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In vs. off (line)--A "Fight" to the Finish

April 2000

There are two sides to every story. And, likewise, the pros and cons, the pluses and minuses, the advantages and drawbacks. Whatever you call them, where there is one, there is the other. Good and bad have coexisted since the beginning of time.

And so it is with the story of in-line and off-line finishing: There are advantages and drawbacks to using each technology and trade offs—speed vs. specialty finishing, high-volume price break vs. value-added extras—that ultimately go with the business...the business of web press finishing, either in- or off-line.

But the finishing business is good these days—booming, in some markets, namely direct mail—and disadvantages inherent in each technology are simply absorbed into the operation and accepted as part of the nature of the business itself.

Speed vs. Value-added
For example, web offset printers that want to run at full press speeds and whose products do not require complicated finishing, such as binding, diecutting or labeling, are likely to use in-line systems. Those more complicated applications are best left to off-line systems, where the process can be performed at the speed intended, without tying up press time.

Thus, in-line has the advantage of running at full press speed, while off-line finishing is a slower, more labor-intensive process.

But that same analysis can also be looked at another way: Off-line offers the advantage of performing the "tricks," the value-added (imaging, labeling, kiss-cutting, onserting), while in-line has the distinct disadvantage of being a costly capital investment that must run at full speed to be cost-effective and, therefore, does not provide the flexibility of an off-line system.

Traditionally, in-line finishing systems have afforded the advantages of speed, volume, automation, consistency and reduced labor costs. But, with the boom in direct mail marketing, flexibility is an important key.

Print customers are demanding more value-added products, which require off-line assembly. Also, direct mail marketers, who routinely update vertical data and name lists for timely mail drop campaigns, require the types of customization and personalization that can be provided only through off-line finishing.

"The key is that direct mail clients always want the best names, that is, the latest and up-to-date name list, where they've keyed in on demographics and they're getting the better return on their mail projects. The ability to update regularly is done off-line," says Bob Barthen, vice president of non-imaged products at the Quebecor World Direct Division.



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