by DPS Magazine Staff
Finishing is an essential tool in print production. However, many finishing tasks also add value and improve efficiency. The availability and adoption of automation, variable capabilities, and digital embellishments make print finishing and embellishment a segment to watch closely in the next few years.
From metallic decoration and embossing, to coatings, haptic effects, and advanced cutting, post-press finishing adds value to a range of applications including labels and packaging and direct mail.
Today’s print customer has high expectations. “They want unique pieces that will catch the consumer’s eye and break through the noise,” shares Bob Flinn, director of business development, Standard Finishing Systems. Print providers that can offer embellishments like embossing or die cutting have a better opportunity to capture more business and expand their offerings in more directions.
“Some of the greatest innovation in the printing industry today centers on finishing and embellishment, especially digital technologies that enable high-end specialty finishing even for short-run, digital projects. Study after study show that consumers are drawn to embellished print pieces and brand managers and marketers know that special finishing techniques will increase sales and response rates,” shares Thayer Long, president, The Association for PRINT Technologies (APTech).
He points out that savvy print providers know it too and are building their business through these value-added services.
“Modern embellishment technology is making this application more accessible and less intimidating to both print providers and buyers,” adds Long.
Because of this, APTech and Foil & Specialty Effects Association (FSEA) are debuting the Amplify trade event. Focused on print finishing and embellishment, it will take place from June 14 to 16, 2022 at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, MN.
At Amplify, attendees will learn about product developments from industry vendors and the new technology available—from the basic to the most advanced—plus the growing availability of automation technology and how it drives value and efficiency.
Digital Efficiency and Automation
Modern finishing techniques are utilized in several ways to improve efficiency, increase sales, improve appeal, and increase response rates for a range of applications.
Simon Lewis, VP, marketing, Highcon, points out that time to market is crucial. “Delivering exactly what your customer wants is essential. When that is custom boxes in low volumes, typically that means expensive, not so fast, and MOQs that can be higher than the customer wants, not to speak of prices. This is where digital die cutting comes in.”
Digital technologies help meet these evolving demands, while automation furthers efficiency.
“The more automated the process the quicker the set up and the better the accuracy. This improves cost effectiveness and reduces waste,” adds Chris Raney, VP of postpress, Heidelberg.
Flinn agrees, adding that devices with high levels of automation allow for quick setup and changeover and flexibility for different applications, run lengths, dies, and more. The ability to store jobs in memory and recall them at the touch of a button is also very useful when there are many jobs that return on a regular basis, and it allows customers to request die cut work on an on demand basis.
“The most critical place is web-to-pack where converters are looking to remove as many steps, interventions, and decision as possible. When you do so, not only do you reduce the time it takes to turn a job around, but also the costs and the possibility of error. Automation, with custom integrations, is an upfront investment, but with sufficient volume it delivers an amazing return on investment (ROI),” shares Lewis.
“Automation of labor-intensive processes is key to making it successful in the short run, fast turnaround digital print market. While hardware has been refined as above, the largest impact we’ve seen is the adoption of prepress software like Color-Logic that allows for rapid file creation of metallic prints and a virtual environment to see the finished piece before going to press. That combined with variable data management has made creating variable data embellishments a reality, files can be created in minutes,” offers Bob Rowden, business development manager, Skandacor.
Higher degrees of automation are also becomingly increasingly more valuable to print providers as the pool of experienced and skilled operators has diminished. “Machines with high levels of automation are generally easier to train operators on, and they can significantly reduce human error,” says Flinn.
John Dembia, manager, product marketing – Industrial Print Products, Konica Minolta, points out that every MGI JETvarnish 3D system includes a software suite of image and project management tools and utilities to add value to printer and print buyer relationships. “These valuable applications include an image editor to creatively generate new job prototypes and model profitable alternate design versions. There is also a job cost calculator to predict print job ROI data, operational costs, project run times, and accurate customer pricing information.”
Software packages, such as those offered by EFI, can truly make finishing and embellishments a “green button” process, says Rick Salinas, VP of marketing, Duplo USA. “They allow for all the pertinent information to be applied to the sheet such as barcodes to call up job information, registration marks, and even imposition and raised UV print files to be generated at prepress and sent directly to the appropriate device to completely automate the process.”
Specifically related to embellishment, Michael Aumann, director of digital embellishment solutions, KURZ, sees automation changing the landscape related to the requirements of operational resources. “Conventional processes certainly deliver high impact decoration but in many cases require true craftsmen to achieve the highest quality levels and impact. With digital automated systems in the market today, high impact decoration becomes more science than art from a production standpoint. A very different, and in some cases more accessible, skill set can be highly effective.”
