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Lithographic and Digital printing explained

“lithography” (from the greek ‘lythos’ meaning ‘stone’ and ‘graphein’ meaning ‘to write’) is an ancient method of print reproduction. It is based on the principal that water and oil do not mix.

Modern lithography uses coated images on printing plates. Our ‘offset litho’ machines first coat the plate with water which is repelled by the image areas on the plate. The printing ink is then applied which is equally repelled by the water, therefore “inking up” the image. This inked image is then transferred from the plate via an ‘offset roller’ onto the paper.

Naturally this is a very simplified description, but this process takes place tremendously fast - our Heidelberg presses can comfortably produce 10,000 very high quality images an hour, each at very high quality and accurately placed on the sheet to fractions of a millimetre. All inks used are vegetable (not oil) based and are therefore fully biodegradeable.

Although the efficiency and accuracy of printing presses have improved greatly over the years, the principle method of lithographic printing has been largely unchanged within the industry for many generations and still has a big role to play.

As each colour and image requires its own printing plate, lithographic printing does carry a reasonable set-up cost which makes it expensive for short runs. This cost is less than it used to be as the old days of producing printing plates using photographic film are long gone and images are now far more efficiently (and cleanly!) imaged directly onto the plate using ‘computer-to-plate’ systems.

In contrast, modern “digital” printing takes on many forms. Presses are usually toner-based and the image is transferred electronically to the paper through magnetism and sealed through heated ‘fusers’. Without the need for printing plates, there are virtually no ‘set up’ costs and digital print has fulfilled a market niche of extremely low print runs.

Digital printing can also provide “variable data”, which means each and every sheet on a print run can have a bespoke element (such as a client’s name and address).

We are often asked which is ‘better’. The answer is that ‘better’ is not really the right word. Each method is ‘different’, and each has its own best application. Our opinion of the advantages and disadvantages of each can be found but, fear not (!), we know what we are doing with each and can help you decide which is best for your project. This may involve testing a digital print first before moving to litho, which is something we are very happy to accommodate.

Spot Colour Pantone printing

In the modern rush for digital printing machines that can be operated and refilled with toner by anyone with a basic knowledge of a personal computer, it can almost be forgotten that a very short period of time ago the selection and preservation of a corporate colour was of paramount importance.

The skills of a lithographic printer to mix a spot colour and keep it consistent to a client’s needs across a range of paper types is, sadly, a dying art.

Is it a dying art at Gowise Print? You can bet your Pantone Book it isn’t.

Skills of manual colour matching and consistency at Gowise go back over sixty years and have been passed on to our current generation of lithographic experts, Jason Rope and Liam Blackwell through traditional methods. Colour matching is never an ‘exact science’ and it takes an experienced eye to know to “stick a bit of orange in it”.

Not all colours can be achieved using four colour process (made up of a mix of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black), so some spot colours cannot be digitally reproduced or converted to CMYK - for true reproduction they must be mixed in the duct of a litho printing press.

Whilst we will continue to embrace advances in modern print methods, until we see an alternative to spot colour matching on a lithographic offset printing press, our skills and service in that field will be maintained.