by Cassandra Balentine
When it comes to marketing, making a statement is typically the name of the game. Print effects like metallic colors, glitter, spot UV coating, embossing, and security inks are available.
“Primarily, we consider digital embellishment as the digital application of spot UV, tactile raised spot and textured UV, and raised foils as the main ingredients in this market,” says Kevin Abergel, VP sales and marketing, MGI Digital Technology. These solutions are widely adopted by luxury brands, but are moving downstream as options expand, demand increases, and more organizations are willing to pay more for value-added output.
What it Means
Print enhancement and embellishment can means many things in the digital print space. But ultimately, anything that goes beyond a four-color print falls under the umbrella. Everything from foil fusing/sleeking, flat foil stamping, die cutting—using rotary die cutters with flexible dies or using platen presses with steel rule dies—and sheet-to-sheet gluing are common embellishments for digital printed products. These effects are also created with an array of technologies.
Embellished prints are produced with a variety of technologies, and essentially any complimentary value add to base color graphic printing is considered an embellishment. “These are as basic as spot varnish—gloss and matte, tactile ranging from micro to embossed simulations, and foil effects—standard color and holographic specialties,” states Ed Wiegand, founder, president, JetFx.
“Due to tooling costs, lead time, set up time, and skill requirements, blind and foil embossing are not typically considered embellishments that can be easily added to digitally printed sheets,” shares Chris Van Pelt, president, Therm-O-Type.
Embellishments are physical enhancements to conventionally printed pages, packages, or labels. “Those physical changes often include inks or coatings added above or below the CMYK print. Other embellishment techniques include cold foiling, printing on metallic substrate—in which case a fifth white color must be added to take full advantage of the metallic background, or the use of neon or fluorescent inks to extend the color gamut of the printed image,” offers Mark Geeves, director of sales and marketing, Color-Logic.
Allan Quimby, marketing manager, KURZ USA, points out that embellishment can be done inline or offline, but is used and sold as a key point of differentiation. “After all, differentiation and/or luxury appeal is the desired impact at the consumer level as well as representation for the brand. This would include metallic transfer solutions or foil stamping, foil sleeking, embossing and debossing effects, lacquer and varnish effects, haptic/texture patterns, holographic effects, and other raised effects.”
Bill Donnelly, senior technology portfolio manager, Ricoh USA, Inc., suggests that while some look at embellishment as only high-profile options like foiling or embossing or even hologram insertion, something like fifth color toner or metallic toners can be used very effectively for embellishments. “Utilizing subtractive and additive CMYK techniques—like substituting neon yellow for traditional yellow or adding neon yellow to CMYK—are other ways print providers can expand the color palette to both designers and end users.”
“Embellishments are any post-printing process that increases the value and consumers’ perception of the print, outside of what is considered normal finishing. For example, a traditional gloss laminate or UV coating is considered standard finishing, but if we make that a tactile laminate like SOFTpro or better yet, a DECOpro Wood embossed film, that piece is now embellished,” suggests Brad Drever, managing director, Skandacor. He says foil effects are a very important part of print embellishment, regardless of the process used to apply them.
The benefits of adding embellishment are quite obvious, it’s a way to stand out in both a visual and tacitly appealing manner. Price is at the forefront of the challenges hindering adoption, followed by design.
“Price is the top question, which is influenced by cost of efficiencies and complexity,” says Wiegand. He explains that most embellishments require procurement of tooling, which adds lead time and requires resource management.
“Beyond price, some challenges lay in the difficulty to produce certain higher end embellishments,” shares Donnelly. Many of these require more expertise and effort and, in some cases, specialized equipment. “So, when a print provider decides to offer different types of embellishments, they must first ensure they can streamline training of staff to get them to the level of expertise needed for that new process. While some are tougher to learn than others, proper training and support make all the difference in getting new embellishment offerings market ready. To start with, if a print organization is new to embellishments, include splashes of neon color or UV security features that require minimal training and leverage an inline fifth color station.”
Another factor often inhibiting embellishments is the widespread attitude that when using digital print, trial and error are acceptable. “Digital press manufacturers are significantly automating the printing process, but that means design time and trial and error increases costs or extends time to market,” notes Geeves.
Design is another hurdle. “The greatest hindrance to broad, cost-effective use of embellishments lies in the fact that embellishments must be an inherent part of the design process. Regrettably, most printers have little or no internal staff design capability. Moreover, very few graphic designers are skilled in embellishment design, and most do not have the necessary design tools,” offers Geeves.
