Don't Leave Money on the Table

According to the 2011 SGIA Market Trends & Product Specialties Benchmarking Report, post-production and finishing technologies continue to be a critical component in the print process, allowing PSPs to transform a print into a saleable product. These capabilities and services offer strong opportunity for differentiation within the industry and lamination continues to be used strongly by graphics producers. The study reported that 44.7 percent of respondents offered print finishing services and of those, 91.3 percent offered lamination services.

But what can shops do to ensure their finishing department—specifically their lamination area—brings in profits?

Key to Success: Your Educated Staff

Without a doubt, a well-trained and educated staff is the key to ensuring your well-earned profits don't dry up—especially when the job enters the post-press department.

"When it comes to finishing, the best trained shops are the most profitable," says Tim Sowinski, product manager, GBC Films. "It is one thing to have the equipment and supplies to provide lamination as part of your service offering, it’s another to know how to use properly. The best trained shops generally have less waste; they’re more efficient; and they order smarter."

"One of the biggest variables in making a finishing department profitable is the knowledge of the employees. The person specifying material should be aware of the features and benefits of the material and the operator doing the finishing should know about laminating techniques," says Jason Yard, graphics marketing specialist, MACtac.

"Wasted material and inefficient labor result in the greatest amount of lost revenue, regardless of whether you use “cold”, thermal or heat-assist laminating film. Material waste can range anywhere from five to 45 percent, depending on the operator’s experience level. Training should cover how to minimize the amount of waste, identify the best finishing process for an application and the benefits of 'ganging' jobs according to application and finishing requirements to maximize time management and labor costs," says Ronit McGuthrie, marketing communications manager, Neschen Americas. "The better you match a laminate to the appropriate application, the more profitable the job will be."

In addition, the sales staff needs to be educated as well, on the benefits of lamination—and the capabilities of the shop, says Tim J. Boxeth, business manager, 3M Commercial Graphics. By training your sales team, they then have the ability to promote all the features of the finished graphics that can be produced in the shop—and set yourself apart from the competition.

Lamination should be a profit center and not a necessary evil, asserts Luigi Cristicini, national product manager at Drytac. Avoiding re-do's—with a well trained staff and well-maintained equipment, is key. "Re-doing a job costs you three times the price. You pay for doing the job twice plus for the time lost that could have been spent on another profitable job. Keep re-do’s to a minimum by training your staff, testing product compatibility beforehand, and keeping your equipment in top shape," says Cristicini.

The Right Tool for the Job

Like any project you do, using the right tool for the job makes things go so much more smoothly. Knowing your customer's needs and what the intended final use of the graphic, lets a shop make a more educated decision when it comes to product recommendations.

"Lamination is an added value the customer will pay for, so it's important to tout the benefits and value of lamination so they understand why they're paying more," Dione Metnick, product line manager, LexJet.

"Understanding their customer’s needs, identifying the finished products intended use, and understanding the different laminates available can help lower overall costs and increase profits," says Tony Caruso, Eastern Regional Sales, AGL. "For example: if a customer wants a shop to create a graphic for short term indoor use, the customer may choose to not laminate because their perception may be that lamination will provide little value while increasing their price. A shop owner who agrees may be leaving money on the table. A high quality thermal gloss laminate, with an average sqft cost of eight cents, can enhance and make the graphic more vivid. A laminated vs. an un-laminated comparison will often show a customer the value of laminating and win the business."

By being educated on all the ins and outs of the types of laminates offered, shops can ensure that they are providing the right laminate for the job. For instance, for floor graphics work, slip resistant overlaminates are essential. Using the incorrect laminate or no laminate at all becomes a safety issue. Once slip resistance is taken care of, appearance is the next factor and will depend on where the graphic is used, and the customer’s esthetic requirements.

Why Laminate?

These days, customers are always looking for the best value and in many cases the cheapest price. They always want to know "Why should I laminate?" What's the difference, really, apart from cost?

"Although there are some types of wall graphics media where lamination is not recommended—such as fabric and media with microsphere adhesive—most wall graphics benefit from lamination. An appropriate laminate improves readability of copy or view ability of graphics. Laminates typically enrich color without changing it. In areas where fingerprinting, cleaning, and UV/weather resistance are factors—which is almost every wall graphic installation—laminates are indispensable," says Mary Ann Kucera, marketing manager, MACtac Graphic Products. "General signage applications benefit from both protection against environmental damage and enhancements of color and readability. Only the least expensive of short term signage, where cost is the driving factor, should be left unlaminated. Even UV ink, which is fairly durable, benefits from lamination to improve readability and reduce glare from its characteristic sandy-textured surface."

Judy Bellah, public relations manager of Clear Focus Imaging, Inc., also details some good and compelling reasons to offer lamination to your customers. According to Bellah, certain types of applications printed on window-perf films benefit from lamination. Although unlaminated window perf installs more easily, especially on complex curves, most vehicle window graphics are laminated with an optically clear, cast PVC filmto maintain visibility by keeping dust, dirt and water out of the film’s holes. Whereas, a liquid laminate is a good alternative in the dry season, when there’s less chance of rain, or when complex curves are an issue.

