Digital Finishing: Different Paths to Success
Digital production has come a long way since its introduction in the early 1990s, but a print job is only as good as how well it's finished. The range of finishing available, combined with increasing customer demands for differentiation, has meant that for many shops, creating the balance between offerings and profitability remains delicate.
Let's look at five digital printing establishments and how they've created the balance between meeting customer expectations and maintaining profitability.
Digital Dimensions 3
Digital Dimensions 3 (DD3), in Lyndhurst, NJ, has built its business on digital postpress by personalizing diecut mailers. It has a very specific market, and Harvey Hirsch, president and creative director of DD3, has staked his entire business model on serving it.
"To get the piece seen and read, you have to get away from the rectangle," explains Hirsch. "With the average cost of a direct mail piece pegged at $1.25 (#10 envelope with two-color letter and full-color sell sheet) in a short run of 10,000 pieces, coupled with the average response rate of 0.1 percent, a mailer's cost can be $125 per response. That's a lot of money—and that's not even a sale. It's an inquiry."
Knowing that shaped and dimensional mail gets far higher response rates than traditional (even personalized) mail, Hirsch turned to straight paper path, small-footprint digital systems to help him develop a process to make even personalized, diecut mailers profitable at ultra-short runs. The process, which is patented in eight countries, turns Fiery-driven, connected color copiers into digital presses capable of running unique diecut templates.
Moving the postpress operation to the front end drops the minimum run length (and setup) from 500 to 50 pieces. "Traditionally, to set up a diecutting press, you need at least 500 pieces," Hirsch explains. "If you diecut first, you can print as few as 10 and alter the type and photos on each one."
This capability has profound marketing implications. Hirsch can send out four different postcards in lots of 50 and (he contends) generate a 40 percent response. "One day I send a fish. The next day I send a piggy bank. The next day I send a bite card or a hotcard. The cost is about the same for each. The unique shapes get immediate attention and my clients can follow up with a phone call and generate an appointment to close a sale."
Hirsch works with Nutley, NJ-based Rule 1 Dies and Holographic Finishing in Ridgefield, NJ. The papers (including metallic papers) are diecut and pressed in such a way that they hold the shapes together, even when traveling through most digital presses.
"Diecutting adds about a nickel to the piece—that's it!" exclaims Hirsch, who has won hundreds of industry awards for his innovative marketing campaigns, including a coveted Xerox PIXI award. "Now I can take that $125 cost per lead down to $25 for my clients. I'm a big proponent of 'if it's not personalized and shaped and dimensional, it's not worth sending.' "
The Seibel Group
On the other end of the spectrum is The Seibel Group, a general commercial printer in Princeton, NJ, which offers a wide range of digital printing and finishing.
The Seibel Group runs two Canon imagePRESS C6010VP presses (driven by Fiery 3200 imagePRESS RIPs) with in-line saddlestitchers. For its finishing, it operates an MBO B123 folder with eight-page attachment, a Polar 92 cutter, a Rosback 201CA auto-stitcher, a Duplo DC-645 slitter/cutter/creaser, a Challenge three-hole drill press, a GBC coil binder and a Minipack-torre Replay 55 shrink wrap machine.
Seibel's most recent digital finishing investment is its Wire-O system purchased in March 2013. Previously, the company relied on a manual system. Its new Rhino-Tuff Onyx wire and coil punch with a Pic a Lift and auto paper ejector and stacker enables production of a higher volume of books more quickly.
"Before, we would use an outside vendor for anything over a 100," notes Ken Seibel, president of The Seibel Group. "Now, we can produce runs in the thousands and stay competitive." The purchase was driven entirely by client demand.
Overall, Seibel feels that digital finishing has come a long way, especially with the new creasing and scoring systems that eliminate cracking across the fold. "As long as jobs are printed with the correct grain direction, 99 percent of our jobs come out perfect," he says. "Our Duplo will also trim the piece to its finished size, even if running multiple-up on a sheet."
Seibel says client expectations still need to be managed when it comes to bookletmaking, however, since inconsistencies can still occur. "Whether in-line or off-line, the finishing for saddlestitched books still has a ways to go, especially for the price point," he explains. "We come from the offset side, where we are used to everything being as near perfect as possible—perfect square trim, always hitting right on the crop marks—and it just doesn't happen with most bookletmakers. But they are coming along."