Drever agrees, adding that consumer knowledge of what is possible has grown, however it continues to be a challenge to have designers understand and take advantage of all the capabilities the equipment on the shop floor offers. “The most progressive shops that are doing well with embellishment have a free flow of information and a high level of collaboration between the design element and the shop floor.”
One option to consider is working with third-party experts who have helped a large range of shops make the most of their embellishment offerings. “Educating both on-site designers, partners, and the design community as a whole will help drive adoption. It is not a ‘build it and they will come’ type solution, but rather a route to more value-added applications and improved return on investment (ROI),” says Donnelly.
The challenges are different depending on market focus, product portfolio, and equipment ranges available at the printer and converter level. Quimby doesn’t see as many hurdles at the brand level when considering embellishment. “The brand owner’s market needs must be clearly defined and transitioned over to the printer’s capabilities. As an example, is a metallic effect required either upstream or downstream in the current printing process or are turnkey and inline solutions required to deliver the required brand results? At KURZ, we have seen customers purchase equipment to gain market share that they currently don’t participate in, support business they already have, and bring historically outsourced business back in house. Justification has ranged from ‘if you build it they will come’ to transitioning traditional long-term business for process, cost, and efficiency purposes,” he shares.
Each type of embellishment presents challenges. “Once a company decides to offer an embellishment, a series of decisions need to be made regarding how the embellishment can be added efficiently,” points out Van Pelt.
This entails developing an efficient workflow through the plant as well as equipment and material supply considerations. For example, Van Pelt suggests considering if foil will be added to products, and the number of foil colors will be offered. This very basic question will affect how often foil rolls will need to be changed on the equipment during each shift, which will affect down time and productivity. “The number of foil designs—dies, if foil stamping; and perimeter profiles when die cutting—offered can induce similar effects on workflow through the plant. The employees who perform the embellishment operations and the equipment they use is critical. Setup times must be minimized. Equipment speed, automation, and ergonomics become essential, especially during peak production periods when semi-trained temporary operators are often used. Pre-registered, quick change tooling, stored/retrievable set up information, careful selection of suitable and compatible papers and foil are all critical factors in minimizing setup time and waste while producing consistently high-quality embellished products.”
“Most of the time, price doesn’t prevent adoption; education does. Price doesn’t matter so much as long as it can significantly increase the campaign’s ROI. The fact that there is a proven relationship between high-end embellishment and response rates on direct mail and retail purchasing behaviors is why brands continue to come back to high-end embellishments. The issue is educating the brands and agencies. According to a recent survey, 44 percent of print buyers have less than three years of experience with print, meaning there is a substantial gap between what is feasible technically and what buyers, agencies, and brands imagine is possible in this space. The more awareness we can create at this level the more demand will come. Today it is one of the best-kept secrets in print marketing, yet headed towards mainstream adoption,” comments Abergel.
There are many strategies for print providers to determine whether or not it makes sense to invest in embellishment solutions for their digitally printed work.
Donnelly suggests speaking to a third-party consultant to determine what your costs would be to add on embellishment offerings—from equipment, to training, to additional programs—and then look at the work you are providing to your customers. For example, would customer A benefit from having soft touch lamination, foil, or metallic toner colors? “If you can see opportunities for your customer to differentiate and potentially increase their business, and you know they can afford an add-on budget, then it is easy to look to invest in embellishment solutions.”
It is critical to know your market and the appetite of your print customers. “What we often see is that a printer can identify former customers that have gone elsewhere due to their lack of embellishing capability. A small investment in a low-volume embellishing solution can recapture that market share and then be used to springboard into new markets as well as convert existing customers to add embellishment to their work,” states Drever. He says an easy way to do this is to embellish a few pieces of every job to wet the appetite of the print consumer. This can be as simple as adding enhancements to a few sheets of business cards.
Van Pelt sees multiple motivations for investing in embellishments, which may include innovating a new embellishment feature to improve market share and/or profitability, adding an embellishment feature used by a competitor to eliminate/minimize loss of market share, and adding embellishments to products to enhance their appeal and marketability.
Quimby feels that determining the need for an embellishment solution should be an easy decision. “Luxury appeal, differentiation, and quality are all requirements for today’s digital market. I believe that the digital space is experiencing the same needs and demands historically found in the traditional printing space. Customers want smaller runs without compromising options and especially quality. They want to add differentiation, metallization, and customized/individualized features to set themselves apart from their competition. Print providers should seek to find suppliers/partners that can meet all of these needs.”
