These days, when you want to print something elaborate, such as a beautifully vibrant advert for your business; it’s easy to assume that lithography is the way to go. After all, this printing technique was invented over two centuries ago and has been significantly improved and refined since then.
However, there’s a clever young upstart threatening to take its crown, and that’s modern digital printing. How is it closing the gap in quality between itself and lithography? Here’s how…
Why it’s difficult to overthrow lithography’s dominance
The history of lithographic printing can be traced back to about 1796, when a German playwright called Alois Senefelder discovered by accident that he could write his scripts in greasy crayon on limestone slabs before using rolled-on ink to print his words.
Any crayon marks applied to the local limestone’s surface adhered to it so stubbornly, even when the slabs were repeatedly used for inking and printing, that the “lithographs”, as the printed works came to be known, could be printed almost endlessly, the Metropolitan Museum of Art notes.
As a result, the uptake of lithographic printing among artistic and commercial circles spread quickly. Many nineteenth-century artists appreciated the unique visual flourishes that they could achieve with lithography, which remains esteemed for its flexibility and versatility to this day.
The present-day usefulness of lithography
It’s arguably no accident that, according to a Printing Impressions article, lithographic printing is anticipated to account for over 70% of print output globally by 2022. It’s simply a tried-and-trusted solution that continues to produce the sharpest possible images.
It’s also still the most cost-efficient solution for printing large volumes, while the technology has advanced to the extent that, now, ultraviolet-curable inks can be applied for works to dry instantly as well as, in their coatings and specialty effects, achieve higher levels of glossiness.
The versatility of lithographic printing is typified by the fact that, thanks to the ability of ultraviolet inks to dry even on non-porous materials, the technique can be used on much more than just paper. Steel, plastic and acrylic are all viable surfaces on which lithographic printing can be used.
Digital has taken us from “multi-step” to “single-step”
Nonetheless, today, you could be hard-pressed – no, that’s not a deliberate printing-related pun – to tell the difference between lithographic and digital works just by looking at them. Furthermore, Vents Magazine describes digital printing as a “single-step process”.
In this sense, it compares digital printing favorably to older, “multi-step” methods, where “specific printing techniques were necessary for specific applications”. Digital printing can be summarized as simply involving creating the artwork on a computer before directly printing the work onto material.
Digital has also, in recent years, evolved significantly in the quality of prints it can produce. There’s certainly room for it to grow on the cost-effectiveness front – but, even today, it can be used for printing hundreds of copies at a relatively low cost.
Even smaller companies can afford to purchase a digital printer from Duplo International for in-house results.