What is the difference between lithography and offset printing?

What is the difference between lithography and offset printing? The primary distinction between offset printing and lithography is that the latter applies the printing plate directly to the paper, whereas lithography transfers the image from the printing plate to a “blanket,” which subsequently transfers the picture to the paper.

A rubber or other flexible material that molds to the surface of paper or other objects to be printed is commonly referred to as a “blank” producing an image on both smooth and uneven surfaces.


  • The key difference between lithography and offset printing lies in the printing process each method uses.
  • Lithography employs a direct transfer process where the image on the plate transfers directly to the substrate.
  • In contrast, offset printing utilizes an indirect method where the image gets transferred first to a rubber blanket, which then transfers it to the final print surface.
  • This difference in the transfer process leads lithography to achieve very intricate details and depth in the printed image.
  • Meanwhile, offset printing can deliver highly consistent and accurate image reproduction across long print runs.
  • Both methods have their strengths and applications, but understanding the core difference in their printing processes helps explain why lithography excels at art prints while offset suits large-scale commercial printing.

What is the difference between lithography and offset printing?

Details about offset lithography uses a flat surface and an ink roller to transfer ink onto paper.  In contrast, offset printing makes use of blanket rolls and platters. Thus, the process of separating ink onto image portions for transfer to a substrate is referred to as lithography.

What is the difference between lithography and offset printing?

Offset printing on the other hand, refers to the process by which that ink is then transmitted to the support. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. For instance, offset printing is also used in rotogravure, lithography, and flexographic and offset print disparities to achieve this.

Lithography printing

lithography in printing process that transmits an image onto a flat exterior. It can print on many different materials, such as paper surface, plastic, and metal. 

Often used to print packaging industry, books, posters, magazines and more, this medium is well suited to a wide range of applications. An alternative to this method is offset lithography, which uses platters or barrels in place of flat exteriors.

  1. Apply design: Use an oil-based medium to apply your design onto a support, preferably limestone or aluminum.
  2. Apply chemicals: Apply layers of powders, solutions, and solvents to the support, causing a chemical reaction with the oil-based medium.
  3. Wipe off the design: Remove the accumulated layers of material to reveal a faint afterimage of your design on the support.
  4. Ink and print: Coat the substrate with oil-based ink using a brayer. Place the paper on top and run it through a lithographic press to transmit the image. Carefully remove the paper from the supports.
High-Quality Printing High Setup Costs
Versatility in SurfacesWear and Tear on Platters
Cost-Effectiveness for Large QuantitiesLimited Cost Efficiency for Small Runs
Wide Color RangeEnvironmental Impact
Specialized ApplicationsComplexity for Color Changes

There are three basic elements in lithographic printing

  • Original image or master: It is the initial image drawn or photographed onto film, typically created on a flat exterior like glass or metal.
  • Inkstone or plate: This is a stone or metal platter, often made of aluminum, coated with oily ink. The plate’s exterior repels ink but absorbs water, forming the basis for the detailed explanation of offset printing production.
  • Rubber blanket: It is a rubber cylinder that transmits the image from the printing platter to the final printing  surface, such as paper. The rubber layer is mounted on a metal shaft and rotates over the printing exterior, picking up ink from the plate and transmitting it to the desired medium.

Offset printing

Offset printing is a method of printing that transmits an image from a platter to a elastic layer, then to the printing exterior. Although businesses like periodicals and magazines frequently use it for commercial printing industry, individuals can also use it for personal projects like postcards or invites.

  1. Apply design: Start with a great design, deciding on color, layout, fonts, paper type, coatings, etc. Seek our expertise for guidance ensuring your product aligns with your brand.
  2. Estimation: Get an estimate alongside the design process or after finalizing print specifications. Design fees are included if we create the artwork for you. Refer to our print specifications blog for accurate pricing details.
  3. Prepress Preparation: Convert your digital art into a proof (PDF) for your review—check for spacing, color, and typos. Optionally, opt for a high-resolution hard copy proof for precise color matching or new element assessment.
  4. Offset Printing: Produce your printed materials on press using aluminum platters to transmits the image onto a elastic layer, then onto paper. This method ensures high-quality prints with accurate color and a professional finish.
  5. Bindery and Finishing: Trim, fold, score, hole punch, or collate your materials to match the final product specifications. Ensure brochures appear as trifold and note pages are assembled into pads. Package the items securely for delivery.
Produces larger quantities in a cost-effective way.Requires extra setup time.
Offers more options for ink, material, and finishes.Not suitable for quick turnarounds or time-sensitive situations.
Can handle a variety of larger sizes.Not budget-friendly for shorter print runs.
Provides accurate color matching using the Pantone Matching System.
Offset printing is a method of printing

There are three basic elements in lithographic printing

  1. Plate: Made of aluminum, the platter carries the image to be printed. Image areas attract ink, while non-image areas repel ink and retain water. Plates can be created through photomechanical or computer-to-plate methods.
  2. Blanket: A soft rubber-surfaced cylinder or sheet-fed that receives the inked image from the plate. The layer transmits the image from the plate to the printing exterior. It rolls or stamps the image onto the final printing exterior.
  3. Impression Cylinder: Ensures contact between the printing exterior and the layer, accurately transferring the inked image. It applies pressure to fuse the ink onto the final support. The impression cylinder helps maintain consistent and precise print quality by ensuring uniform contact between the paper and the layer.

