One of the many important decisions you will have to make as a self-publishing author is whether to print your books using digital printing or litho printing.

Digital printing

Digital printing is best-suited to smaller print runs. Low set-up costs and smaller print runs mean lower cash outlay and therefore lower financial risk for the author. Digital printing is suited to authors requiring smaller-scale, niche distribution.

Some examples include:

  • a motivational speaker who wants to sell books at his or her seminar
  • a company who wants to sell books to their customers
  • authors who run courses
  • family members creating family history books
  • authors writing on specialised topics aimed at very particular (and usually small) markets
  • authors wanting to test the market first before investing heavily in a large print run
  • publishers wishing to resurrect out-of-print titles
  • and so on.

It is generally not suited to authors requiring bookstore distribution unless you’re printing a few hundred copies at a time, and even then you will likely make only your printing costs back, not your production costs. This is due to the high costs of distribution.

Full-colour digital printing in South Africa is unfortunately still quite expensive, so full colour books are better suited to litho printing (see below) or the very latest digital inkjet presses when printing in quantities of 500+ books.

Digital printing is also fairly limited in terms of printing and finishing options when compared with litho printing, however, many of these limitations rarely affect the common self-publishing author.

Litho printing

Litho printing is the printing method used by major publishing houses because it is better suited to large print quantities (thousands of books), although it has also proven to be more cost-effective than digital printing on smaller volumes of 750+ books.

Although litho printing carries high setup costs, the actual printing costs are very low because the process is so quick and hundreds of sheets can be processed within a minute. So, the larger the print quantity, the lower the unit cost per book because the setup costs are amortised over a larger number of units. However, the capital outlay will be very much higher due to the larger volumes being printed, so this printing method poses greater financial risk for the author. Because of the higher risk, it is advisable to book a publishing consultation to realistically assess your needs and whether this is the best option for you.

Absolutely any book can be printed using litho printing due to its flexibility. Quality is excellent, so litho printing is particularly suited to high-quality full-colour coffee table books, cookery books and full-colour childrens’ books.

To find out more about the printing method best suited to your book and your options in terms of binding and finishing, book a publishing consultation with one of our consultants or buy a copy of Publish Like A Pro.


Publish Like A Pro – how it can help you

Receive 23 pages of invaluable printing information and advice, including:

  • An indepth look at both litho and digital printing: what are their capabilities; what are their costs; which one should you choose?
  • Understanding cover types: hardcover or softcover (paperback); what do they cost?
  • Understanding binding options: perfect binding / PUR binding, thread-sewing or saddle-stitching; which one should you choose and why; which binding option is NOT suited for bookstores?
  • Understanding paper types: what are the common book papers; what does gsm mean; creamy or white? Plus: how to request the right paper for your book.
  • How to obtain a print quote – what do you ask for and how?
  • How to prepare your book for printing to ensure trouble-free and cost-effective printing
  • And much more …