By Cassandra Balentine
Print enhancements and embellishments alter the look of a printed piece, sometimes adding a tactile effect. Depending on the desired finish, these effects stand out from the pack and can even elicit an emotional response from the recipient or viewer.
Above: Harris & Bruno offers as a strong understanding of all the ingredients that lead to success in embellishment—equipment, chemistry, substrate, and ink.
Hot foil, cold foil, embossing, debossing, lamination, thermal lamination, spot varnish, cast and cure, tactile varnish, digital spot varnish, digital foiling, doming, combination foil/embossing, and hologram insertion are examples of print embellishments.
Yuji Buchan, senior portfolio manager, production toner sheet-fed color and B&W systems, Ricoh USA, Inc., says for sheet-fed devices, anything that requires more than traditional CMYK qualifies as an embellishment or enhancement. “While some people may only think of higher-profile offline options like foiling, inline options like fifth color toner can be used for embellishments, too. Other types of embellishments include lamination—including soft touch, coating—such as UV coating, either spot or flood—and cutting applications into specific shapes.”
Juergen Stocker, head of sales and product management, Steinemann DPE AG, a KURZ company, says common enhancements for sheet-fed output include lamination, varnish, metallization, embossing, creasing, and die cutting; while for reel-to-reel—or narrow web label printing—screen white, varnish, metallization, embossing, and die cutting are examples of embellishment.
A range of embellishments are performed today, but their level of difficulty varies. The skill set required of the designer and equipment operator—as well as the equipment itself—affect ease of application from embellishments.
Expanded imaging stations are available on several production presses, presenting an inline solution for effects like metallic and neon colors, white, varnish, and security options. With these five- and six-color digital presses widely available, some inline print embellishments can be simple to produce.
Higher-end embellishments tend to demand more expertise, effort, and/or specialized equipment. “Offline options often require more moving parts and touchpoints. Fortunately, the learning process can be significantly streamlined by working with experts on how to make the most of an embellishment,” explains Buchan.
Mark Geeves, director of sales and marketing, Color-Logic, points out that with modern registration software and optics, offline embellishments are easy to add to the printed sheet. “It is often important, however, for the graphic designer to understand in advance what embellishment process will be used,” he cautions.
Rick Salinas, VP of marketing, Duplo USA, says simple laminates are probably the easiest to achieve, such as soft touch.
Matt Burton, global sales director, AB Graphic International Ltd., agrees, noting that basic and common enhancements—starting with varnish and lamination—are quick to set up and easy to use, but still add value.
Salinas points out that multi-sensory finishes are probably the most difficult and expensive to pull off. “An example is a book cover that has soft touch laminate with a raised UV title and foil accents,” he shares.
Burton agrees, noting that the hardest embellishments to achieve are combination foil and embossing, both of which require time setting up and specialist tools, but provide beautiful results.
More challenging effects include embossing, creasing, and die cutting. Stocker believes that these advanced effects tend to be primarily offered by specialized printers.
It’s important that anyone looking to produce special effect coatings have the right combination of equipment for the specific application. “With the right coating equipment and chamber/anilox system, it can be relatively simple to achieve the desired effects. Some of the tougher/more viscous coatings require heating and other techniques to achieve the proper flow,” explains Danielle Wood, marketing specialist, Harris & Bruno International.
By Popular Demand
Among the embellishments and enhancements available, several are in high demand by print providers or buyers.
One hot application is soft touch laminates, which Salinas says have gained popularity in recent years. “It is easy to apply and quickly changes the look and feel of the printed piece.”
In addition to soft touch, Sean Tobler, business development manager, Harris & Bruno, says grit and glitter are popular. “These techniques are usually driven by brands, but we are focused on enabling print service provider’s (PSPs) to push new embellishment techniques and capabilities to the market.” For example, he says Disney likes large glitter flakes and car brands—especially truck focused manufacturers—gravitate towards grit/sand. “These effects help connect end users to their marketing messages on a sensory level,” he admits.
Salinas points out that sleeking is another popular process, which is foil adhered to toner.
