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Digital Finishing : Find Your (In, Off, Near) Line

Erik Cagle, Senior Editor

June 2012
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It doesn’t take Nostradamus to foresee the future of mainstream printing. While we’re a long way off from saying the offset press belongs in a museum more than it does in your shop—no need to advertise it on craigslist just yet—it is safe to say that digital production presses are capturing more mind share than ever before, a trend that certainly figures to continue.

Anyone who attended drupa last month can attest to this, as most of the buzz surrounded digital printing, particularly inkjet devices and Benny Landa’s nanographic printing process (a good deal of the offerings have an ETA of 12 to 18 months). Even the offset press manufacturers are getting in on the act by adding inkjet heads onto their iron in order to accommodate hybrid short runs and personalization, the bread and butter of digital’s value proposition.

This, of course, is the driving force behind how printers situate their finishing equipment with digital presses. The in-line, off-line or near-line debate is anything but a debate, but it is interesting to note the configurations and the rationale behind them, as they vary from printer to printer.

Take Bookmasters, a full-service provider to the publishing community based in Ashland, OH. Ray Sevin, president of manufacturing services and a 30-year veteran of the company, points out that his firm relies on offset and digital printing, with the average digital press run ranging between 200 and 500 copies. All runs under 1,000 are produced digitally, with offset handling quantities in excess.

On the offset end, the average perfect-bound run is 3,000 to 3,500. Case binding is also used on both digital and offset jobs. While Bookmasters’ total number of titles produced sees a 50/50 split between the printing methods, about 80 percent of billing is ticketed offset due to run lengths.

About a year ago, Bookmasters installed the scalable Muller Martini SigmaLine, which can produce 1,000 fully variable length, width and thickness books per hour. Bookmasters prefers to go the in-line route due to schedule and labor savings, but also relishes the flexibility provided by near-line finishing gear.

“We have other Muller Martini equipment; several years ago, we installed the Diamant casing-in line for our offset division,” Sevin explains. “We were very impressed with that installation.”

Bookmasters prides itself on true print-on-demand capabilities and the ability to effectively and efficiently produce one-off titles. With the SigmaLine, Sevin says the machine brought both variable trim and barcode reader capabilities to the table.



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