Finishing Strong

Thanks to technology, offset printing finishing capabilities are evolving rapidly. And for many providers, they represent great untapped opportunities.

Finishing equipment has dramatically improved in recent years, especially in terms of advanced automation benefits, says Mark Hunt, director of strategic alliances with Andover, MA-based Standard Finishing Systems.

Shorter runs have necessitated greater automation to enable quick changeovers from job to job. Print finishing manufacturers have unveiled highly automated products that make the interface user friendly and easy to use to allow for short set-ups and, hence, greater profits. One machine can now be changed over many times in a single day, each change adding to profits. “Ability to store jobs in memory and recall them instantly is also important, particularly with more complicated jobs run on a regular basis,” Hunt says.

“Another benefit of products that have automation built in is the ability to more easily train a new operator. You no longer need dedicated specialists, as operators are able to move from one machine to another without a huge learning curve, and this helps printers respond effectively to quick turnaround jobs in all areas of their operation.” The result is greater staffing flexibility, he adds.

Centralizing many functions from one operating console is possible by means of the PC-based controllers created by Duplo USA, says Anthony Gandara, product manager for the company’s Graphic Products Division in Suwanee, GA. All job parameters are input into the PC-based controller, which sends the information to the machine to set up specific parameters of the job, including book or paper size, stitching or non-stitching, and slitting or non-slitting.

Many of these job parameters can be saved inside the controller, which helps eliminate need to input the parameters when the job is run again. “All you do is locate the job file, open it up, and resend the same file again to have the systems set up in seconds for that specific job,” Gandara says. “You’re not going to eliminate a complete bottleneck, but you’re going to minimize the time it takes to set up each job, and also to switch from job to job. It will be a lot quicker and a lot simpler for the operator.”

Marketing Your Finishing Prowess

There are different ways to market finishing options as a value-added service, generating added profit from existing sales. According to Hunt, some of Standard Finishing Systems’ customers perfect bind a piece to show their own customers how attractive a high-quality, perfect-bound book can be. “There is nothing quite like touching and holding a high-quality piece that has been expertly finished, whether a perfect-bound book or a folded piece,” he says. “A piece can be beautifully printed, but if it isn’t finished properly, it loses its appeal. And it won’t have the same pop and impression as a properly finished piece.”

Your finishing capabilities should be promoted on your website, phone greeting, and local advertising, says David Spiel, co-owner of New York City-based Spiel Associates, specializing in mechanical bindery equipment. But in the B-to-B world, word of mouth is the best advertising, he adds. In this era of fewer binderies, word spreads fast to area printers who need finishing services.

Another Profit Center: Specialty Finishing

Many printers view bookbinding as a necessary evil, but the truth is it can be a profit center, according to Spiel. “You can start bringing in work from other printers,” he says. “I have plenty of customers who are doing bookbinding for other printers in their areas. Why is this popular now? The cost of shipping, the cost of fuel, and time constraints make it increasingly cost-prohibitive to go cross-country, and there are fewer and fewer binderies.”

Folding, too, can be a rich source of revenue, and that’s especially true for those investing in folders that can be quickly changed over, Hunt says. “The simplicity of the automation has really altered the scope of who can operate a folder, and how easy it is to set up a more complicated or exotic piece,” he says.

“These pieces can give a customer something that stands out from the crowd, and can provide the printer with added revenue. When you add in gluing heads or trimmers in-line with the folders, you are able to now produce a booklet or other specialty piece in-line, adding value to the existing sale.”

Gandara agrees with the need to add value. “Everyone’s doing saddle stitching, everyone’s doing booklet making,” he says. “The question is, what can you offer in the way of added value that differentiates you from everyone else? You might be able to add UV coating to the cover of a book you printed, either charging for that or offering it as a value-add service. Same thing with an exotic fold. Any unique capability you offer to that customer adds profits. We post a lot of existing and new products for finishing on our own YouTube channel at\duplousa.”

Just Say Wow!

Trish Witkowski, whose title at Baltimore’s is chief folding fanatic, says targeted marketing lists and smaller runs now allow marketers to invest in giving their marketing pieces a “wow factor.” Printers capable of providing more exotic finishes should contact Witkowski to get on her national list of “Extreme Printers” who do this kind of challenging work, and want to make their capabilities known to customers and other printers.

They should also reach out to existing customers. “[Those patrons] may not realize you have more than enough know-how to do the work in-house that the customer might otherwise ship to California,” she says. has more than 260 videos on YouTube, and printers can use those videos as a springboard to start conversations with their customers about what can be accomplished in the way of exotic folds. “Getting the printer involved early in the conversation about distinctive formats can make all the difference in obtaining a successful piece,” Witkowski says.

“Letting your customers know you’re capable and interested is key. If you don’t have any work in-house and you would like to do this work, create some distinctive folded pieces as self-promotional marketing tools, and build a portfolio with them. Sometimes you can’t get the work until you’ve done the work. When you create a new piece, it’s a good idea to go in to customers with that work.”

As for equipment capable of producing specialty folds, Heidelberg has a machine that folds the “Iron Cross,” Witkowski says. But she doesn’t urge those not turning out large volumes to invest in substantial equipment.

“It takes an extreme amount of skill to automate some of this stuff,” she says. “And some of it can’t be automated. So much of this comes down to service. People want to know if they‘re spending money, the die line will be perfect, the job will be babysat, and they‘ll wind up with that beautiful product when it‘s done. A lot of specialty work involves hand finishing.”