Clients can be well educated about the company's postpress capabilities on its Website. Where Seibel feels that his staff provides a lot of value in terms of personal interaction is guiding decisions related to cost-efficiency. This can be non-intuitive in a digital finishing environment.
"Say you're doing 1,000 copies of a Wire-O book. You may have 60-page books, plus covers, so it sounds like the quantity warrants it to be printed offset," Seibel explains. "But that's not necessarily true because, in the digital world, that book is going to be automatically printed, collated and ready to be bound. With offset, you'll run it, multiples up, cut it, and collate it, then you still have the finishing process. When you take into consideration the impact of the manual finishing of the job, it changes the cost structure between offset and digital. Every job is different. That's why there is no price list!"
Not all printers feel that they must have in-house finishing to be profitable. Philadelphia-based M3 Printing, which offers software development, managed IT services and business consultation alongside printing services, prefers to outsource a lot of its finishing work.
"We are a printer, but we embrace the brokering side of things, as well," says Barry Carr, managing member of M3 Printing. "If we did everything under one roof, we'd have a billion dollars worth of equipment and 99 percent of it would be sitting idle 99 percent of the time."
Carr's background is network administration and programming, so he used his expertise to develop a CIP3-driven (International Cooperation for Integration of Prepress, Press, and Postpress) finishing workflow that makes his operation incredibly efficient. The software, called Printing in a Box, is marketed to the industry through another company.
M3 Printing's core printing business is built around Internet gang runs of business cards, postcards and brochures. It focuses on short- and medium-run lengths (up to 40,000) produced off the company's array of digital and offset presses.
"Everything is laid out, maximized and optimized by technologies that I've created," Carr says.
On the cutting end, M3 utilizes the CIP3 print production format to drive its Prism P78 paper cutter. This allows 25 business cards to be produced for the same amount of effort as doing 100,000. "We are the mom-and-pop with gadgets," Carr beams. "We are one of the few printers which uses CIP technology that is not a $40 million printing company."
Printing in a Box is a complete e-commerce system, including production workflow, invoicing and fulfillment. Carr calls it "invoicing, folding, production management, MIS, CRM, POS, and all those acronyms bundled into one."
"A lot of other companies claim they offer CIP3, but I'm a printer and I designed it," he says.
The solution is capable of driving creasing and folding machines, too, but because M3's Baum AutoSet folder is pre-programmable, Carr does not feel that CIP integration is necessary in this particular case. "The only benefit we would get is that we don't need to push a button," he says. "There is no benefit in that."
Where the CIP3 benefit comes in is on the cutting end, both in the layout and in the labeling. "When the cutter operator gets the run, he finds the run number, hits 'go,' and the machine is programmed automatically. It takes five seconds—tops," notes Carr. "Plus, there is no more putting jobs into the wrong boxes. Boxes are put on rollers, pushed into the shipping area, and scanned. The employee clicks a button and the UPS or FedEx label is printed out. The error rate is zero."
Lowell, MA-based King Printing also places a strong focus on its finishing capabilities, offering all necessary binding services in-house. The plant employs casing-in lines, case makers and perfect binders from Kolbus, as well as trimmers and saddlestitchers from Muller Martini. All binding, including mechanical binding, is handled under one roof.
The book manufacturer specializes in short-run printing and binding for individuals, small businesses and book publishers. Self-publishing is one of its primary markets, along with the educational and trade markets.
Most of its jobs are direct to publisher, so its production, finishing and fulfillment operations need to be at maximum efficiency. "Our niche is lower run lengths, higher frequency of orders," says Adi Chinai, the company's managing director. "In our plant, we can be binding, printing and receiving an order for the same book—all at the same time."
King Printing has multiple workflows for softcover and hardcover books running in three shifts. Most of the equipment coming online now is capable of handling various trim sizes.
"We have a very flexible bindery in terms of trim size capabilities," adds Chinai. "We dynamically bind quantities of one and up using JDF/JMF/barcodes, so our multiple binding lines can utilize the automation inside the machines. Everything is driven by our MIS and ERP systems. This creates much higher throughput for all of our different trim sizes."