Lewis adds that artificial intelligence-driven, dynamic ganging is able to reduce number of setups.
Beyond efficiency, the effectiveness of the final product brings value to printed output. This is where embellishment shines.
Aumann points out that there is significant third party research data available that supports embellishments as drivers and motivators for direct mail response, shelf appeal, and brand identity advancement.
“Most printed communications are simply read, not touched. With three-dimensional (3D) embellishment the power of the sense of touch is brought to the printed piece. This translates into more perceived ownership and inherent quality for consumer purchasing processes,” says Dembia.
Raney believes that it is human nature to be drawn to finishes that are different, whether it is color, texture, or reflection. “The use of something different from the standard always catches the human eye and therefore draws interest and curiosity. This will result in a product using these techniques to be picked up and therefore a better chance they will be read.”
This differentiation adds value and distinction to print. “Embellishments can be the difference to a printed piece being kept or discarded,” adds Rowden.
“The key is to be different,” agrees Raney. “As a result, you see trends going in cycles. Period foil stamping, for example, might be very popular but once everyone uses it then the impact is reduced. At that point, you will see a trend to something different, maybe spot UV varnish, maybe more simplistic finishes for a cleaner look, maybe bright colors. So, all of these will be cyclical.”
Bringing these finishes down to shorter runs is making a big impact. Rowden points out that digital technologies allows variable data print, which previously wasn’t able to be embellished using traditional static finishing methods.
“These techniques are used in marketing pieces in every aspect of business life. Whether it is mailing pieces or in the food store, you will see different print finishes used to draw attention to the consumer demanding a reaction. The reaction can be pick me up and buy me or pick me up and read me,” says Raney.
Digital presses and embellishment devices allow for amazing finishing techniques to be done on extremely low product counts. “The new presses have very high quality and are able to print on a thicker and wider range of substrates,” points out Salinas. He says embellishments are constantly evolving with different types of lamination and coating, which can completely change the look and feel of a printed piece.
While there are many areas that see a benefit from more heavily designed and embellished pieces, Flinn says the areas seeing a high demand are those areas that are meant to be memorable to the end consumers such as direct mail, business cards, personalized books and photobooks, restaurant menus, packaging, labels, and more.
Embellishment is a loose term that can mean different things to different organizations. Whatever way you slice it, it is undoubtedly part of the finishing conversation.
“From my perspective, embellishment is a large part of finishing. The process typically takes place after the color printing process, so in my opinion this is post-press finishing,” offers Dembia.
He reveals that embellishment is the elevation of traditional flat, two-dimensional (2D) ink and paper to a raised level of 3D textures, patterns, and sculptured special effects. “These decorative embellishments highlight and complement the color image and text on the substrate beneath.”
For Rowden, embellishing is going beyond minimal print finishing, not only creating a functional product rather than a print on paper, but also adding elements to the print to create impact with the print consumer. “To us it can be nearly anything that increases the value of the piece. Embellishments complement each other and work best when stacked. A high-impact piece might include a combination of methods including tactile or embossed films, raised spot UV, digital foil, and creative die cutting.”
“To me, embellishment refers to a decorative effect. Regardless of the product, to add decoration means adding something special, eye catching, or the sense of increased value or security. In my opinion embellishment may fall into the category of post-press or finishing but it is very different from general finishing. I believe the term finishing more accurately references processes that convert printed media to functional products like magazines, cartons or pouches. Embellishment of functional products can change the perception or value of those products,” shares Aumann.
Lewis feels that its simplest sense, cutting isn’t considered embellishment. However, because it can do variable data cutting and create laser-etched effects, then it has a place on the edge of embellishment.
Salinas adds that die cutting is able to create a unique experience, such as a postcard in the shape of a house. This can drive home a message and make it much more memorable than a plain, rectangle postcard.
“We think of embellished pieces as pieces with a design that is incorporated into the structure of the piece, not just in the graphic design of a printed image. At Standard, our focus in this area is on die cutting,” shares Flinn. For instance, the company recently introduced our RD-N4055 Die Cutting System, which combines a high-capacity feeder, a single- or dual-magnetic cylinder die cutter, a specially designed separator, and an optional card stacker into an efficient, versatile system. The system can die cut, kiss-cut, emboss/deboss, crease/score, perforate, slit, hole punch, and round corner in a single pass or in multiple combinations for a wide range of applications. It can handle sheet sizes ranging from 21.65×14.803 inches to 10.83 to 7.875 inches to deliver finished pieces down to 1.9×3.15 inches.
Modern, digital print finishing and embellishment tools make more effects possible for shorter runs. Ideally this will become less intimidating from a skill and price perspective.
