Digital or Litho: Which is Best?

This question is often asked, even by experienced print buyers. We’ll normally quote whichever is most economic for your item, or if your spec is borderline – we’ll quote both. But here are some pros and cons;

Reproduction Quality

Traditional litho print still generally has the edge. However the more advanced digital presses, like Indigos, can print to almost litho quality. The average person – and many industry professionals – would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

Digital can be more forgiving with lower-resolution imagery. For example, getting acceptable results from just 100-150dpi. So digital is better if the quality of your images isn’t that great.


The minimum viable for litho is usually 500. So if you have a beautifully designed magazine or brochure but if you only need 100, digital will be your best route. It can produce professional looking print economically from just one copy to a max of about 400-500. However if you need thousands or at least several hundred, litho is best for quality & economy.


The BIG benefit with digital is that you can have, for very modest extra cost, a fully finished one-off proof copy of your item. Exactly like the finished printed job! So you know from the start what you’re getting before committing to your quantity. Standard proofing for litho and digital jobs is low-res pdfs. But for that special digital job, a fully finished proof can give welcome peace of mind. Digitally printed proofs are also possible for litho work. However as litho and digital are different processes, digital proofs of litho jobs are better viewed as general indicators of final printed colours than an exact match.


Throughout the industry, the standard of perfect binding and saddle stitching litho print is pretty high. Digital perfect binding is also generally excellent. However since digital print first appeared, the industry has struggled to achieve decent results when saddle stitching (staple binding) digitally printed items. This is because digital print binding equipment is less sophisticated than its litho equivalent. Which is why so many digitally printed publications tend to gape open at the fold, rather than lying flat when closed.

To eliminate this, at Harrisons we use a rare-to-the-UK supplementary binding system as standard. It makes gaping at the fold a thing of the past by transforming the saddle stitched fold into a smart, professional squared-off spine. So the publication lies totally flat when open or closed – just like a much costlier litho job!

Be Wary When Sourcing Digital Print!

The quality of digital within the marketplace still varies hugely. Some ‘digital print’ on offer is no more than clumsily-folded, poor quality laser printing. While at the other end of the scale you’d be hard-pressed to tell a digitally printed item from the finest litho. And there’s everything in between, with price not even a good guide as to what you might get! That’s why our digital print is latest-generation Indigo, widely held to be the closest result to litho.