Offset Litho vs digital printing

Litho vs

Technological advancements in the printing industry mean there are now more commercial printing options than ever before. Whatever the job, turn-around or budget there is an option to suit but how do you choose the right one?

Litho vs Digital

Whatever the job, turn-around or budget there is an option to suit but the huge range in available options has led to a lot of confusion for marketers, trying to understand the difference between the two most common types of printing, Offset Litho and Digital.

LItho Printing

The most common, high-volume, commercial printing technology is Offset Lithography. The image is burned onto a metal plate using a laser, which is then loaded onto the printing press. This image is then transferred (or offset) onto a rubber blanket and then onto the printing surface, be it paper, card or plastics. The process relies on the repulsion of oil and water; the image to be printed gets ink from rollers, while the non-printed area attracts a film of water, so it remains ink-free.


  • High quality, consistent image
  • Suitable for a wide range of surfaces including paper, card and plastics
  • Unit cost decreases as the quantity increases
  • Able to cope with long runs without losing quality
  • Special inks available – Pantone Spots and Metallics


  • Expensive set up on short runs
  • Longer turn around on jobs
  • Smaller colour gamut therefore colours can be less bright

Digital Printing

Digital printing removes many of the mechanical steps used in conventional printing, including making the plates.


  • Quick setup time leading to fast turnaround of orders
  • Bright, vibrant images on a range of materials
  • Cheaper option for low volume printing
  • Personalisation using a database where text and graphics can be changed on each item without stopping or slowing down the press


  • Expensive on longer runs
  • Less colour control
  • Not suitable for all printed surfaces
  • Quality can be inconsistent
  • Can be difficult to match pantone colours


How to Choose

To help you decide which option will work for your project take a look at the criteria below.

Quantity – Litho has additional set-up costs; making it expensive for short runs, but more cost-effective for high quantities.
Digital printing is a more suitable option financially for small quantities

Materials – Both processes offer a range of options when it comes to the medium you’re printing onto. It is possible to use the same materials with both digital and litho, however there can sometimes be clear differences in the printed results, in particular with uncoated stocks.

Colour – Most digital presses use a four-colour printing process, so if you need just one or two pantone spot colours, offset printing may offer a more cost-effective solution not to mention when specialist metallic inks are required.

Turnaround – Digital print offers a much faster turnaround as there is no mechanical set-up involved.

Proofing – If you need to see an accurate proof of the finished print before you order, digital is the way to go. Accurate proofs for litho printing can be expensive as it involves making plates and preparing the press.

Customisation – Digital printing offers the most affordable way to customise marketing materials, direct mail pieces and letters using variable data technology.

Whilst both methods will produce a high quality, attractive result, in order to determine which is best for your specific project, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. How many do you need to print? How quickly do you need them? And, do any elements need to be changed?

Answering these questions will guide you on whether to use litho printed packaging or digitally printed packaging.