Different types of printing methods
By Candice Robertson
Types of Printing Cover Image

There are many different types of printing methods available, which evolve every year. Different needs or requirements suit each type of method. This means that you are able to choose a printing technique that best highlights your products or services. Keep reading to find out more about the different types of printing and how they vary from each other.

Lithographic Printing

Also known as litho or offset printing, the lithographic printing method has been around for centuries. Advancements in digital print technology have boomed in the industry. However, lithographic printing still remains a popular choice for high quality, high volume printing.

How it works

Modern lithographic printing involves the creation of printing plates which are treated in such a way that when ink is applied, the wet non-image areas repel the oil-based inks. In other words, oil and water do not mix. The oil-based inks adhere only to the images which must print. Consequently, the ink transfers onto a rubber blanket and presses onto the paper as it pulls through the machine.

The creation of these printing plates means that significant cost and time goes into making the job ready. Therefore, the litho print method is not cost effective and we do not recommend it for small print runs.

Benefits of Lithographic Printing

  • Most cost effective printing process for large print runs (unit cost decreases as quantity increases)
  • Flexible in terms of paper stock, sizes and textures
  • Allows the widest range of colour reproduction
  • Unrivalled image quality
  • Enhancement is possible with special or spot inks

Digital Printing

Digital printing is a four colour process reproduction method that uses electronic files (such as PDFs) and dots of colour to produce an image using toner or ink. Unlike litho printing, you do not require printing plates and there is less waste of chemicals and paper. This makes it one of the most popular types of printing methods.

How it works

Digital printing takes a different approach to lithographic printing. It involves assembling the images and making them ready for print, from a complex set of numbers and formulas. These images capture pixels, and the digitised image controls the deposition of ink, toner and exposure, to replicate the image you would like to print. 

Digital printers are, most commonly, inkjet or toner-based printers. Inkjet printers produce an image by mapping out tiny drops of ink onto the paper surface to create an image. Toner printers use a fine, plastic based powder to produce smaller dots than those of the inkjet printer. Printed material also comes out dry. 

Benefits of Digital Printing

  • Cost effective for small print runs
  • Less initial setup involved
  • Quick turnaround time
  • No additional drying time – job produced in finished format
  • Allows for personalisation – variable data added such as a sequential number, name or address
  • Less ink wastage since ink is only placed onto the parts to be printed. This is more environmentally friendly and also reduces the process to clean the plates after printing

Print on Demand

Print on demand (POD) is an ecommerce model that allows you to sell customised products. These products go to print only once someone places an order. People also refer to it as “on-demand printing”. With this type of printing, you don’t hold on to any physical inventory. Instead, you sign up with a POD platform that takes care of the printing and fulfilment process for you. This allows for prints of single or small quantities. POD is not common in South Africa and the quality of POD books can be inferior to books printed using lithographic or digital methods.

How it works

Once your book files are prepared and formatted for printed book production (including front and back cover, spine and book contents), they are sent to the book production facility and stored. The book printer receives the orders, prints and binds the books, and packages them to ship to the reader. 

Benefits of Print on Demand

  • Keeps titles perpetually in stock
  • Allows for variety
  • Prints any number of copies that fit your overall book marketing strategy and/or personal choice
  • Eliminates need for storage
  • Reduces financial risk
  • Allows for easy updating of existing titles

Keep these in mind when choosing your printing method

Different printing requirements suit different types of printing methods. As a result, there are a few considerations to account for when deciding on a print method.

These may help you decide on your print method:

Weight of MaterialsIn general, most digital presses will run paper weights between 80gsm and 300gsm, whereas litho presses will happily run from 60gsm up to 500gsm.
Type of MaterialsDigital presses are more limited in the types of material on which they can print successfully. Some heavily textured materials do not print very well and gloss papers can also end up a bit ‘flat’ if there is full image coverage. Litho presses have a much wider choice of materials available which are generally cheaper if selecting a specialist stock.
Run lengthDigital presses are more suitable for the shorter run lengths, generally from a single print up to around 1000-2000 (although this figure will vary depending on the particular job specification).
Lead TimeIt is generally accepted that digital printing produces a job quicker than litho printing as there is no job make-ready or plate making required.
QualityHistorically, litho printing was regarded as producing the best quality, and whilst that is still the case for many job specifications, digital print quality is now so good that in most cases it is hard to tell the difference.
Range of coloursIf specific spot [Pantone] colours are required to a high level of accuracy reproduction, then litho printing is the best option.
Personalisation [Variable Data]Digital printed items can be personalised. This makes each print unique to the recipient – for example a direct mail campaign could have the name of the recipient incorporated into the design which will increase the response rate.
Metallic InksMetallic inks do not reproduce very well in digital printing – best stick to litho.
UV varnishingUV varnishing does not sit well on digitally printed products – best stick to litho.

This table is sourced from “Litho and Digital Differences” by A Local Printer.

With so many different types of printing methods to choose from, we know it can be a bit overwhelming! We’re here to answer any questions you may have regarding the best printing methods for your product. Email us at info@preflight.co.za, call us on +27 12 342 5347, or send us a message on our website!

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