A Guide: Digital vs. Litho Printed Packaging

A common question we get here at Saxon is what the difference is between digital and lithographic printing. We’ve done our best to break down the different categories to give you a handy comprehensive guide.

digital vs litho Process

The first stage of lithographic printing is preparing the metal plates the artwork is burned onto using a laser; an individual plate is required for every colour being used in the artwork. These plates are loaded into the printing press where the image is offset (transferred) onto a rubber sheet and then applied to the chosen substrate. The entire process relies on the repulsion of oil and water; the image that is being printed attracts ink from the rollers, whilst the unprinted area attracts a layer of water, therefore remaining ink-free.

Digital printing, on the other hand, is when the artwork is printed directly onto the chosen substrate by a digital printer.




Lithographic printing is best for higher quantity orders. Unlike digital printing, the price per unit decreases as the quantity rises.

Digital printing is best used for smaller quantities. With no set-up costs or processes required it works out cheaper and quicker.



Lithographic printing does prove longer for first-time orders, due to set-up time and the production of plates, however for larger orders it works out much quicker due to the machine printing at a much higher speed than the digital printer.

Digital printing is quicker for small orders as it requires no set-up time, however litho printing soon catches up the larger the order gets.


Quality of print

Litho printing produces the highest quality print possible throughout the entire print run. Colours can be matched to anything in the Pantone reference guide and it also provides the option of a variety of print finishes such as metallic and spot UV.

Digital printing is high quality, but not close to the premium standard litho printing produces. Digital printing is also much more restricted in the choice of colours; only the standard CMYK colours are available.


Variable Aspects

Litho printing is restricted in the fact that once it has been set up to run, no changes can be made to the end product.

Digital printing has the option of varying aspects of each box printed by changing the data. For example, if you required packaging with different language text or different images etc.


Overall Price

Litho printing is more expensive on smaller runs however there is a tipping point after which digital printing becomes more expensive.

Digital printing is cheaper for smaller runs; however, there is a tipping point after which litho becomes cheaper.


litho packaging

Here at Saxon we manufacture and produce both digital and litho printed packaging. Click here to find out about all the print processes we have available.

If you have any more questions about the difference between litho or digital or if you want to discuss your personal packaging requirements; call us on 01502 513112 or email us at info@saxonpackaging.co.uk.

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