Comparison between print quality & color accuracy

When it comes to print quality and color accuracy, both lithography and offset printers have their strengths.

Offset printing, also called offset lithography, is a commonly used mass printing technology that uses web presses and ink and water to transferred to a rubber layer before being printed onto the desired stock.

It is often used for printing business cards, flyers, and newspapers. On the other hand, lithography is used for printing books, graphic design materials, and other printed products.

The printing press first needs to know the arrangement for the four-color process. Lithography uses a photosensitive drum to transfer ink to the printed product. 

Comparison between print quality & color accuracy

Use offset printing uses similar principle but requires ink to be transmitted in one pass, making it more suitable for newspaper inserts, coupons, and other types of promotional materials. The wide range of receptive stock types and the ability to adhere to different types of offset printing a strong competitor in the primary techniques in print industry

Both lithography and offset printing are renowned for their high print quality and color accuracy, yet they exhibit some differences in these aspects:

Print Quality


  • Lithography is esteemed for its exceptional print quality, particularly in reproducing fine details and intricate designs. It offers high resolution and precise image rendering, making it favored for art prints, posters, and high-end publications.
  • The direct transmit of the image from the plate to the printing exterior results in sharp and detailed prints, capable of capturing subtle nuances in artwork or imagery.

Offset Printing

  • Offset printing also delivers high print quality with sharp and crisp results. While it may not always match the intricate detail capabilities of lithography, it excels in consistent and uniform printing across large print runs.
  • Its indirect transmit method, involving plates, layers, and the impression cylinder, ensures consistent and accurate duplication of images and text on various exteriors like paper, cardboard, and more.

Color Accuracy


  • Lithography is known for its exceptional color duplication capabilities. It can achieve a wide range of vibrant and accurate colors, making it suitable for printing project that demand precise color matching and a diverse color palette.
  • The fine dot structure and ink control in litho contribute to its ability to replicate colors accurately and consistently.

Offset Printing

  • Offset printing also offers remarkable color accuracy and consistency. It ensures that colors are reproduced faithfully from the original artwork or digital file.
  • With precise ink control and standardized print productions, offset printing achieves reliable and consistent color results across large print runs.

Both lithography and offset printing excel in delivering high quality prints and accurate color reproduction. Lithography tends to shine in intricate detail and color variation, making it ideal for art prints and specialized projects. 

Meanwhile, offset printing ensures consistent quality and color accuracy across large-scale print jobs, making it a preferred choice for commercial printing, publications, and marketing materials.

The choice between the two methods often depends on specific project requirements, print volumes, and desired print characteristics.

Frequently Asked Questions

Lithography offers several advantages, including high image quality, sharpness, and fine detail duplication. It can handle a wide range of materials, from paper and cardboard to plastics and metal. It is also suitable for large print runs and can produce consistent results.

Lithography differs from offset printing primarily in its direct transmit process. In lithography, the image is directly transferred from the plate onto the printing exterior without an intermediary exterior, whereas offset printing involves the indirect transfer of the inked image from the plate onto a elastic layer before applying it to the final printing surface. 

This difference in the image transmit process leads to distinct print qualities and color accuracy in both techniques.

Lithography generally incurs higher initial setup costs compared to offset printing. This is primarily due to the plate preparation process involved in lithography, which includes treating the plates for image and non-image areas.

Offset printing, although not free of setup costs, tends to have relatively lower initial setup expenses for both wet vs dry offset printing, making it more cost-effective for medium to large print volumes. Offset printing’s reduced setup costs contribute to its suitability for commercial printing with larger quantities.

No, lithography and offset printing are separate processes with distinct setups. Once a print job is set up for one method, it is not feasible to switch to the other method without significant changes and adjustments to the printing equipment and plates.

Both lithography and offset printing are widely used in the industry, but offset printing is generally more prevalent. It is the dominant commercial printing method for high-quality printing, such as magazines, brochures, catalogs, and newspapers.


Core printing methods explored between lithography and offset printing is essential for anyone printing involves in industry. While both methods involve the transmit of ink to paper, the key distinction lies in how this is achieved. 

Lithography utilizes the principle that oil and water do not mix, while offset printing uses a series of rollers to transfer ink to paper from a plate to a elastic sheet before finally onto the paper. 

Additionally, offset printing is a more versatile method, capable of handling a variety of exteriors and substrates. Conversely, lithography is a type of planographic printing, meaning the image is transmitted without the use of a relief or intaglio process, such as gravure.

If you have any questions or would like to read more about understanding offset printing basics, or understanding offset techniques, Kindly drop them at wlo-usa.org to get help. We’re happy to accompany all of you anytime you need. with us to get help.

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