Adding Value: Specialty Finishing

What if you could finish a job with an exotic accordion fold? Or produce a special scratch ‘n sniff scent? What about a morphing lenticular image? In today’s competitive environment, firms are seeking to differentiate themselves from their peers. Printers are no exception.

“Printing is becoming a commodity, and printers need a special angle to differentiate themselves from everyone else,” said Greg Morhardt, sales manager, Rochelle Printing, Ill. “If you can capture a part of the market that no one else has and do it well, you’ll stand out.”

Dan Maurer, vice president, postpress product management, Heidelberg USA, pointed to the economic downturn and resulting excess capacity as a reason for specialty finishing to emerge as a growth market. “Prices for standard products like booklets, folded pieces, books and mailers have dropped as printers and binderies compete for a smaller market and print buyers are under pressure to search for best prices,” he said. “This effect is compounded with the rise in Web-to-print providers making geographic proximity for these standard products less important than it was just a few years ago. At the same time, specialty finishing applications—such as die cutting, foil stamping and embossing, novelty folding, sample gluing and mailing applications—have emerged as a growth market.”

Making a Scene

In Rochelle Printing’s case, its specialty niche is its patented CyberCene Flex-n-Tuck products. For the past five years, the company has been marketing these products to help its customers add visual impact to point-of-purchase materials, greeting cards, ceiling danglers, counter/case toppers, tents, signage, cartons and similar items. With the standard CyberCene, 2D promotional images are printed on clear rigid polyester and are then mounted on a die cut, folded, 18 point frame to create a multi-dimensional, almost 3D-looking, free-standing display.

“We use CyberCene for greeting cards, memorabilia and souvenir jobs,” said Morhardt. “We count as customers Disney, Cartoon Network and DreamWorks. We began by printing this technique on our Heidelberg 40-inch press using a plastic substrate.”

Recently, the firm added HumanEyes 3D lenticular and animation printing capabilities, which adds a 4th dimension to its CyberCene Flex-n-Tuck products. “We spent one year of intensive testing and achieving the best prototype,” said Morhardt “The colors were very vibrant, yet it was economical for our customers. We started offering it for point-of-purchase displays. The response we got was outstanding. Customers said it was the best 3D lenticular they had ever seen. Now we can print the base image layer as 3D using HumanEyes lenticular capabilities, adding an incredible, almost ‘4th dimension’ effect to the product. Our customers are increasingly expressing interest in the added depth, dimension and higher visual appeal we can now give to their packaging and store displays.”

Since installing the HumanEyes 3D software, Rochelle Printing has produced several lenticular and flip jobs. For example, one job was a package for a utility fold-up cart from a major manufacturer. The package included a “moving” flip image that provided an easy-to-understand illustration of how the product inside can be set-up—much more helpful than a static image.

In addition, the company received a gold award from the IAPHC in the Best Use of Lenticular category for the Breast Cancer Awareness CyberCene it produced in the fall of 2007. The award is part of the IAPHC’s annual showcase of printed samples that exemplify the craft, art and science employed by the global printing and graphics arts community.

“Currently, CyberCene is about five to ten percent of our business,” said Morhardt, “but we know there is a huge market for it in the travel, retail, pro sports and many other markets. And we’re exclusively offering the product. Everybody who sees it, loves it. We’ve had interest from pro football teams that wanted to produce CyberCene for their ticketholders. We produced die-cut round pins for salespeople to wear promoting the Energizer Bunny batteries. As they moved around the store, the image changed on the pin. It’s an eye-grabbing, attention-getting technique.”

Catching the Scent

Concord Litho, a privately-held $42 million printer in Concord, N.H., has distinguished itself with a variety of specialty finishing techniques to help its core customers increase their direct mail response rates. “Our clients seek cost-effective formats that work in the mail and that test well. We make that an absolute priority for our in-house research and product development efforts, as well as our long-term capital investment plans,” said Ali Westcott, Concord Litho’s director of marketing and communications.

Concord Litho is constantly testing new inks, stocks and formats that often add an engaging, interactive element to the printed piece, from scented varnishes that smell like fresh-cut springtime lawn, to Peel-n-Reveal devices. The firm was the first testing site for Scentisphere microencapsulated scented varnishes more than five years ago. Scentisphere is the exclusive North American distributor of these varnishes, which are made by Flint Ink in conjunction with Scentisphere using a new, patented microencapsulation process named FOLCOScent that has many advantages over other fragrance delivery systems (such as scratch-n-sniff).

“We have a lot of flexibility to experiment, especially with our heat-set webs that are pretty much blinged out with all kinds of in-line finishing capabilities,” said Westcott. “That means a lot of bells and whistles can be added to the piece in one pass through the press. We can create contour shapes and pop-up boxes for unique dimensional direct mail, cool Zip-Strips, perfed coupons, stepped booklets, removable temporary membership cards­—you name it. A huge advantage is that a project can come off the press personalized and addressed with our in-line inkjet system, sealed with an easy-to-open glue line so you can avoid those ugly new tabbed wafer requirements that make it so hard to open the piece without damaging it.”

