From the day colour digital print was born, there has been an argument about its quality compared to litho. Even now many years later, you can still see print buyers starring at sheets of paper, stroking the type and even smelling the print! The argument still rages.
So what are some of the differences?
Both litho and digital generally print in CMYK, basically blue, red, yellow and black, with all the required colours made up from these four. This is the first issue – you can’t make all the colours up from CMYK – for example a metallic colour. Many litho presses allow ready made colours to be printed along side CMYK, these colours can be almost anything.
Digital print generally uses toner, which is fixed on top of paper; litho is oil based which is absorbed by the paper, hence you can often ‘feel’ the text on digital print. More problematic is that the toner can be un-fused if it is put back through a laser printer – a real problem for letterheads.
Digital can also have problems with colour density, solid colours like Dark blue can be patchy or striped, very light colours like cream can move to white or yellow and smooth graduations can become striped. However, designers familiar with the digital print process can design around these issues.
Many of these problems are being resolved: some presses have extra colour options, others have oil based print, all are progressively improving colour control.
There are however a couple of important points to make:
First, many marketing professionals struggle to spot the subtle differences between digital and litho – so what chance does the consumer have? And would they even care?
Second, this whole argument is very litho based, and ignores all the benefits that digital can bring: speed, ease of use, short run, personalisation.
But the real point here is that the very narrow discussion about quality is irrelevant, the real question is price.
If you want large number of identical documents – then Litho wins hands down on price, but once you want different documents or short run – digital wins on price every time. What is also very interesting is that the ‘large’ number of documents is getting larger and larger – or to put it another way – as digital is becoming cheaper you can print even quite large orders cheaper than you can on litho. For example, with FilePrint’s current pricing of digital and litho pricing, it’s still cheaper to print as many as 825 A4s digitally – that’s a pretty big number.
So, stop worrying about quality, focus on the benefits that digital brings.