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Digital Finishing : Crossing the Finish Line

February 2010 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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AccuLink's finishing capabilities include collating, stitching, folding, trimming, perfect binding, plastic coil and Wire-O binding, diecutting, foil stamping, embossing and UV coating. Over the years, the shop has carved out a name for itself by producing certain products, such as index tabs, and now churns out ultra short-run, perfect bound books (with tabs) and short-run scratchoff goodies. A new, exciting application for the printer is the marriage of table tents with QR (Quick Response) codes.

Digital printing is gaining dominance. In 2010-speak, a long run tops out at a couple of thousand, notes O'Brien. "We're seeing lengths get shorter and shorter every day," he says. "And the turn times are getting shorter. Customers' expectations are increasing, but the amount they think they ought to pay is decreasing."

Another advocate for off-line binding/finishing is TecDoc Digital Solutions of Hudson, MA, a small digital shop that produces documents, manuals, booklets, case studies, collateral and direct mail. With custom short runs, off-line finishing provides the flexibility that TecDoc requires, according to CEO David Trombino. With some of its gear featuring computer controls, setup times are cut, providing more flexibility in the number of jobs and configurations that can be pumped through the shop simultaneously.

One of TecDoc's more unique applications is customized direct mail that is shaped relevant to the customer's campaign. "For example, if the client is selling cowboy boots, the mail piece could be diecut in the shape of a boot," Trombino says. "All it has to do is fit with a certain aspect ratio requirement that the USPS puts out."

Folds Caused Cracking

Technology quickly corrected many of the issues that accompany digital finishing. Trombino notes that TecDoc initially had difficulty with single- and double-folds cracking the toner on the color digital pieces—an aspect that several printers here noted. A number of printers, TecDoc included, turned to a Morgana auto creaser to solve the dilemma.

Mindful that the finishing of digital products requires equipment specific to those needs, Fresh Color Press, of Eden Prairie, MN, debuted in 2003 with the required gear. Still, diligent preparation during the ramp-up process can't fully anticipate the problems that may arise. Brian Johnson, Fresh Color's co-owner, notes the company found difficulty with lamination adhesion to heavy-coverage materials that bleed, a familiar foe to digital finishers. It was remedied either by using a heavier, thicker laminate or by using stick laminate.

Fresh Color finds that its finishing department is easily up to the task of handling output from its three Kodak NexPress and two Kodak Digimaster presses, thus the decision to go with an off-line finishing workflow. Post cards, self-mailers, booklets, point-of-sale materials, invitations and pressure-sensitive labels head a product category which Johnson calls general commercial digital printing.

It is cost-prohibitive for many small digital shops—a term inherently redundant, given the size of the typical digital specialist—to boast every piece of digital finishing gear for every need that may arise. That won't stop Johnson from striving to keep all work in-house.

"Since so much of what we do requires fast turns, there's no time to send jobs out to be finished," he says. "There's also so much cost relative to sending work out—gathering, packing, doing a PO, dropping off, waiting and picking it up. We have always, from day one, wanted to finish as much as we can. For us, it's a big point of differentiation.

"A lot of commercial litho printers typically only have one digital color press, and they're not as good at it because they're not immersed in it. They don't have the finishing equipment that we do. In digital printing, finishing capability can be a powerful point of differentiation."

Many print shops that offer digital are not dedicated ones, which is the case with Ripon Printers, the pride of Ripon, WI. According to Mike Thorson, prepress manager, Ripon currently relies on off-line finishing gear, but is looking to go near-line in order to serve both the offset and digital masters.

Ripon offers perfect binding, stitching, trimming and folding. Its most recent digital press acquisition was a Canon imagePRESS C6000VP. Among the items on Thorson's wish list are automated slitting/cutting/creasing, short-run binding and UV coating.

"The equipment we're looking at is primarily near-line, so it can be co-located with the digital presses and be used for multiple presses," he says. "Flexibility and cost are the driving factors." PI


 

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