What’s the difference between litho and digital print?

When producing print collateral it is essential that you have a basic understanding of the two most common methods of printing – lithographic and digital. Both techniques can produce a high-quality finish, but have a number of different benefits you should consider when working on a new print campaign.

If you are unsure which process you want to use for your marketing collateral, don’t worry!  This post will give you a quick overview of each process, the differences between the two and discuss the added extras available for each, as well as give you all of our contact details should you wish to discuss an upcoming job.

Lithographic printing

The litho print process begins with the desired images being burned onto metal plates using a laser. The image is then loaded on a printing press, ready to be transferred and offset on to a rubber blanket, before being printed onto your chosen stock.  There is significant setup time for this process, which is why a full wet proof often incurs a large additional cost.

Using lithographic print technology can provide a high quality and consistent image, as well as offering a huge number of finishes and coatings.  It’s also not limited to a 4-colour process, so you can really give your print the WOW factor. Colour accuracy is often stronger with litho too!

Lithographic printing allows you to print on a huge variety of stock, including paper, card and plastics, but offers a longer turnaround time than digital.  Short runs are not ideal for lithographic printing, as it becomes less cost-effective.


  • Economy of scale. The longer the run, the cheaper it is.
  • Great colour consistency and quality
  • Not limited to a 4-colour process
  • Paper stock flexibility
  • Huge selection of additional coatings and finishes available
  • Strong ‘green’ credentials


  • Expensive when working with short runs
  • Longer turnaround times than digital
  • No opportunity for personalisation
  • Costly to produce a wet proof

Digital printing

Unlike conventional lithographic printing, digital printing does not feature any mechanical steps, such as the production of plates. This means that the set-up time is faster, turnaround times are considerably quicker and a full proof should be available before the print run begins.

Although digital print can’t offer the array of finishes and coatings that litho can, it can accommodate personalisation, which is becoming increasingly popular in B2B marketing.

Digital printing runs on a 4-colour process, and Streamline Press is working towards developing a 5-colour process, and some unique printing capabilities not yet available on the wider market.

We can print a white ink now which allows us to print onto metallic paper and coloured stock. We also have an option to produce a spot varnish, and although this isn’t up to the same level as spot UV, it can offer an interested effect.


  • Super-fast turnaround times
  • Cheaper for small print runs
  • Personalisation available
  • Full proof available before the run starts
  • Increasing quality and colour accuracy – often hard to tell the difference


  • No economy of scale – it doesn’t get cheaper the more you print
  • Less additional finishes and coatings available
  • Not as hard wearing as lithographic print

Need advice? We can help!

If you would like more advice on which printing method is right for your requirements, speak to a member of our team by calling 0116 235 5003. You can also email enquires@streamlinepress.co.uk or visit the lithographic and digital print pages on our website.