First off, digital printing covers a pretty broad range of applications since it's the buzzword for the reproduction of digital images (artwork) on physical surfaces. This includes paper or print stock, as well as cloth and plastic etc. In print terms, digital printing is essentially the same as your home printer, just on an industrial scale. Toner (ink) is transferred to the material as dots of colour (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) which make up the image. There's very little set up making turnaround time fast, and as prints are usually run individually (often on a3 sheets) there's little to no 'economy of scale' when printing 50,000 compared to 50. As a result, digital printing is usually used for short run printing of up to 2500 copies.
Litho (lithographic) printing is a process where an inked image on a plate is transferred to a rubber roller inside the printing press. As paper stock passes through the press, ink is transferred directly on to the page. The resulting print is far higher quality than with digital printing, with gradients and areas of solid colour reproducing as they should be - unlike digital printing where they're 'interpreted'.
Set up time with litho printing is time heavy, but artwork is 'ganged' together and printed in bulk, which massively reduces the cost per unit. As such it's perfectly suited to longer run print jobs (usually 2500+).
The upsides of both...
- Digital printing is ideal for short run, fast turnaround print jobs
- Litho printing is ideal for long run, slower turnaround print jobs
- Litho printing is higher quality than digital printing
The downsides of both...
- Digital printing is expensive for longer run print jobs
- Litho printing is expensive for short run print jobs
- Digital printing is lower quality than litho.
So, armed with this knowledge, you should have a basic idea of what the differences are, and therefore which you should be looking to buy. Some printers offer either digital or litho, where others (like us) offer both.
Hope you found this info useful, if you have any questions let us know!