How It Works – Digital vs Traditional Printing Methods

If you’re interested about how print machinery works and the different methods and presses we use for various products, then you’re in the right place!

Digital printing equipment in the modern era differs from traditional methods that we have all known and loved. The electronic means of printing creates an image from a computer as opposed to traditional printing plates. For example, digital printing devices include your desktop laser printer, inkjet printer, office printer or high-speed digital press.

Using the digital form of printing provides cost effective prices with fast turnaround times compared to older offset printers which are not always cost effective for lower quantities. However, digital printing is not the best option for all printing requirements, and it definitely isn’t replacing the well-known litho printing! Here are some examples of digital and traditional methods of printing, and you can decide which is best for your design.





Known as the ‘printhead’, it has several small nozzles (also known as jets) which spray ink onto the passing paper to form the images you require. With the long lasting ink jet cartridge, it can print several hundred pages before the cartridges need to be changed. Within the standard printer, there is normally one black ink cartridge and one colour cartridge containing ink of the primary colours in pigments which is cyan, magenta and yellow.

  • Cost effective for short run print jobs
  • Great for products with variable data or personalisation
  • Faster turnaround times
  • Reduces waste
  • High quality on special paper
  • Accurate proofing



Desktop publishing software, for example, is a platform on which commercial and non-commercial designers can utilise the functions of being able to produce a digitally published product. Examples of these are InDesign® and Microsoft Publisher®.

These can be used to create digital electronic versions of magazines, newspapers and adverts which are proving to be extremely popular now that these media forms are readily available on many devices, even without an internet connection.


  • Cost effective for causal & professional users
  • Information can always be updated
  • More global reach




Lithography is when a printing plate with a relief image is dampened with water and then coated with ink. The ink only sticks to the parts of the plate that are not wet with water. The printing plate is fixed to a roller and the image is transferred onto paper fed under the roller. Lithography is used for medium and long print runs of products such as magazines and posters.

  • Most prolific printing process in the UK
  • Excellent for printing many copies of the same item in one production run
  • Can print onto many paper and card stocks with many finishes
  • Cost effective for high volume runs



In gravure printing, the required image is made up of small holes sunk into the surface of the printing plate. The holes are filled with ink, and any excess is removed. Paper comes into contact with the ink in the holes when it is pressed against the plate. It is used for long, high-quality print runs such as magazines, catalogues, packaging, and printing onto fabric and wallpaper.

  • Best for flexible packaging manufacturing
  • Printable on many different materials
  • Frequently used for items such as drink cans and crisp packets
  • Fairly cost efficient, but needs many copies to be profitable



This method of printing allows the ink to be squeezed through a wire mesh onto the material to print. Areas which aren’t to be printed are blocked off so the ink cannot go through the mesh. This is used to print onto a wide range of materials for a wide variety of purposes, including T-shirts, mugs and billboard posters.

  • Wide range of materials

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