The right print finish can make all the difference to a project, whether it’s business cards to hand out at work events or a company brochure to promote your products. But when working with a professional printing company, you’re likely to be faced with two options: digital or lithography. In this blog, we will explore the differences between these two processes and when to use one over the other.

What is litho printing?

Lithographic printing traditionally uses wet ink and printing plates to deliver the final image. This method of printing makes it possible to achieve very high resolutions and a high quality print with bold, smooth colours. Modern lithography works in a similar way to an office printer, using lasers to etch images and text onto a coated aluminium plate which is then placed on the rollers of the press. As the plate moved through the rollers, it collects ink in layers which are combined to create the final image.

Lithography printing isn’t suitable for short-run printing because it’s not cost-effective – there’s considerably more time needed to set up the job, from making the plates to running through spare materials to ensure the images are in line before the prints can be created. The ink also needs time to dry so the turnaround time is typically a little longer than with digital printing. But the results from litho printing are incredibly crisp and consistent.

What is digital printing?

Digital printing is a four-colour process which uses electronic files and dots of colour to create the final image or text. There aren’t any printing plates, such as with litho printing, so there’s less waste because the printer doesn’t need to be set up and prepared.

This method of printing doesn’t have a coating added to protect the print from marking or scuffing, but it is highly cost-effective and can be used for long or short-run prints. There’s also a quicker turnaround time since there’s no need for drying time in between, so it’s great if you need products printing at short notice. Digital printing offers substantial savings due to its ability to ‘print on demand’, so customers can order the exact quantities they require. It’s well-suited to small signs and flyers, labels and packaging, or customised stationery.

Key considerations between litho and digital printing

Weight of the materials

Digital presses can run paper weights between 80gsm and 300gsm, while litho presses can run up to 500gsm.


Digital presses tend to be more limited in the types of material they’ll print on – highly textured materials won’t print as well, compared to litho presses which can print onto a wider choice of materials.

Run length

If you need a short run length, from single prints up to around 2000 copies, a digital print is the best option. Litho printing is better suited to longer print runs due to the time needed to set up the job.

Lead times

If you need the prints quickly, digital printing is the best option as there’s no plate making required.

Colours required

If you need specific colours and a high level of reproduction accuracy, litho printing is the most suitable method as it offers a wider range of colour options.


If you need prints personalised, digital printing is the go-to option as each print can be made unique to the customer. For example, you may want to personalise direct mail campaigns with the names of recipients.

Finishes and inks

Litho printing presses are best suited to metallic inks, which don’t work as well with digital printing. Similarly, if you require UV varnishing, stick to litho prints.

Both litho and digital printing offer their own set of pros and cons, depending on the result you’re looking for and the size of the job. In basic terms, if you need a shorter print run or need the prints quickly, digital printing is the most cost-effective solution. However, if you’re looking for a crisp finish or you need a wider range of colours or ink finishes for the job, lithography printing delivers exceptional results.

Get in touch

At Treetop Design & Print, we’re experts in all aspects of printing, with over 35 years’ experience in the industry. We offer a wide range of printing services, from digital and litho printing to packaging design and promotional merchandise. Contact us today to discuss your next printing job or for advice on the best printing method for your needs.