Based on existing market demand, Kevin Abergel, SVP, sales and marketing, MGI, believes flood coats are the most popular enhancement. This is due to the ease of use and low cost to the end customer. While he admits it may not be the most impactful effect, it is probably the most widely sold.
From a PSP standpoint, Leonard Christopher, worldwide product manager, KODAK NEXFINITY and NexPress Digital Presses, Kodak, says its Clear Dry Ink is popular because the digital front end job ticket settings allow for many different modes, such as protection coating or a gloss coating.
From a customer standpoint, Kodak’s Dimensional Clear is popular as it provides the ability to catch the eye or get the recipient’s attention with texture. “Depending on the customer and their applications, they may have strong individual interest in other specialty inks, such as Gold, Metallic Clear, Red Fluorescing, White, or a custom color,” he shares.
In the sheet-fed space, Stocker points to varnish and metallization as popular effects. He says this is due to a PSP’s desire to be more flexible and eliminate the long wait for screenprinted forms or analog hot foiling. In the reel-to-reel market, they want to replace the complicated process of rotary screen white effects.
Burton sees embellishment and enhancement requirements as sector specific. For example, the wine and beverage market requires more hot/cold foiling and tactile screen embellishments to stand out. In other markets such as food, flexographic spot varnishing and lamination is mostly used. “A general trend across all sectors is to increase embellishment of the product in order to maximize shelf appeal and reflect brand value.
We feel that this is customer led, but enabled by new advances in print finishing. This in turn allows print providers to show designers and brands what’s possible and inspire them.”
At the end of the day, an embellishment’s popularity is a function of its effectiveness and its cost. “The type of embellishment a print buyer chooses varies significantly based on their customers’ needs and vision. If a client knows they want a certain mailpiece to ‘pop,’ it’s at the print provider’s discretion—based on their knowledge of the customer and the audience—whether or not to suggest quicker, more affordable options or higher-end embellishments,” shares Buchan.
Offering embellishments adds value to the printed piece, but also complexity to the production process. It takes time and skill to effectively add enhancements and embellishments. Tobler says many print providers struggle to find on-press research and development time to prototype new embellishment techniques. “Too often, something is sold based on matching a competitor’s output versus perfecting your own in-house embellishment techniques,” he explains.
Tobler says unleashing your sales team’s creativity by branding new coating effects involves chemistry and equipment experts that really understand how to perform these techniques.
When first offering embellishment, Buchan says the biggest obstacle is getting press operators to a level of expertise with the new process. “Some enhancements have a steeper learning curve than others, but proper training and support makes all the difference in getting new offerings market ready, fast,” he shares. “If your shop is new to print embellishments, consider starting with options with a more intuitive process, such as splashes of neon color or UV security features that require minimal training and leverage an inline fifth color station. Third-party experts who have helped countless shops make the most of their embellishment offerings can also be a powerful ally in this.”
Burton admits that some processes require a high skill set to utilize the technology, and training and up-skilling can be time consuming.
In addition to the learning curve, Salinas points out that embellishments are a value add. “That means it’s not usually filling an existing need. So in the beginning it’s a pure cost until you find the customer for it.”
Abergel adds that print providers must understand the value and determine the best sales and marketing and go-to market strategy in order to feel confident in charging premium pricing.
“Marketing is a huge issue for print providers,” agrees Geeves. Adding embellishments to a printed product essentially changes an otherwise commodity job to a custom project. “To the printer, this means that solution selling—rather than a simple bid—is required, and merely showing the client a sample is not enough. Print clients and their graphic designers need education, training, and tools to properly implement embellishments. Sales teams need to approach brand or client marketing officers and/or creative directors and can no longer simply deal with procurement personnel,” he comments.
Christopher admits to a learning curve for selling specific embellishments. This process is enhanced by providing sample files that highlight the specific embellishments and how-to design guides that can be rebranded by customers and offered to designers as needed. “That helps prime the sales pump for this type of work and allows customers to start to differentiate themselves faster in their markets. Sales representatives love to sell differentiated products, so there is usually little resistance in adopting the new capabilities,” he says.
While in general, digital embellishments are good today, Stocker feels that you can’t yet do everything that is possible with analog technologies. “Printers must be aware that there are limitations but also possibilities for new designs and applications,” he states.
