If you run a small business or buy print for one, then you might be wondering what’s the difference between digital printing and traditional lithographic printing – what difference will it make to your business and which is better? This question often crops up, and the answer depends on what your particular business needs are. Whilst lithographic techniques are still widely in use for larger print runs (newspapers, book runs etc.), they can be wasteful, costly and time-consuming for shorter print runs. The advent of digital printing has been transformative in facilitating smaller print orders, making it ideal for the needs of SME’s.
The nuts and bolts
Before launching into the benefits of each technology, it would help to establish the chief differences between them. The principle of lithographic printing is very simple: traditionally it involved using printing plates to transfer ink onto paper or card. Normally, lithographic printing will use a four colour CMYK process to compose the image, and each colour will be transferred using a separate plate.
Similarly, digital printing is a four colour process, using inks or toners applied directly to the paper or card. It tends to be suited to paper ranging from 80 to 300 GSM. Though litho has historically been considered to yield greater colour accuracy, digital printing technologies have advanced to such a point that this gap has been closed.
With definitions out of the way, it’s time to talk costs. As already mentioned, litho printing is excellent for larger print runs. However, it has two shortcomings that mean it does not scale down well. The first is the initial cost of creating the printing plates. This is largely offset by the economies of scale for print runs that can go to the tens of thousands, but is hard to justify for the type of print job a small business might have – like 500 brochures or 1000 flyers. There is also the additional price of the “spare” materials i.e. test materials to ensure the plates are properly aligned and in register. The second shortcoming of litho printing is a slightly increased turnaround time (this can be 5 days, though other factors can obviously play a part) owing to the extra time needed for the inks to dry.
Digital printing, on the other hand, has two major cost and time-saving benefits. The first is that there are very few preliminary set-up procedures. All that’s needed is the image proof in a suitable file format (PDF usually, though jpg can also be converted) and the required amount of ink or toner. The second benefit is that there’s no need to wait for the ink to dry: as soon as the document is out of the machine it’s ready to go. And after all, time is money!
There are environmental benefits with digital printing too – smaller print runs means less waste; anyone who buys print, runs a small business or works in marketing will be familiar with the boxes of out-dated printed literature that gets dumped year-in-year-out. In the past this was simply because the set-up cost for litho printing was high therefore companies tended to over-order with a view to reducing unit costs. However in practice this made no sense and digital printing eliminates this waste as another print run can simply be ordered if more volume is needed for the print job.
Flexibility is key
One additional advantage of digital over offset printing is that individual prints can be tailored for each recipient. This is known as Variable Data Printing, and it allows businesses to establish a more personalised tone with their customer and client bases, in turn translating to greater loyalty and conversion rates. There’s much more to it than simply inserting the recipient’s name – content can also be customised based on demographic information or customer profile data.
Digital printing needs? Get it Sooner Than Later
Sooner Than Later is a trusted name in digital printing, variable data printing and direct mail fulfilment. Whether you’re looking to establish a more direct relationship with your clients, or simply trying to find a cost-effective means of printing a short run of brochures or marketing materials, why not get in touch with us to get a quote? We pride ourselves on delivering excellent customer service, and would be only too happy to advise you on your printing needs.