When I first started my career in graphic design after leaving college in 2003, my first role was with a small printers based in Newcastle upon Tyne at a town called Byker. It was here I first started using and creating printing plates. Printing plates back then were mainly created using the old plastic film (like used in old cameras before digital became popular) it was not an easy process:
Film Processor (C,M,Y,K)
Plate Processor & Chemistry
Mounted onto Press
When creating the plate using the image setter, it was very important that no dust was present. This is because the particles of dust could be set onto the plate and when the final print out is finished, the result will be far from perfect and the whole process will need to be done again from scratch.
In more recent years
The use of film and image setters are a thing of the past due to the process more commonly known as “Computer to plate”. Using this method you send the design direct from your computer to the plate writing machine using programs such as “Apogeex”, this sends data to the plate making machine and the plates are made quicker, cleaner and easier.
Some plate making machines cost more than others, some machines will only have the capacity to create A3 plates (297x420mm), and need to be cleaned manually. Where as others have the capacity for A1 plates (594x841mm) and also the machine will clean itself. None of these machines are cheap, I have known prices to be as high as £100,000 and that does not include the cost of your litho printing press! So this is why in my opinion digital printing has become so popular in the last 10 to 15 years or so.
Smaller printing firms who do not have the financial power will probably never use the litho method of printing and this will limit the printing capabilities. For example, if a customer required a hard back binder/folder, they would need to seek help from a larger external printing company but this will seriously effect any cash profits.
Litho printing in my opinion gives you a better printing result compared to digital but that better finish does not come cheap..