How it works: Digital Printing


Our Xerox 550-560 Integrated Fiery does most of our digital printing. But how does digital printing work? If you have read our blog on How Lithography Printing Works, you will know that for offset printing, a plate of the image that you want to print needs to be created. The ink adheres to this plate, and the correct colours are mapped onto the appropriate areas, before this image is transferred to the paper. In digital printing, the entire image is not ‘stamped’ like this, but re-created by actually being drawn out with very small dots. DPI, or ‘dots per inch’ describes the resolution of your print: the more dots per inch, the clearer and more detailed the image.

Before being sent to the printer, your electronic document file (the image or text that you are printing) will need to be converted into BMP, TIFF, GIF or JPEG file types. These are known as raster image files, or bit maps. To understand what a raster is, imagine that the image/display area that you want to print is a grid with x and y coordinates; the illuminated coordinates are the parts that need printing/the parts that will have the tiny dots drawn on. The raster image file is essentially a set of instructions to the printer, dictating where (on this “grid”) the dots should be placed to make up the required image.

Digital printers are most commonly either inkjet or dry toner-based printers. Inkjet printers create your image by mapping miniscule droplets of ink onto the paper (the dots that make up the image). These droplets are most often between 50-60 microns (picture the cross-section of a human hair – this is 70 microns!). Our digital printer, the Xerox 550-560, is a dry toner-based printer. As suggested by the name, it uses toner, and the print comes out dry! Toner is a very fine, plastic-based powder which is heated inside the Xerox by the fuser and “melts” to the paper. The dots created by the toner are even smaller than the inkjet droplets – these particles are between 7-10 microns! These smaller dots, as mentioned above, result in a greater DPI in the display space, and a higher clarity of your image.

So if the biggest difference between offset printing and digital printing is that there is no need for printing plates, this must make digital printing cheaper? For small jobs, yes – the offset printing plates do cost money, however, digital printing costs more per page than traditional offset printing, so larger jobs (500 copies or more) will be much cheaper using the offset lithography printer. For anything less, we use the Xerox!

One significant advantage digital printing has over offset lithography is that you can change your prints very easily. If you needed two similar images, with only very slight differences, you can edit and print both in no time, whereas for offset, you would need two completely separate plates! Digital printing is simply much faster to set up. Another difference is that by using our digital printer, your prints come out dry! This speeds up the finishing process, as we don’t have to let them dry before cutting and collating, as we do with litho prints!



If you enjoyed this blog post, you may be interested in learning How Offset Lithography Printing Works.


  1. I’ve always wondered how printers know how to print your documents. It makes sense that everything printed would need to be converted in to a bit map file that clearly delineates where each pixel of color is located. That way, the printer knows where to put the ink and where the white space of the document will be.

  2. Thanks so much for this post! I’ve wondered whether to invest in digital printing. I’ve heard that it’s cutting edge, that it’s the printing of the future, all kinds of broad statements. It wasn’t until just now, though, that I actually understood WHY digital printing has advantages. Thanks for being so clear and easy-to-read!

  3. I’ve always been curious about how digital printers work. I never knew that the process could be so accurate by using minuscule droplets of ink on the paper. The droplets are as small as 50 microns! That’s amazing!

  4. Thanks for explaining how digital printing is supposed to work. I figured that they would use a different type of ink, so it helps that you mentioned that they commonly either inkjet or a dry toner-based printers. That seems important to clarify so that I can use the right type of ink and toner. I like that digital printing has the advantage of allowing me to easily change my prints. That would be really useful if I ever need two images that only need a few changes.

  5. Wow, this is very well – written post. Taking time and actually effort to make a very good blog is very rare today. Thanks for sharing your Digital Printing Post. Even I have my own business and I also provide the Digital Printing Services and much more services. I think Digital Printing is an industry that is on the rise, and with each new change that comes along modern printers are capable of providing higher quality printing options with less wait time. choose our Digital Printing Services if you are in tight budget, Alphagraphics 737 is here to give you the best web design services in low budget in your area.

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