Westcott said Concord Litho started out as a large commercial greeting card company more than 50 years ago, but anticipated marketplace changes and shifted focus in the late 1970s by concentrating on high-volume heat-set web printing with extensive in-line finishing, perfect for direct mail products, FSIs, high-impact magazine inserts and more.

“Concord Litho was breaking new ground and pushing the limits of what could be done in-line on the webs even way-back then... It’s a very strong part of our history,” Westcott said, but she’s also quick to point out the company’s sheetfed printing division still plays an important role in the company’s offerings, especially for large-format retail point-of-purchase signage up to 64 inches, and certain products that non-profit organizations rely on to help raise funds. “We still print a billion greeting cards a year, and we are always trying out new substrates, printing techniques and inks that make signage stand out, last longer in the space and ways to make the cards unique, from pearlescent inks to our near-famous application of scented varnishes.” Over time the company has also added a bindery, a kitting and fulfillment center and variety of additional equipment to better serve its customers, she noted.

Concord Litho has invested $20 million in the facility and its equipment in the past decade, according to Westcott, most recently a $2 million investment in in-line inkjet equipment and additional in-line functions such as contour die-cutting that allows it to create even more complex pieces and sophisticated direct mail formats.

A Lenticular World

A year after installing its KBA Genius 52 UV press, Accurate Plastic Printers, a high-quality custom plastic printer located in Clifton, N.J., is enticing clients with its newly-minted lenticular products. Carlos Agudelo, founder and president of Accurate Plastic Printers, has had the new press running non-stop producing plastic business cards, membership cards, ID cards, benefit cards, library cards, promotional items, shelf talkers and danglers, signs, tags, door hangers, rulers and circular calculators.

“Lenticular takes a little bit more time and diligence but the end result is phenomenal,” said Agudelo. “We started when my brother, an artist, designed a drawing of tropical fish. We produced a 14x20-inch 3D image. We succeeded right away and couldn’t believe how well it turned out. That got us hooked. We knew our customers would want lenticular.”

That was eight months ago. Since then, Agudelo and his press operators have been producing many different types of lenticular. “We’re getting a lot of calls for lenticular,” said Agudelo. “Customers are very interested in the process and how it can set their product apart. We’ve been working on offering morphing and motion lenticular products. The KBA Genius has been a key reason that we’ve been able to produce this new work.”

The Right Machine for the Job

Printers are continually searching for equipment that will give them an edge. “When a customer comes to your business, you have to be able to say ‘yes’ to their request,” explained Louis Goldberg, president of Goodcopy Printing and Digital Graphics, New Haven, Conn. “You can’t say ‘no’. They are never asking if you can do it; they’re saying this is what they want.”

At Print 09 in Chicago last Sept., Standard Finishing was demonstrating a uniquely-folded day/night brochure produced on its Standard Horizon AF-566T4F buckle-buckle automated folder. This was designed as an example of an unexpectedly interesting finished piece that can be achieved using conventional methods and equipment: a square printed sheet was cut on an angle, and then folded in a stepped-accordion style.

“Many print customers are using finishing as a way to further distinguish their services, especially as “dots on paper” become increasingly commoditized,” said Mark Hunt, director of marketing at Standard Finishing. “Finishing expertise and capability adds value to the job/document, and helps differentiate the printer as a value-added supplier.”

Hunt continued, “Standard Horizon intelligent automation makes a huge difference in being able to provide value-add finishing with production efficiently. This allows “exotic folds”, such as the day/night brochure, to be set-up and memorized with ease, using the automation built into the Horizon folder. And once the job is set up, those settings can be retained for instant recall later. It would consume an inordinate amount of time to change-over a manual folder for this, making the job cost prohibitive. The same basic logic applies to saddlestitching and perfect binding jobs.”

Goodcopy Printing and Digital Graphics recently added a Standard Horizon AFC-566FKT automated floor-model paper folder to their full service bindery. While the 41-year-old general commercial printer has always had an in-house bindery department, many of its special folds had to be farmed out. No more.

“We’ve expanded our bindery to be able to produce a variety of different folds,” said Goldberg. “Now we have the flexibility to produce gate-folds and double-gatefolds in-house. The new Standard Horizon AFC-566FKT gives us the flexibility to change the machine around very easily for short- and long-run jobs and the productivity to change from one specialty fold to another. Flexibility is important. If a customer asks for a 11x17-inch paper to be folded down to a 2x4-inch size, we can do it.”

Rather than sending these special finishing jobs to outside binderies, Goodcopy is able to keep the job under its own roof, saving on cost, and increasing speed and throughput, while maintaining the quality and integrity of the job. Goldberg noted that the Standard Horizon’s automated computer system on its folder provided an easy integration into his own workflow system.

