Insights   |  Print vs Digital

Print vs Digital

So when should I choose
Digital printing over traditional
Litho printing & visa versa?

Jason gives a bit of an insight & advice in regards to digital print versus lithography...

Well, things have really changed over the years & quite quickly too. I have already mentioned that I came from the print industry during my ramblings, the print was where I learnt my trade. Starting out as a paste-up artist, then learning how to run presses, guillotines, slitting machines, collating machines, foiling, numbering perforating, bookbinding you name it I did it. I even made printing plates & negatives collected debts, created invoices, job bags, estimates & would you believe it designed & artworked to boot. I basically learnt the whole printing process from beginning to end quite literally.

Family of printers

Both my father before me & Grandfather before him were in the printing industry. My father started out doing
an apprenticeship both at the London College of Printing & at the firm he worked at. I believe it was a 7-year graft before he was banged out as they call it in the trade (he earned his stripes in other words). He went on from creating hot lead slugs & compositing to becoming a proofreader & the FOC (Father of the Chapel) at the Sunday Telegraph before Eddie Sha & the Today paper (the first colour newspaper in the UK) introduced new technology & started the Wapping dispute in 1986 I was 14 when they all lost their jobs.

My Grandfather had long retired by then, he was of the war hero generation & did his bit for King & Country serving in Africa & France. He had worked as a machine minder at the Guardian Newspaper back in the day so the family tradition goes back to him & now Kris his Great Grandson is starting his career in the same industry albeit he is into design & motion graphics.


Back when I started we never had digital presses or online devices, mobile phones were in their infancy & litho printing was King. We had only just started using Apple Mac's in design studios, stuff was still done mainly by hand. In the decades that followed my initial steps into the world of print, technology moved so fast it made us dizzy trying to keep up. But we were young back then, sponges that soaked it all up & adapted with ease.

Digital print when it first arrived wasn't particularly great, but as advances increased & technology became cheaper & more cost-effective more & more printing companies adopted the new kit. At first, it was only really good for short runs, it was limited to what kind of stock you could use with it & what paper size. Litho, on the other hand, has always been the better option if you want longer print runs as once the machinery has been set up the speed of which a litho press can run is still superior to a digital printer. However, that will not always
be the case.

Where Litho beats Digital hands down is when it comes to the senses, Litho has a smell a feel, you can print on many more types of paper stock than you can on Digital presses, enhancing the experience by using differing materials. (again improvements to Digital presses mean they will be able to print on most stocks & stock weights eventually). You can use special spot colours to achieve vibrant solids that you cant achieve in CMYK emulations alone. You can have spot UV varnishes with both Litho & Digital these days as its a separate run anyway on a specialist piece of kit with a UV lamp. 


All in all the quality of Digital print at present is comparable with Litho yet it still & will always lack the sensation you get when you receive your printed job & the smell of fresh ink hits your nostrils, you just can't beat that feeling. It will never feel as bespoke or as crafted as a litho piece & will always feel like the cheap alternative (which is ok if your budget only allows for Digital print).

The printing industry has also taken a beating due to the emergence of online publications. Newspapers are not selling like they used to, now they are having to sell subscription-based news where you get your content online, whether that be a newspaper or your magazine intake. There are no production costs to speak of with Digital publications & alterations can be made at any time without incurring additional costs in re-running content. 

Many say the printing industry is dead (litho), & to a degree they are right, the heyday of printing is over the vast majority of the material is either online these days or printed digitally to save on costs. Digital printers have undercut the small print shops so much that they have gone out of business & the only surviving litho printers are those who held onto the really old-fashioned printing techniques of Letterpress where foiling & embossing / debossing are still required. Print finishers are still in demand & specialist bespoke companies also survive.

Before Digital printing came about CMYK work was deemed as special it held a premium, now its replaced with cheap digital alternatives that make its existance less & less appealing to the average punter. Letterpress foiling & embossing is the new 4 colour printing in terms of desirability.

So where to use Digital vs Litho?

• Short runs - Digital
• Low Budget - Digital
• Throw away items - Digital
• Short turn around required - Digital
• Less waste - Digital

• Priority on quality - Litho
• Long runs (over 1000 copies) - Litho
• Spot colours - Litho
• Special inks & finishes - Litho
• Embossing - Litho / Letterpress
• Debossing - Litho / Letterpress
• Special paper or boards - Litho
• Heavy paper or boards - Litho
• Coloured paper or boards - Litho


You will be unsurprised from my families history that my loyalties still lie with Lithography even though Digital printing is of a decent standard these days. You might well be, more surprised to hear, that I think that, we should not be scared by new technology, & that print will never die by the hand of onscreen publications or digital alternatives. All three mediums should & will coincide with each other, their roles are different & quite rightly so. There is room for the tactile one on one experience of a bespoke printed item you can hold & feel also there is a place for quick turnaround low budget run of the mill digital printed items as well as swift on the go, in your face on-screen information.

Get a quote 

If price is your only criteria & you are still unsure after reading this, the best solution is to obtain a quote from your regular print specialist. Alternatively, we can organise a quote for you & talk through your options. 


If you are in need of a little extra help in achieving your creative goals,
need some advice or simply need to offload a project you have no
internal resource for then get in contact today.