"Laminated graphics—especially those that have been installed for a long period of time—tend to be easier to remove," says Bellah. "The overlam helps keep the window film from tearing into small pieces during removal. Fewer hours of labor mean more profit for one’s shop."

Additionally, Jodi Sawyer, product manager, product branding business team, FLEXcon, recommends qualifying two different types of laminates: one with a smooth surface and one with a textured surface. "This should apply to the majority of the requirements and the printer may want to develop their own in house check list. Being able to sell that value to their client explaining how a laminate can add to the aesthetics, durability, extend the life of a graphic, ease of installation, and texture," says Sawyer.

It's About More than Just Price

It’s difficult to grow your business when you’re the low cost provider in town. Why not offer a premium product for a competitive price with excellent service? Or perhaps specialty films might be an option.

Specialty finishes can bring excitement to a graphic or add an extra dimension to an overall piece when used appropriately, says Drytac's Cristicini.

"Marketers are always looking for ways to make their brands and products stand out to consumers. Specialty finishes give marketers that option to take a regular image and soften it or make it shine more than usual. When consumers literally have seconds to view a brand or company's message, it's that subtle difference that makes one stand out over the other," says Todd Hain, marketing communications manager, Avery Dennison Graphics and Reflective Solutions.

"Specialty laminates have come a long way, and can set you apart from your competition," says MACtac's Yard. "For years the industry saw mostly matte, luster and gloss as the only options, but now there are textured floor films, durable polycarbonate, crystal finishes, embossed textures that mimic wood grain, carbon fibers, brushed metals, and more. Offering these to your customers as an alternative will allow them to think outside of the box and push the limits of design."

"The usage of specialty laminating finishes is consistently growing. Even with ongoing advancements in printer technology and printable media, there continues to be a need to further protect and enhance graphics," says Tom Pidgeon, vice president of sales & marketing, D&K Group. "The best way to sell/promote specialty finishes is by educating customers about the protection and value that they provide. By up-selling traditional gloss or matte finishes, graphic shops can offer their customers a greater variety of looks and feels that will greatly enhance printed pieces."

"Specialty finishes are increasingly more important in meeting the needs of what your clients wants. Specialty over laminates that can provide a different look to the graphics are important because brands are increasingly looking for differentiation," says FLEXcon's Sawyer. "Showcasing 'what’s possible' in terms of aesthetics that an overlaminate can bring will help printers bring value to their clients."

10 Tips to Profitable Finishing Departments

Keep the finishing area clean. This includes wiping the laminator (rollers, tables, idler bars) and finishing tables before using for the day and during the day when there are long production runs.—Frank Corey, senior sales and marketing, QMLS

Save and re-use release liners. According to Tom Pidgeon, vice president of sales & marketing, D&K Group, pressure sensitive films include a paper or film release liner that is typically disposed of after a job is completed. Release liners usually make up approximately 20 to 30 percent of a pressure sensitive film’s cost, so re-using these as a release paper or even as packaging material will help save money in other areas and allow shops to keep more profit.

Use “like” films for lamination. Jodi Sawyer, product manager, product branding business team for FLEXcon suggests using "like" films—vinyl/vinyl—as opposed to “unlike” films for optimal performance. Films expand and contract at different rates which can lead to issues with tunneling or cracking of the graphic in the end-use application.

Organize and clearly label all lamination and adhesive rolls. This eliminates shops using the wrong laminate for a job. Corey notes that many laminate and adhesive manufacturers do not label the inside of the roll so having a system to identify the rolls is important.

Allow time for outgassing. According to Judy Bellah, public relations manager for Clear Focus Imaging, Inc., shops should allow at least 24 hours for any solvent-based inks to outgas before applying an overlam. This is not necessary with latex or UV-cure inks.

Gang your jobs. According to Luigi Cristicini, national product manager, Drytac, ganging up jobs lowers your setup costs per job. Never just run one piece unless it’s absolutely necessary. Also take into account material waste like extra roll width and material used in webbing the laminator.

Limit your standard stock. Corey suggests limiting stock to three sizes (usually 38, 51, and 61/62 inches) and two or three finishes otherwise shops can end up with numerous rolls of odd widths and non standard finishes.

Buy smart. Buy from a vendor who only sells quality overlaminates and adhesives. The advantages include getting consistent finishes, getting no flaws in the laminate that eliminate reprinting, reduced silvering and better long term performance, especially on outdoor graphics.

Give the adhesive enough time to bond. After applying the overlam, Bellah suggests letting the graphics sit for 10 to 12 hours before installing in order to give the overlam’s adhesive enough time to bond to the print substrate.

Plan your finishing day. For example, according to Corey, plan to laminate all the images that require matte at the same time and all the images that require gloss at the same time. This saves time and material webbing and unwebbing the laminator.