Finishing the Recession

Heidelberg’s Maurer believes that a well-selected investment not only secures viability through difficult periods, but also enables shops to surface in the recovery period with stronger and more profitable businesses. “Increasingly, printers and binderies are exploring these market niches in order to provide something new and unique to attract new customers, as well as to retain existing customers by offering them additional options to expand their sales portfolios,” he said. “And yes, specialty finished items also can command a premium price. As advertising budgets contract and print volumes fall, the bindery is increasingly becoming the area where print providers are looking to build their revenues with differentiated product offerings.”

Heidelberg’s line of KAMA ProCut 53/74 die cutter/foilers and KAMA ProFold 74 multi-functional finishing folder-gluers exemplify this type of specialty finishing capability. The compact, touchscreen-controlled KAMA ProFold 74 is ideally suited for the production of standard and high-value printed products, such as presentation folders, greeting cards, cross-folders, ticket pockets and mailing envelopes, CD cases and pick-and-place add-ons, such as business cards. Standard features include a flap plough-folding device, tipper fold plate and pressure rollers. Options include capacity folding device, pocket folding device, turning device, various hotmelt application systems, adhesive tape dispenser and a pick-and-place device.

KAMA ProCut automatic die cutters work precisely and efficiently to die cut, emboss, foil (including holographic effects) on table displays, CD sleeves, and high-quality presentation folders. Options, such as hot foil stamping, hologram stamping, and hot cutting yield high-quality results, extend the user’s service portfolio, and add more value in-house.

Other specialty finishing options from Heidelberg include:

  • POLAR DCM—die cutter for specialty items like cigar labels, buttons of various shapes, or water bottle labels.
  • Dymatrix 106 CSB Pro—cutting/stripping/blanking die cutter for business cards or small specialty items as well as its primary intent for high volume folding carton applications.
  • Varimatrix die cutter and Easygluer folder-gluer—for shops interested in exploring the short-run packaging and specialty finishing market (short-run golf ball or organic food boxes;).
  • Stahl Flexomailer and Stahlfolders—Heidelberg is seeing increased requests for applications like these in combination with Heidelberg Speedmaster 52 Anicolor and digital presses. This includes strike perforation, gatefolding and gluing heads.
  • Stitchmaster ST 350/450 saddlestitcher or Eurobind adhesive binders—for adding additional value to traditional booklets, books and brochures that include sample gluers into a pocket or into the gathering area to glue in BRCs, marketing pieces, CDs, etc. Additionally calendar punching, pharmaceutical applications with integrity verification and small booklets run multiple up. “We expect the market for specialty finishing will continue to grow, alongside an increased focus on lean manufacturing to drive efficiency in finishing,” said Maurer.

Speed, Speed and More Speed

At PRINT 09, Xeikon demonstrated its Xeikon 8000 by producing 2009 holiday greeting cards for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Jimmy Fund. During the first two days of the show, the Xeikon 8000 produced more than 60,000 greeting cards. The cards were converted inline with a full-fledged finishing unit capable of UV-coating, super-glossing, die-cutting, stacking and batching capabilities. To demonstrate the versatility and flexibility of Xeikon digital color solutions, the production configuration generating the greeting cards was also utilized to produce pocket folders. More than 25,000 of these 19x22-inch pocket folders were produced in less than three days at the conference.

The inline finishing equipment is called XP-500 and is manufactured by GM, which is based in Denmark. Although GM does not exclusively work with Xeikon, this equipment is specifically designed to operate with the Xeikon 8000, 6000 and 5000 plus. The XP500 line is designed to varnish, laminate and die cut a 500mm wide web on both sides in one process. It integrates with the Xeikon presses and forms a full production line for post cards, brochures and many other products. The end product is placed on a conveyer or packed in boxes at the end of the line.

Xeikon has used the XP-500 on Xeikon equipment since 2004 (so, for the last five years). It was introduced around the same time. It integrates with Xeikon presses and forms a full production line for post cards, brochures and many other products. The end product is placed on a conveyer or packed in boxes at the end of the line. It is sold by Xeikon in North America as a part of its total solution in cases where the customer requires finishing capabilities.

Constant Innovation

In October, Beyond 360 Imaging, a privately-held technology company based in Boca Raton, Fla., announced a technique that produces rotating images which can be used on Web sites, in e-mails, or in print, providing complete 360-degree views. “Beyond 360 Imaging has revolutionized the product photography process to produce a finished rich media product and high resolution images for online and print media campaigns,” said Christopher Ceraolo, president and founder. “The 360 degree live image process combines our 360-degree photo capture technology with an automated image processing solution, permitting product images to be presented in high resolution at every angle without compromising image quality. The Beyond 360 Imaging technology is expected to benefit manufacturers, online retailers, advertising agencies, brand managers, web designers and photographers by providing a powerful imaging technique at an extremely low cost.”

Debora Toth is a freelance writer who has been writing about the graphic arts industry for 25 years. She also is a public relations specialist and operates Coastline Public Relations. She can be reached at