Inline, Offline, Nearline
Print embellishment happens inline on certain presses as well as near or offline on specialty devices. A rage of post-press options are available. For many advanced effects, offline processes have an advantage. However, for reel-to-reel jobs—particularly labels, inline options offer distinct benefits.
Nick Bruno, president, Harris & Bruno, feels inline embellishment processes are better suited for simple coatings like gloss or matte UV, gloss or matte aqueous. Meanwhile, special effects like soft touch and reticulation are better performed offline.
“We find that the majority of high-end embellishment is done offline in order to maximize efficiency,” adds Burton. He says this is due to quick makeready and the nature of the low-cost tooling and minimal wastage created in each job set up.
Offline solutions enable print providers to embellish all output, regardless of what type of printing process was used. “There are some cases where inline can be an advantage, but today, most PSPs want to leverage the different technologies they have already invested in,” admits Abergel.
Stocker says sheet-fed configurations normally employ offline embellishments as the printing machines tend to run faster than finishing machines. “A offset printing machine in B1 format can run up 18,000 sheets per hour. Therefore we traditionally have an offline machine culture in sheet-fed print enhancement. If we use digital print enhancement machines to enhance sheets coming from offset presses, we also have a speed difference. Offset presses run faster. If we print on sheets from digital presses, an integration of digital embellishment could make sense, as the speed of digital printing machines and some embellishment machines is equal,” he explains.
From an offline perspective, Buchan says Ricoh leverages its third party partners to enable print embellishment for its customers. “This can take the form of simple coatings to provide protection to more impactful digital foiling. The benefits of doing this offline are that these products can utilize materials from multiple different types of presses and it leaves your digital press open and productive with other applications simultaneously.” On the flip side, having a separate unit potentially means additional space, power, and user training requirements.
In general, Geeves believes inline embellishment reduces production time, lowers cost, and minimizes waste. Manufacturers of digital platforms emphasize reduced time-to-market as a key selling point. However, some offline specialty devices offer incredible results, providing brand clients with dramatic features and greater return on response from their target audiences.
When determining the best way to add embellishment capabilities in house, Christopher believes that the cost of the job is always a concern, so the ability to minimize labor cost, waste in setup, and loss of press productivity are all important factors. “We require minimal time to switch specialty inks—15 minutes or less—so that gives our customers an advantage for inline production. Offline production always adds time to job turnaround, unless the production speed—not rated speed—is so much higher than an inline solution that you make up the setup times. For an inline solution, the added cost of adding an embellishment technique needs to make sense if it is going to be attached inline to a single press,” he comments.
In the flexographic printing processes, Burton says some high-end embellishment processes are done inline, allowing for a single pass. “However, this is expensive and reduces press productivity and creates waste. Therefore, it could be argued that completing high-end embellishment at the end of the flexographic press helps to maximize efficiencies, whilst reducing waste and cost.”
Stocker says reel-to-reel printing traditionally offers inline integration coming from flexographic technology. “We have combination printing between screen—ink or varnish, flexography, offset, rotogravure, cold foil, and hot foil,” he explains. With inline combination printing, one advantage is at the end you have a finished label.”
Return on Investment (ROI)
Investing resources on a value-add technology isn’t always the top priority. However, when done correctly and marketed well, print enhancement solutions can bring in value, profit, and an edge over the competition.
“Much of driving ROI for embellishments comes down to sales and marketing,” admits Buchan. The way you frame an enhancement to a customer helps dictate how much they are willing to pay. “Through our alliances with customers, we encourage them to do research to help their end customers truly see the value of up charged add ons. If you can cite statistics, such as five-color envelopes’ affect on open rates, your investments will start paying for themselves much faster. It’s important to know your customer base to understand what kinds of enhancements they might be interested in—and how much they’d be willing to pay for them. Consider discussing your options with a third-party consultant who knows your business, and your competitive space, well,” he suggests.
Whether produced inline or offline, print enhancement and embellishment solutions have the potential to add value to your output and improve profits. However, these options can be tricky to market and master. For those that do it right, the opportunities are endless.
Sep2020, DPS Magazine