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Digital Printed Packaging or Litho Printed Packaging: A Complete Guide

A common question we get is “What is the difference between digital printed packaging and litho printed packaging?” – which is a very good question! To help answer this we have broken the two types of printing methods (lithographic and digital) down into six categories to give an overall guide:

Table of index:

1. Printing Process

The first stage of lithographic (litho) 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.

Digital vs Litho Printing Icons 

2. Quantity

Litho 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.

3. Turnaround Time

Litho 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 a digital printer.

Digital printing is quicker for small orders as it requires no set-up time, however litho printed packaging soon catches up as the number of prints increase.

4. Print Quality

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

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

5. Variable Aspects

Litho printing is restricted once the plates have been set up to run, no changes can be made to the artwork without a new metal plate.

Digital printing has the option of artwork and information variation. For example, if you required packaging to be personalised with customer data.

6. Overall Cost

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 once again a tipping point after which litho becomes cheaper.

litho printed packaging 

The questions we would ask our customers are “How many do you wish to print?”, “Do you require photo quality print?” and “Is your artwork the same for you all your packaging?” this would help guide the customer as to which print process is best for their needs.

If you have any questions at all please do not hesitate to call us on 01502 513112 or email