good that to the average layman, in most cases it is hard for them to tell the difference, if not impossible. The use of graduated tints and large solid blocks of colour would tend to lead to lithographic being selected as the preferred process however.


Digital is generally less expensive for the shorter runs and litho for the longer runs and we can offer you some very competitive pricing when it comes to fast turnaround digital print. Prices reduce significantly for the very long runs when it comes to lithographic, so much in fact that clients can question pricing, but it all comes down to once the machines are running, they only need to be fed the paper and ink without any time consuming set-ups again.


If a number of specific Pantone spot colours are required to a high level of accuracy, then it should be mandatory to specify lithographic printing. Digital presses are now very good at matching some Pantone colours, but are not as good a match.

Digital print tends to be slightly more forgiving in that it will produce good quality from images as low as 150dpi. Lithographic printing will need high res artwork with images all optimised for CMYK printing and set at 300dpi whereby you can set digital artwork to be printed in RGB format with not a lot of colour shift.


If you have a requirement to overprint your material after Sprint Print have produced it using our digital printers (eg on your home laser printer) then we would suggest using litho printing. Litho produced prints are more tolerant of subsequent over-printing and digital copies may result in ink smudges due to the heat involved.

Metallic Inks and UV varnishing

If you require Gold or Silver for example then this is best done using lithographic Printing, because digital print will not be able to handle the colours and does not print in single spot colours.

UV varnishing will also need to be litho printed as digital printing has it’s limitations when it comes to any specific finishing, other than folds.

Conclusion for the difference between litho printing and digital printing?

Well it’s probably best to get in touch and have a chat to discuss what the best options are for you, but at least this will help give you an outline of what both types of printing are and how they differ. Give Sprint Print a call on 01454 852255 or email info@sprint-print.co.uk