Like every sector of the printing and packaging industry, Aumann feels that digital technology is driving change. “Digital technology is proving to be a very good substitution for many conventional processes. Possibly more interesting to print buyers is the impact that digital embellishment technology is having on new capabilities and applications that have never been possible with conventional processes.”
He says this goes from being able to provide almost immediate delivery to market, unlimited flexibility starting at quantity one, or complete variability for one to one marketing or versioning. “Today we most likely don’t even understand what we don’t understand about the capability that is unlocked with digital technology.”
“All JETvarnish 3D systems utilize 100 percent digital technology to produce embellished effects. No expensive, time-consuming creation of dies or screens is needed. The patented MGI AIS SmartScanner intelligent registration scanner automatically manages digital, offset, and flexographic print output by adjusting inkjet varnish controls for each piece,” explains Dembia.
The Skandacor process for SLEEKpro foils and SPECIALTYpro laminating is extremely easy to do, according to Rowden. “There is little point in offering embellishments if the processes are so inefficient that the value created is eclipsed by the added cost,” he notes.
He says there is no longer any need for the highly experienced operators to be involved in its processes. “The hardware required has been refined down to simple, easy to use units when compared to the heavy iron of old. We are continually testing to optimize the process and find the shortest route to extraordinary results.”
Ultimately these features are available at a wider variety of customers and are more accessible than ever, says Raney. He points out that with more availability and easier set up the pricing is more competitive, which makes it easier to justify using.
Modern die-cutting solutions are extremely quick to set-up, easy to learn, require minimal make-ready and floor space, and are equally efficient on runs of all lengths. “When combined with the advances in inkjet and digital print, finishing technologies like die cutting give printers greater flexibility in the production process in terms of the types of jobs that can be accepted and the way they are produced. Owning this equipment also increases the opportunities for higher-value work, as many jobs that are die cut are usually done on higher end substrates with lots of color, and these types of specialty finished pieces allow a printer to charge a premium which can lead to increased revenue and profitability,” offers Flinn.
“Die cutters of old were very time consuming to set up, and in many cases carried a high potential for injury,” adds Salinas. New die cutters, especially rotary die cutters, set up in minutes and have many safety features that make them easy to operate.
For those without a strong CAPEX budget, there are opportunities to outsource to service bureaus first to build the demand and business.
“There are always opportunities to outsource. Many suppliers will run jobs for those that want something special. This is not a limiting factor,” comments Raney.
Dembia also sees opportunities to outsource. “Service bureaus, as well as trade finishers in various areas are available to take on this type of work.”
Lewis points out that he does see opportunity for outsourcing, but at least in the case of Highcon customers it is more apt to be from establishments who’ve invested for their own needs but don’t yet have the volume.
“Trade finishers have mostly built their business around processes for the longer run jobs. Often outsourcing is done between partner printers, that work together to justify the cost of equipment,” says Rowden.
Similarly, lower cost practices like coating, lamination, and sleeking enable print providers to get their feet wet with embellishment.
These tools are a great way to get into unique finishing. Rowden points out that digital foils and unique laminates allow Skandacor to can get users into an entry-level laminator for around $5,000. He adds that UV coaters start at $12,000, and this is often the best way to get started if a more expensive option is not justified.
Duplo offers the DFL-500, which allows customers to add embellishments like soft touch and foil sleeking to printed pieces at a very low cost of entry.
“The simplest solutions are those that do not add an additional step to the production process,” says Raney. “So, for example adding spot coating or varnish in the same pass will not add much cost. In the same way cold embossing, when done at the same time as the die cutting will add embellishment at a very low cost. Of course, if you need additional steps, such as foil stamping, then the cost will increase.”
As it relates to high impact metallic transfer decoration, Aumann points to three primary technologies in the market today; transfer on toner, inkjet on transfer, and inkjet on substrate. “It is important to identify which technology is the best match for your applications and substrates. Transfer on toner technology certainly represents the best low-cost option with the lowest barriers to entry.”
Konica Minolta offers an entry-level desktop device called the AccurioShine 101. “This device is what the industry would commonly refer to as a sleeking device. Its main function is to apply various colors of metallic foils directly to areas of toner on the sheet to highlight specific areas of the printed piece. The AccurioShine 101 can also be used as a full sheet laminator as well. This is a great device to break into this segment and test the waters,” says Dembia.
The latest finishing tools add value with automation and the ability to create cost-effective, variable, short runs.
For more on this topic, join us for a free webinar on print finishing and embellishment on March 9, 2022. Register here. Panelists include Higcon, Konica Minolta, KURZ, and Skandacor. Sponsored by Amplify.
Feb2022, DPS Magazine