Prior to the introduction of digital printing technology, the industry standard for printing comics was offset lithography printing. This printing process, often referred to as "litho," uses chemically treated metal plates, four one each print color—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK). The plates were placed onto a rotating cylinder, which had an impression of the artwork transferred to it from a film positive. This impression was then transferred to the paper fed through a press at high speed and wetted to accept the ink.
This process was much slower and more labor intensive than digital printing, but offered a higher quality product, with better color and detail reproduction. In this method, each color was printed separately, which allowed for a better balance between light and dark shades. Litho printing was still the industry standard for printing comics up until the mid-2000s when digital printing began to take hold.
Digital printing has drastically changed the comic industry, with most publishers now moving to this technology. This process starts with converting the artwork into a digital format, such as a PDF, which is then prepared and sent to a digital printing press. Digital presses use either toner-based or liquid inkjet technology and don’t require plates like their litho counterparts.
Overall, digital printing is much faster and less labor intensive than traditional lithography. It also produces higher quality prints, with brighter, more accurate colors and finer detail reproduction. Digital printing has enabled comic publishers to expand their reach beyond local stores and into the online market, making comic books more accessible than ever before.