Finishing Touches

You’ve invested in high-end, wide-format post-press and finishing equipment. But one thought keeps nagging at you. Are you making the best use of that investment?

Getting the most out of the considerable investment you’ve sunk into that equipment involves a wide array of considerations. Have you looked to the manufacturer for all the training and education available? Have you gotten up to speed on the full range of capabilities the finishing equipment can offer?

Have you taken every measure available to you to limit waste? Are you ensuring you have competent, well-paid and loyal personnel running the equipment? Are you using the right materials? And above all, are you viewing the equipment as, to use one expert’s words, “a platform for profitability”?

Finishing as an Afterthought

The fact that some PSPs don’t reap all they could from their wide-format post-press equipment shouldn’t come as a surprise, says Jerry Hill, vice president of new market business development for Richmond, Va.-based Drytac Corporation, a manufacturer of laminates, adhesives and finishing equipment.

“In smaller and medium-sized companies, you have pre-press, the printer, and finishing is the last step,” Hill says. “Business owners get worn out figuring the right computer and software to determine the images. Then they focus on the printer and inksets. And finally they say, ‘I guess we have to have some finishing, so let’s go buy a roller laminator, a liquid coater or an XY cutter, or a flatbed cutter.’ And they give that less time . . . They put a lot of attention on the front end and on the printing process, and finishing is an afterthought.”

That’s a big problem, because what comes off the printer isn’t ready for sale. It has to be cut and mounted or sewn, seamed and grommeted. Finishing is the “worst place to mess up,” Hill says. Incorrectly perform finishing and you lose three times, he adds. The first is the loss of the job not finished correctly, the second having to do the job over. The third loss is the opportunity cost of the next job in line that could have completed while you were re-doing the first.

“Unless you have that finishing done correctly, you have to throw it out and start over,” Hill remarks. “If done poorly, the customer’s perception of your quality is negative. So my suggestion is don’t make finishing an afterthought. Don’t think of it as a necessary evil. Think of it as a profit center.”

Optimizing that Investment

How can you get the most from an investment in wide-format equipment? According to Rick Nerenhausen, sales training manager for Sarasota-based LexJet, the first step is to view that equipment as a long-term investment.

Printing equipment should probably be paid off in three years, because within that time, speed, image quality, ease of use and profiles for media will all be outstripped by newer printing equipment. When it comes to roll laminating, by contrast, the investment can be paid over a much longer time frame. Invest in a $25,000 or $30,000 higher-end laminator, and it is very possible to get 20 years of service from the machine if it is maintained properly, Nerenhausen says.

The equipment should be evaluated the same way a printer would, Hill says. That begins by understanding the full variety of capabilities the printer can offer. In his years in the business, Hill has seen many PSPs purchase finishing equipment with the goal of using the equipment to do one job for one customer.

“They need x, so they buy equipment to do x, and that equipment does x,” he says. “But most finishing equipment offers multiple capabilities that allow it to do x, y and z. For instance, a PSP who does car wraps buys a laminator that applies the overlamination film. But that laminator can also apply the masking film for weeding out cut graphics. The laminator can also mount.

“A lot of sign guys mount by hand, but they should let the laminator do that. It’s much faster and you get a higher yield. The laminator can also apply decals. You’ll print on a media like paper, apply adhesives to the bottom, and over-laminate to the top. A lot of guys don’t even know you can do that.”

Angie Mohni, vice president of marketing for Elkridge, Md.-based Neschen Americas, a manufacturer and distributor of finishing products and inkjet media to the wide-format graphics market in North and South America, also stresses looking deep into the future when sizing up a possible purchase.

For instance, many PSPs have 54-inch printers, but in the future may be running a 60- and 64-inch printer, and should strongly consider buying a laminator to support those future printing capabilities, she says.

“The same thing goes for buying a cold machine versus a hot machine,” she adds. “If you’re only doing cold lamination now, that’s fine. But what are your plans for expansion? Might you get into hot lamination? If so, doesn’t it make sense to buy a hot machine that can do both hot and cold lamination?”

