Over the last decade, we’ve seen books become PDFs and experienced the introduction of 3D printers. On top of that, there’s been a general shift away from using too much paper as society aims to become more eco-friendly and reduce any stress on the planet. There has also been a major shift to digital marketing as the Covid pandemic has spread. As we continue to digitise, the idea that digital printing is set to replace traditional lithographic (litho) printing has been mulled over within the industry. Digital printing can, depending on the project, offer a cheaper and quicker alternative to litho printing.

Whether this is enough to overtake traditional litho printing, however, is yet to be seen. As technology improves across the globe, there are also huge improvements occurring within the printing industry. More and more ways of commercial printing are being introduced. That is why there are so many options to choose from when it comes to your marketing material.

The two most common types of print options you will hear of is litho and digital printing.

digital print printulu

Digital VS Litho. What is the difference?

Litho and digital printing are very different. Litho printing uses wet ink and printing plates, whereas only some digital printers use ink and others use toner on a press (similar to how your regular office printer works). 

Both have pros and cons, which need to be weighed before making a decision on which one is best for you.

Let’s have a quick look at how they compare with:

  • Print quality
  • Speed
  • Cost
  • Types of materials
  • Personalisation

Print Quality

Print quality is obviously extremely important, especially if you are using printed products to market your business. Normally when it comes to comparing both printing techniques, litho printing produces products of a higher quality than digital does. However, with new technology, it’s tough for the average person to see the difference between the two techniques.

Litho printing is still the better choice when your design requires large sections of solid colour. This is because the colour will come out looking a lot smoother. This is especially true when using a super-sophisticated drying technique like LED UV.

The finish of the print also differs very much between both printing techniques. When it comes to litho printing, the ink used soaks into the paper, whereas with digital printing the ink sits on the surface of the paper. This means that the same image could look different depending on which method of printing was used.

Another consideration to keep in mind is the type of paper stock you are using to print your images on. With textured or coloured paper, litho printing is the better option. However, when printing on glossy, silk or uncoated paper, there isn’t much visible difference and both techniques will offer good coverage and high quality prints.


Digital printing has a very quick set up time, as the design is uploaded onto a computer and then you press print and the print begins – just like the everyday office printer. Quick and easy. Once the print has begun, it can print around 4800 sheets per hour.

When it comes to litho printing, the set-up takes a lot longer, as the design has to be made on printing plates. However, when this process has been done, litho printing produces more prints – at around 18 000 sheets per hour.

When deciding which option is best, you have to consider the quantity you want in the specified time. If you want a smaller amount printed quickly, then digital printing is the best option. However, if you are looking at producing larger quantities, then litho printing is the better option for you.


Digital printing doesn’t take much time to set-up, so there is no initial set-up charge. You don’t have to pay until the actual printing process has begun. You only pay for the paper used, and what is known as “click charge” – which is each sheet that goes through the digital printing machine.

Litho printing is different. There is a set-up process before the printing begins, so this includes a charge. Like the digital process, you also have to pay for the paper and ink used. However, after the initial set-up cost, litho tends to be more affordable than digital printing, because once the printing plates have been created, you can use them as often as you want. Litho printing is also faster than digital printing during the process.

To produce a small amount of material at a low price, digital printing is the better option. But litho printing works out cheaper when producing a large amount of prints.

Types of materials

Leaflets, brochures and other marketing materials can be printed on a range of materials such as glossy, silk, uncoated, textured and coloured card or paper. In the trade, the technical term for this is “stock”.

Between both litho and digital printing, litho printing produces better quality work when printing on all materials; whereas digital printing does not print as well on rough or heavily textured materials.

When printing on paper, choosing between litho and digital printing won’t affect the quality as they will produce very similar outcomes. There isn’t much difference between the two types of print on materials such as paper.


Personalised marketing products can make a big difference such as including a person’s name, and, with digital printing, personalising prints is easy and quickly done as there is no extra set-up procedure.

When it comes to litho printing, as the design has to be created onto the printing plates, having personalised prints will be costly as there will have to be a different plate for each print. Therefore, when it comes to personalising your prints, digital printing is the best option as it is easily done and doesn’t cost anything at all. More on personalising your prints later in this article.

So, which is better?

