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CEO of Finishing Resources, Inc

The Finish Line

By Don Piontek

About Don

Don Piontek began his career as a technician for high-speed mailing equipment, and later was involved in the production end of the volume mailing sector. His first sales job was with Mead Digital Systems selling first-generation inkjet systems. Mead was the precursor to what today is Kodak

New Frontiers in Wide-Format Finishing

One subject that I feel doesn’t get enough coverage is wide-format finishing. With the rapid growth of digital printing technology in this area, the focus on finishing is increasing.

Wide-format encompasses signage, wraps, textiles, wall coverings…you name it. The introduction of very-wide-format sheet and roll printers has made “one off” production of high-quality graphics on almost any substrate a reality.

Now comes the finishing part. You can print an infinite variety of greeting cards, signs, appliques, decals and other products, but you usually have to separate these from the substrate. Enter high-technology. Laser tech, being one.

High-powered lasers and high-pressure water jets have been used for some time for cutting various materials, including sheet metal. Now, laser diecutting systems can produce the most intricate diecut patterns you can imagine. If you can draw it, you can diecut it.

In fact, some of these machines simply work from an Adobe Illustrator file. Using precision mirrors driven by servo controls, the laser quickly cuts the desired pattern from the substrate. Laser power is calibrated according to the material and its thickness.

You would think this is not a fast process, but it is. When you watch one of these machines in action, you are struck by how blindingly fast the laser works. The tradeoff is laser diecutters are not cheap, as you might expect with this technology.

Other wide-format cutting systems use precisely controlled tools mounted on a moving platform that can proscribe any path within an X and Y axis. These are typically flat-bed type systems, but can process either sheeted material or rolls.

The tools/bits are mounted in a “universal” moving mount, with options for cutting, routing, kiss-cutting, V-cutting, and more. These machines can handle substrates up to 2˝ thick. The various cutting tools are chosen according to substrate type, and cutting or routing depth is controlled to within thousands of an inch.

The applications for these machines vary tremendously, from vinyl, boxes, leather, custom magnets and labels, to greeting cards, signage, wraps  and POP displays. Their uses are almost endless.

With both finishing technologies, the operator simply loads the material, and away the machine goes. This combination of print-on-demand wide-format printing and finishing has truly revolutionized the large-format signage and display industries, and new developments will (no doubt) be on display at drupa 2012.

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