In-line vs. Off-line Digital Finishing: The Eternal Question

With the growth of digital print, lots of consideration goes into designing the optimum finishing process. And with this, lots of ill-considered advice is dispensed!

The first reaction of many digital print vendors is “don’t put anything on the end of my press!” This would have been solid info in the offset world. Web offset presses were not designed for short runs, and adding an in-line finishing system makeready to a press makeready could add many hours (if not a day or so) to the process. In-line finishing was quite common in the direct mail world, but you had to have a run of a million pieces or so to make it viable.

The short-run nature of digital presses means the finishing process must be carefully analyzed. So let’s look at the in-line and off-line options, and the arguments for each. First, the terms “off-line” and “near-line” are commonly confused. “Off-line” has been used to mean that the starting point of the product is a printed sheet, while “near-line” means that you are starting from a printed roll.

There are advantages (and disadvantages) to each approach:

Off-line and Near-line:

  • Flexibility: No doubt about this. Decoupling a finishing system from the digital press allows the press to PRINT with no possibility of a stoppage from a downstream device. Stoppages are not trivial on an in-line system. When behind a digital press, a restart of the finisher with the press can take several minutes.
  • When to choose: If your work is mainly short-run AND requires several format/size changes during a shift, then off-line/near-line is the way to go. Keeping a digital press waiting for the finishing system to be made ready is a very poor use of time. Also, if you have to process the work of several different presses, this is the way to go. Last of all, off- or near-line permit good options for future finishing capacity and capability.


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  • Kim Markovich

    Great to see someone talking about FINISHING as an integral PART of the Inkjet printing process. Today it seems everybody is talking about only the ink and paper part of the process and I have yet to see a printing operation stop at only printing! Finishing could be considered THE most important part of the process as it’ could be one of the biggest bottlenecks to production. One critical part missed in Don’s post that must also be considered when determining inline vs offline/near-line is, the lack of finishing experience the inkjet press manufacturers possess. This often leaves the customer and subsequently the industry to fend for themselves when it comes to making the right finishing choice. Thanks Don for putting some focus on finishing!