What is the difference between litho print and digital, and which is right for your project?

Understanding Printing terminology

Offset litho printing

This is the most common method of professional printing, which works on the principle that grease and water repel one another! The printer uses the electronic artwork supplied to prepare printing plates. The plates are then wrapped around cylinders, wetted and then inked. Paper is usually fed into the printer in sheets or as a continuous roll.

Four-colour printing is the most common system for producing full colour print, where four printing plates are used, one for each of the four ink colours – often referred to as CMYK.

  • Cyan (Turquoise-Blue),
  • Magenta (otherwise known as Game pink),
  • Yellow and
  • Black

Additional plates for embossing, foiling (silver and gold) and special colours might be required. If the ink needs to go to the edge of the document, 3-5mm of bleed is provided for.

InterComm produces high quality CMYK material for print houses – 300dpi PDFs are the most common.

Digital Printing

Digital printing works directly from electronic artwork supplied, avoiding the use of films. They are very cost effective for short runs with fast turnaround times. The quality is not as good as lithography standards but adequate for many purposes.

Choosing a printing house

Here are InterComm’s top tips for choosing a printing service provider:

  1. Get quotations from at least three print works – depending on the equipment they have and the services they handle in-house, some printers can be more or less competitive depending on the type or size of print job.
  2. Ask for a ‘run-on’ price with the quotation. You might find that printing additional copies substantially lowers the unit price.
  3. Ask about the cost of delivery with your quotation – this can vary considerably from printer to printer and many small printers don’t deliver at all.
  4. Ask to see examples of similar work.
  5. Ask for a paper sample – paper makes all the difference to the finish of a print job and most people can feel good quality paper instinctively. Not all expensive papers are good quality, not all good quality papers are expensive. Some print works carry certain papers in stock, and these will always be cheaper than a paper they don’t use often.
  6. Check the printers’ policy for charging for artwork, colour proofs and other extras. This is often charged separately and only mentioned in the “small print”.
  7. Check what software the printer uses. Most printers will take PDF files, but if you want to provide on Photoshop, Corel or InDesign you might find the printer can’t handle the format you need and in converting your file you could lose transparent backgrounds or layers.

When choosing a printer be sure they will give you the attention, quality and turnaround that meets your needs. Although price is always important, getting the right print colour alignment and the paper you asked for by the deadline also matters!

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