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IN-LINE vs. OFF-LINE -- Cross the Finish Line

June 2002
BY CAROLINE MILLER


Over the past few years, the demand for print projects produced "just-in-time" has grown by leaps and bounds. This trend has touched every aspect of the print production process including, and perhaps most importantly, the finishing department. As a result, finishing systems have stepped to the forefront of the discussion. And one important aspect of the entire debate is which finishing solution—in-line or off-line—is the best choice for a particular operation.

Each solution offers its own set of benefits and challenges. So which solution is the right one? Or is a combination of both systems the best way to go?

There are three reasons to finish in-line, according to Clint Humphrey, executive vice president of operations for Quebecor World Commercial/Direct. Quebecor World Commercial/Direct has 18 finishing facilities in its group, of which five facilities are equipped with in-line finishing and three of those are primarily, but not exclusively, dedicated to in-line finishing.

"One reason to finish in-line is that you can produce more pieces in a given time period than you can with the off-line process. In-line really lends itself to direct mail, and there are some formats that you can only produce effectively in-line," reveals Humphrey. "For example, only with in-line finishing can an envelope be formed around the product, then go direct to mail or off-line for additional, value-added features.

"There is some specialty finishing that has to be done off-line, but that is becoming few and far between; in-line is becoming much better at those formats," he adds. "And, finally, with the right para-meters you can produce the piece for less money then you could off-line."

Still, despite its benefits, in-line finishing does have some drawbacks.

"Certainly, off-line offers more flexibility," Humphrey admits. "In-line is somewhat restrictive in what you can produce. By in large, you can only make folds in the direction of the web travel. So you have to make all folds parallel to each other. But, with the ability to handle lots of different ribbons, gluing, diecutting, perforating and multiple gluing, you can really create some unusual formats that you couldn't create in an off-line operation," he says.

This ability to produce unusual formats is becoming more and more important as clients look for unique pieces to catch their customers' attention. "The goal is to get the consumer to pick up your piece of mail and open it. If you can make it memorable, interactive and exciting, then they are more likely to pick it up," Humphrey adds.
 

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