Pricing the Work and Determining ROI
It is essential to understand margins in embellishment work in order to put together a winning pricing strategy.
“Pricing strategies can vary market to market; however, printers must also consider the application the client is looking to achieve. Thinking about additional design, embellishment (toner) coverage, media, and personalization can help inform this decision. In many cases, this is an alternative to the previous method of embellishment, so adding a premium to the application can be a good philosophy to follow,” says Donnelly.
As embellishments become more mainstream, Drever says the consumer will ultimately dictate the price. “Currently the key is to work with the customer to move the conversation away from cost per printed piece and focus on what they budget to make each project successful. Often, we see embellished print being underpriced due to a cost-plus estimating process. It is critical to understand that a very inexpensive process may only add ten to 20 percent cost to the printed piece, however it increases its retail value by as much as 800 percent.
“I would recommend that you do not follow the typical cost-plus model that most printers use with CMYK-only prints, meaning just adding 30 percent on top of your cost,” cautions Abergel. “There is no need to commoditize. The sound model here is to base it off of bearable market costing. People know how much spot UV and foil costs because pricing hasn’t changed in decades. Just because you don’t have any dies or screens to make, it doesn’t mean you should shoot for the bottom and make the same commoditizing mistakes as we did with CMYK print.”
Print providers should have a plan to determine how to achieve return on print embellishment technologies. There are many ways to consider ROI in this market.
Drever says ROI should factor in how much work is currently being retained from clients who otherwise may have looked elsewhere to get their needs fulfilled, and what the profit gain is in this area. Also, how much has market share increased since adding this capability? “Embellishment opens doors faster than commodity print on paper.
We see clients recouping the capital cost of equipment in the increased profits of one project, sometimes in as little as three months, more normally six to 12 months.”
Many print providers calculate ROI based on ink coverage. But when embellishments are used, a more important metric is the return on response realized by the brand or other print customer. “For example, if a printer provides a solution that increases the response rate of a direct mail piece or invitation, then the client receives more leads and the printer can increase margin,” explains Geeves.
According to Donnelly, ROI is typically calculated by measuring existing revenues versus those that can be generated by simply adding a CMYK embellishment. However, if you are a print provider looking to improve campaign and response results for direct mail projects, the ROI and return on marketing investment can drive a faster payback. “The key is having a plan for promoting CMYK embellishments to your customer base and end users. The ‘wow’ factor is not going to be the compelling event for the customer, but higher margins and increased sales will be value drivers.”
Calculating ROI can range from simple to extremely complex. “For example, automating sheet-to-sheet gluing for replace cohesive papers or manual gluing, ROI calculations can be relatively easy and accurate. Determining an accurate ROI on a new embellishment, such as flat foil stamping, can be almost impossible. Product/die designs, dies, foils, equipment, training, electrical/compressed air hook, floor space, web design—marketing, projected sales volume, waste, and set up/production speed all need to calculated into the ROI,” cautions Van Pelt.
Print embellishments are popular amongst luxury brands, but a range of embellishment options help bring these effects to the masses.
Geeves points out that print embellishment can be as simple as adding a varnish or clear coat to a file, thus embellishment is already downstream. “Anything beyond just using a varnish or clear coat, however, must still be considered a high-end feature when a digital press is used. Not until printers demonstrate embellishment possibilities to graphic designers and agencies will embellishments begin to be widely used where conventional printing processes are popular.”
Abergel sees it as an emerging post-COVID-19 trend, “where ‘sexy’ print beats ‘informational’ print any day of the week.”
“Embellishments will always be in demand and will continue to offer printers the ability to upsell products to their customers,” shares Van Pelt. “Some of our customers use extremely well organized workflow to allow them to produce significant volumes of common, small quantity, digitally printed products with embellishments that provide higher profit margins and reduced competitive pressure. Other customers can achieve exceptionally high profit margins producing niche market products with embellishments, even with dramatically lower total volume.”
Drever predicts that as print consumers come to expect embellishments as standard, we’ll see some of them move downstream while certain labor-intensive applications will always demand a premium price.
Make it Pop
Print embellishment and enhancement effects have a wide range and reach. The latest technologies support digital print environments with short runs and personalization. However, it is a good idea to have a pricing strategy and ROI plan to make the most of your investment.
Find a free webinar on the topic of print embellishment and enhancement at dpsmagazine.com/webinars. dps
Sep2021, DPS Magazine