One of the many decisions you will have to make as a self-publishing author is whether to print your books using digital printing or litho printing. You may also have heard of Print-On-Demand (POD). Find out more about these processes here.

Digital printing

Digital printing involves sending book file information straight to a digital press, much like you would when printing on a copier or home printer. Most digital presses use toner that is infused onto the paper using a heat process, like a laser printer. Some digital presses, however, use wet inks and are known as inkjet presses. Your printer will decide which digital press to run your job on. 

Print-On-Demand (POD)

POD simply refers to the process of printing small quantities of books as and when orders are received, even if it’s just one book. POD uses digital presses due to the ease, speed and cost-effectiveness that these presses offer with smaller book quantities.


Digital printing is best for smaller print runs as the set-up costs per run are low. Since pricing is typically calculated using a ‘click charge’, like a photocopy machine, there are usually no real cost benefits to printing large volumes. On the plus side, 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. 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 or workshops
  • 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 wanting to resurrect out-of-print titles
  • and so on.


Digital printing 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. Get yourself a copy of Publish Like A Pro to find out how bookstores and the distribution chain work, as well as the costs involved and what you’ll make selling through bookstores.

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 seldom affect most self-publishing authors.

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. This makes it a good choice for large-scale distribution and distribution through bookstores and retail outlets.

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.


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. You must be sure your book will sell so that you do not land up with boxes and boxes of unsold books. 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. 

Get yourself a copy of Publish Like A Pro to find out how bookstores and the distribution chain work, as well as the costs involved and what you’ll make selling through bookstores.

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


Publish Like A Pro: The Complete Guide to Successful and Profitable Self-Publishing

In addition to the wealth of publishing information this book provides, we have dedicated a 23-page chapter to printing. We also explain how page imposition works and how to choose a page count that will help you save money. The chapter on printing includes:

  • 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 choose a page count for digital and litho printing and save money.
  • 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 …

Download the first three chapters of
Publish Like A Pro

Chapters one to three talk about traditional versus independent publishing, who owns your work, potential earnings, planning your book, planning your writing schedule, how to structure your book, choosing a title, using keywords for better SEO, what you need to include for publishing, how to find a publisher and submit your manuscript, and protecting your copyright. 


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