The In-Line vs. Off-Line Finishing Battle

Well…it’s not really a battle, but the debate has gone on for as long as I can remember (and I have been on both sides of it).

Let’s look at the book industry, which is in a state of consolidation. Here, the debate has taken on new life because of

  • a) the “digitalization” of the book industry, and
  • b) the current reality of producing books in runs of 250 or less.

The reason why continuous-web inkjet presses are being installed by book printers is not that the machines are terrific bargains (they’re not). This trend is due to the fact that such presses are the only way book printers are able to produce work in small run lengths.

Inkjet presses can produce books of one. So how does one approach the binding aspect? The majority of inkjet-printed book work is soft-cover, perfect-bound products. Perfect binders have been installed in in-line configurations for some time now. Still, when trying to decide how to configure a press/finishing module, you need to ask the right questions. In order to do that, you need to understand both the print AND finishing side of the equation.

Here are my recommendations for what to consider in deciding between in- and off-line finishing:

What’s the final product?—Different end products require different levels of complexity. For example, producing folded signatures in-line (for binding later) is fairly straightforward. You either buckle fold and cut, or plow fold and cut. There are proven systems that do these operations very efficiently and reliably.

Putting the binder in-line is a different story. Book blocks have to be produced, then automatically conveyed to the binder and put into the binder clamp.

Hard cover books are even more complex. I have designed systems for in-line coil binding, side-stitching and punching, shrink-wrapping, you name it. ANYTHING is possible, but not necessarily efficient. The more complex the finishing steps are, the greater the potential for total system stoppages over the course of a shift.

Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.
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