Also key is an investment in the right people and right training, ensuring well-trained personnel are kept contented and loyal. “If you continually switch out personnel, and don’t treat it like the investment it is, it’s going to yield bad product, unhappy customers, and inefficiencies in your business,” Nerenhausen says. “If your laminating guy screws up the print, you have to go back and do it again, and you begin to logjam your production department.”

Good finishing people “pay for themselves tenfold,” he adds.

Agreeing is Mohni, who says there is no better way to optimize an investment in finishing equipment than education and training focused on full capabilities. “Not knowing how to use [a laminator] can result in wasting lamination film, in large part because print service providers don't properly web the machine, meaning they are throwing money away,” Mohni says.

“There are lots of money saving productivity tips and tricks that manufacturers such as Neschen Americas can give operators in order to ensure they are the most profitable they can be.”

Edwin Ramos, sales manager for North America, and Tim Sowinski, category manager, both representing Lincolnshire, Ill.-based GBC, are two more experts touting training as a crucial step in optimizing finishing equipment ROI.

Part of GBC’s applications training, Sowinski says, is an assessment to determine how PSPs are currently using lamination, and of how much work they may be turning away because they feel it’s too costly or difficult.

Adds Ramos: “The thing I see is a lot of shops producing lots of waste. We’ll help them with textured films, gloss, matte, canvas. We’ll show them how to maximize the changeovers, limit the waste, and use a product that can handle multiple applications with one kind of solution.”

The Right Products

Getting the most from an investment in high-end wide-format finishing equipment also calls for the right materials. Know the products that will be used, Nerenhausen says. If inferior vinyl is used on prints to be displayed outdoors, shrinking issues can result. The edges can be exposed, or the vinyl may warp in the sun. “You print on some polyester and throw vinyl laminate on top, they don’t expand and contract the same way, and the graphic can go haywire,” he says.

Knowing the right product for the job also means not wasting money.

“Some shops try to get too specific for an individual job,” he says. “We see people spending a lot of money on materials for a single job, when they should have either not taken the job, or used something already on their shelf.”

Also recognize that different visual impacts can be achieved by using the right material, such as canvas laminates that provides the look of canvas, while permitting use of conventional paper as opposed to more expensive substrates, Sowinski says. “There are a variety of things [print providers] can offer that can help differentiate them from the shop down the street,” he adds.

Another expert who stresses the use of the right materials is Frank Corey, senior sales and marketing manager for North Haven, Ct.-based Quality Media & Laminating Solutions. The 21-year-old company is a major supplier of adhesives and laminates for the wide-format digital printing market.

Products that offer fail-safe solutions, will work with the media and meet customer expectations are essential, Corey says. Customers will not accept work with defects, streaks or blemishes, or where the product shrinks or edges lift. “[PSPs] get one shot, and if they fail, their client writes them off,” he says.

“So it’s really important they suggest the proper laminate with the proper media,” Corey adds. “It’s also important to explain to the customer what the expected longevity will be with the laminate applied to the print.”

Consistency is a critical characteristic in laminates, Corey continues. PSPs’ laminate suppliers must buy consistent product. “People are willing to spend a bit more than the bottom end to get consistent quality,” he says. “There are a lot of people pitching offshore products lacking that consistency.”

In the case of materials expected to last a long time, laminates that don’t shrink are essential to achieving the desired results, Corey reports.

While vinyl or PVC-based materials tend to shrink over time, non-PVC materials like polyester, polypropylene and polyolefin are not likely to shrink.

“If it is a piece of artwork meant to last for years, you should be providing these premium solutions,” he says.

Finally, Corey urges print service providers equip their salespeople with books that show an identical image appearing with different laminations. “We’re in a show-and-tell business,” he says. “You should have a gloss, a matte, a luster, a textured, and then maybe a non-PVC product. So when a client comes in, and you have the same image with all the different textures, the client can make the choice . . . It’s the most efficient way to promote the product. And you have the client making the decision, to avoid having him second guess you later.”

In the final analysis, the way to view a piece of finishing equipment is as a platform for profitability. That’s possible, Mohni says, “if you have the right support from your manufacturers as to how to make that platform work for you.”

Or as Hill puts it, “Make finishing a priority, and put money in your pocket.”