There is no specific printing technique that is better than the other when looking at all the possible products you can print. It all depends on what you are printing, how many prints you need, what level of quality you need, the material you’ll be printing on, how quickly you need the prints, if you need personalisation, what your budget is, and so on.

Both printers have their pros and cons and certain aspects of the factors you need to consider. 

How quickly is digital taking over lithography? 

Lithographic printing is a method that has been used since 1796. 

Digital is much newer, and was invented in 1989. It is unique when compared to litho as it’s not designed for mass production or long print runs. Digital does, however, offer some great benefits.

  • High-quality images
  • Low set-up costs
  • Data variability from print to print

We’ve already covered the first two points above, but the last point is key. With digital printing, the option of variable data printing is available. Each print can be customised based on the data entered into the printing software, meaning that companies that need custom barcodes or unique identifiers on packaging can easily adapt their templates for this purpose. Litho can’t accommodate print jobs in this way.

Primarily, as mentioned above, the biggest drawbacks of digital are its relatively high production costs and slow production speed. It’s not suitable for print jobs where thousands of labels need to be created, and it doesn’t offer cost advantages at scale.

Where digital is ideal, though, is for short runs (and it’s becoming more economical for bigger projects as digital technology develops). Digital print for the packaging market reached over $12 billion in 2019 alone, but it’s still limited in its capability compared to more established printing methods such as litho.

How are printing companies enabling smarter marketing using VDP? 

Simply put, variable data printing (or VDP) is a digital printing technique that changes certain elements, such as text, graphics, images, and so on for each print.

If your business uses or sends print marketing materials, variable data printing is something you should consider.

For example: imagine you want to send your customers personalised thank you cards for their loyalty. With VDP, you can select the layout, fonts and basic text, and print each card with a different name.

How does variable data printing help you?

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes for a second and see things from their perspective. They receive tons of junk mail, emails, ads and other promos on a daily basis, trying to get them to buy, buy, buy. As you know, it gets annoying pretty fast.

VDP changes that dynamic and helps you make a good impression. Taking the time to personalise communication shows customers you value their business, and understand who they are and what they want. Not only will variable data printing save you a lot of time (because you won’t have to change the name for every card manually), it can also shift perceptions.

How should you use it? How does it work?

There are three ways to use variable data printing.

  • You can change the header information. This is the most common use of variable data printing – it keeps everything the same except for the name of the person to which you address your material.
  • You can change text and images based on the group demographics you’re targeting.
  • You can change everything for every name in your target list, also known as full variability printing.

Your design will have a couple of static elements that are the basis (or template) for your material. When combined with the variable fields, the base design remains the same for each document, and the changes in composition are defined by the variables chosen.

The actual process of VDP largely depends on the company handling the printing. But, there are some common methods printers use.

  • Printing the static document first and then printing the variables over it. This is one of the simplest variable data printing styles. Keep in mind that it usually works best for simple designs with fewer variables.
  • You combine the static elements and the variables before printing by using standard software. While this method allows for more complex designs, it slows down the printing process.
  • You produce optimised print files by combining static and variable elements through special VDP software.

P.S. Did you know that Printulu offers variable data printing? Read more here.

So, will digital print ever replace litho printing?

Some people think that as digital printing technology evolves, the demand for litho printing might die out.

However, just as video didn’t kill radio, it’s important to understand that both types of printing have the capacity to evolve at the same time, as well as complement each other. You can and should use both to your advantage, understanding their pros and cons in order to effectively use your marketing budget.

We’re already starting to see hybrid printing presses appear within the industry as an alternative to choosing litho over digital, and vice versa. A hybrid press is able to digitise much of the preprint process using computers, while still producing your print project using an analogue method.

Plus, you will find that litho printing excels in its own way, just as digital print offers an entirely different set of advantages. So, when you come to choose the right type of print for your project, it’s important to remember that each project has its own requirements and characteristics.

How does Printulu use these methods?

We have a range of different machines that we use for your printing needs. When you order with us, you don’t have to worry about which type of printing to choose, however it is important to understand so that you know exactly what you can expect as a final result. 

We have processes in place to ensure that your project is produced via the suitable printing methods to give you the best result. We take all of the above into account when we scheme your order and put it into production. If you have any questions about our processes, send us an email at support@printulu.co.za

Do you have a preference when it comes to printing methods? Leave us a comment down below to let us know what you think!