King Printing was the first book manufacturer to install four-color inkjet (Screen Truepress Jet web press), and all of its postpress is supported by fully variable cutoff systems. Its lines are also designed to handle four-color inserting. If all of the stock in a job is the same, printing and inserting is handled using selective inserting in-line.
How does King Printing decide which book to bind on which lines? "The variables of each product and the TAT determine the selection," explains Chinai. "What is the trim size, run length, final bind style? Generally, if it's shorter quantity, it's geared towards the Muller Martini. For hardcover, we focus more on Kolbus. We really like their automation for short-run changeovers."
King Printing uses JDF at the machine level rather than the central MIS system level. "There is still technology that is not at the level it needs to be," he says. "Many binding lines don't have the capability to accept job messaging for fast makeready. But, as runs get shorter, the value of investing in more automation becomes more critical."
What makes King Printing unique? Its ability to produce "every type of binding style" in-house: mechanical to sewn, foil stamped softcover, gatefold, hardcover, spiral wire, plastic coil and saddlestitched. "We can even produce a title where it's been split three ways: spiral-bound hardcover back, softcover edition and hardcover edition (including short-run hardcovers)—all done simultaneously," according to Chinai.
Express Printing Services
Express Printing Services, East Hanover, NJ, was launched in 2012 by Val DiGiacinto and Bob Moran, who met while working at The Ace Group. Starting a company from scratch gave the duo the opportunity to build a workflow in a way that ideally suited their business model and customer base. Express Printing serves the "quick turn digital on steroids" market from soup to nuts, including campaign development, data, mailing and finishing.
As a new company, DiGiacinto and Moran balanced new and used equipment, in-house finishing and outsourcing, to create the right mix. "There is a lot of 'not so used' equipment on the market right now," says DiGiacinto, president of Express Printing. "Some of it really holds its value."
Express Printing's equipment mix, from folding and creasing to drilling and saddlestitching, reads like a Who's Who of the finishing market: Morgana, Duplo, Champion and Challenge. Between 75 percent to 80 percent of its finishing is handled in-house.
One of Express Printing's keystone production machines is its Duplo bookletmaker with 10-bin autofeeder. "For a lot of what we are doing, the jobs are multi-part so some of the pieces are collated, some are not," explains DiGiacinto. "We also get a fair number of jobs in which the clients are supplying some of the materials. We needed the capability of working with mixed collated and uncollated jobs."
For longer runs, Express Printing has developed local partnerships that allow its team to outsource services while still treating them as if they were done in-house. Because all of Express Printing's suppliers are within a few miles of its location, DiGiacinto is able to be on-site when the work is being done.
The value of this flexibility was driven home recently, DiGiacinto reveals, when Express Printing produced a very special, multi-page brochure that contained five pockets. "When the pockets were filled with folded sell sheets, the sheets were bulging on the right and were 'pinched' on the left where they were bound," he recalls. "We added spacers to the bound left edge to compensate. We sent both samples to the client and they were very pleased!"
In terms of client education, DiGiacinto says that the variety of folding options and concealed Wire-O binding are some of the most likely candidates for making clients say, "I didn't know you did that!" "You can do Wire-O, but by adding a wrap-round cover with a glue strip, it becomes something much more unique and people think of it as a more polished piece," he says. "On a bookshelf, it looks perfect bound. The old saying goes 'you can't judge a book by its cover,' except people always do."
Even though it's not a digital process, DiGiacinto also shows Japanese stitching during initial client meetings to reinforce that Express Printing isn't just a digital production, mailing and fulfillment shop. "We coat and get either a soft touch or use a special paper for the cover like Touché," he says. "The second it's in your hand, [you realize] it's something different. When people feel it, they feel compelled to open it."
In order to be fully profitable, DiGiacinto believes that showing and demonstrating the fuller range of finishing services, including outsourced services, must be part of what compels Express Printing's clients to utilize its services. "Realizing we can do the entire project—with full supervision and quality control, regardless of the run length, job requirements or where the job components are being produced—makes a big difference to them," he concludes.
As with everything else these days, the world of digital postpress is about customization—in this case, customization to a business model. Among successful companies, there is the willingness to find a niche and commit to it. There is more specialization, even as there is growing reliance on strategic partnerships. The goal is to focus capital investment on a core business model.
Put simply, today's digital postpress requirement is about finding what you have a passion for, then doing it well. PI