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The death of litho is greatly exaggerated

With digital making inroads into litho’s traditional base it should be noted that inkjet digital presses still make up less than 20 percent of the market.

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Bui Burke of Screen Europe

“Commentators have been predicting the death knell of litho for 25 years, since Ipex 1993 when Indigo and Xeikon introduced their first digital presses,” says Matt Rockley, press product specialist at Heidelberg UK. “In fact, litho has survived and thrived, with competitive pressure only accelerating development and innovation. Digital today remains largely focused on the very short run, small format and bespoke print.”

As long as there is a demand for long print runs there will always be litho presses. Digital presses have eaten away at the short run end of the business but if the UK Government wants to print 27 million information leaflets as they did in 2016 then, it is a no-brainer. That said digital has upped its game and on some long print run jobs with low ink usage, litho now has a rival.

Digital isn’t going to do to litho what litho did to letterpress in the 1950s and all but replace it

Bui Burke of Screen Europe says: “One of our customers Blue Tree were about to put in another SpeedMaster litho press but then decided to buy our digital press, the Jet 520HD as they have a computer system which analyses each job as it comes in. A long print run would usually go onto a litho press but with the computer system and its total area coverage system if the ink coverage is not high then it will push it to the 520HD.”

Burke at Screen Europe speaks of a graph that shows the slow decline of litho and the rise of digital which predicts not so much the end of litho or rather it reaching a level where the decline ends and levels out. It is partly due to advances made by manufacturers as Rockley notes and partly the limitations of digital as inkjet has reached its maximum speed for the time being at least. Heidelberg sees litho as a technology that is improving and reacting to the changing nature of markets where shorter runs, the increase in packaging, decline of news and magazines and the rise of bespoke personalised printing.

Printers are tending to add to their machine list with a digital to sit alongside their litho presses – usually in a separate area or room in the print factory. Digital isn’t going to do to litho what litho did to letterpress in the 1950s and all but replace it. It’s more a question of it complementing the tried and tested technology of lithography in a happy partnership.

What do you think? Email your thoughts to harry@linkpublishing.co.uk or call me on Tel: 0117 9805 040 – or follow me on Twitter and join in the debate.

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