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It's Not Done Until It's Finished

It’s a familiar scenario: a company spends time and money on printed marketing and collateral materials, sends it through the mail or distributes it at a trade show, and the recipient tosses it straight into the recycling bin, very often sight unseen. It’s just another piece of paper, after all.

As commercial print has become increasingly commoditized, the question becomes, how do print buyers and print providers restore high value to print applications? How do they transform that printed piece into something more than “just another piece of paper”?

New finishing technologies and processes are adding that special je ne sais quoi to print, and are not only helping boost print customers’ ROI, but also produce printed materials that stand out in a crowd—or that won’t just end up in the trash or recycling bin.

Print providers have two approaches to offering special finishing effects: they can acquire the capabilities in-house, or they can outsource the work to a trade finisher who may have a broader array of specialty equipment and the expertise to run it. This allows the printer to focus on, and make appropriate investments in, print production without having to invest the money, floor space, and man-hours in acquiring, installing, and operating a wide breadth of finishing equipment.

The Printer’s Edge is an Orlando, FL-based trade finishing house with a full range of finishing equipment, from old school die-cutters, gluers, folders, and the like, to new UV coating equipment and an MGI JETvarnish 3D that, as president Mark Resnick said, “helped us bridge the gap into where things are going.”

The Printer’s Edge works strictly with print providers rather than end users, and those “who represent all attitudes of the industry,” said Resnick. “Some hope the good times will come back, and others that are becoming more marketing services providers, trying to innovate so they’re getting out of the commoditization of their work.”

“Some of our customers are looking to get things executed as inexpensively as possible,” he added. “Others are looking to make a difference so that a piece stands out and gives their customer a better response rate.”

The Printer’s Edge has been seeing more digital work, characterized by shorter runs, more variable data and personalization, and faster turnaround. The Printer’s Edge is also seeing an increased interest in customers wanting additional finishing work done on digital jobs.

“We’re also seeing a resurgence in some old-school things like foil stamping where there’s a bit of retro appeal,” said Resnick. As with anything, finishing trends come into and go out of style—and what is old becomes new again.

Like many commercial printers who have found that one of the challenges to digital printing has been aggregating enough short-run jobs to compensate for the loss of a long offset run, so, too, have finishers been pressured by the same trends.

“What will happen is the set-up times are amortized over a smaller run, so cost per piece becomes higher, putting more operational stress on your business,” said Resnick. “What used to be a few larger runs, now your revenue may be comprised of a few smaller runs. It puts more and more emphasis on the efficiency of your operation and making sure you’re processing things both accurately and swiftly.”

As goes printing, so goes finishing.

From Old School to Finishing School

Northern Ohio Printing in Cleveland specializes in both digital and offset printing, and one of its stocks in trade is building digital storefronts—aka Web-to-print capabilities—for customers. The company has also moved heavily into specialty finishing work. The company is heavily into embossing, UV coatings, SoftTouch, and also recently acquired an MGI JETvarnish 3D. The company has been doing fairly extensive market research before making its finishing acquisitions. 

“We found that people are looking for something different, more unique,” said Gary Chmielewski, president of Northern Ohio Printing. “Obviously affordable, but something that will make them stand out and something that will make their client stand out. UV has really provided that avenue.”

Ultraviolet (UV) inks and coatings can add a wide variety of special effects to printed piece, imparting 3D effects, holograms, unusual textures, and other elements that make a final print so much more than just a piece of paper.

As the digital print side of the business has grown, the digital finishing applications have grown as well, and the new capabilities of digital finishing—particularly UV—have been something of a killer app. Chmielewski is eagerly anticipating getting into digital foil stamping.

“I see digital foil being huge,” he said. “You’ll be able to do an embossed piece. You can use holograms, metallics, and really be able to take your piece to a whole new level. We’ll be able to do variable data with the digital foil. Those are some things I think are going to make a huge impact on that part of the market.”

Whether it’s a dedicated trade finisher like The Printer’s Edge or a commercial printer with a broad array of specialty finishing capabilities like Northern Ohio Printing, the key has been customer education.

Both companies are proactive in their outreach efforts and offer regular “lunch and learn” sessions, where customers, designers, and other businesses from around the community are invited to the plant for a meal that also offers food for thought.

“One of the bigger shops brought their entire sales team in to learn about a certain process and how to sell it,” said Resnick. “That was highly effective.”

Northern Ohio Printing spent nearly a year determining the best way to reach the marketplace, and decided that education was the best way to approach their marketing efforts.

“The specialty stuff is really intriguing, but I see the trend where we have to educate our clients on it.” So every Thursday, local designers and other local businesses are invited to the facility. “The more we educate the designers and the companies out there, the more I see them coming up with creative ways to use the UV,” said Chmielewski. “We educate them on how to design for it and run them through a whole program. They walk out excited and looking for ways to use the different technologies.”

And that creativity translates into pieces that stand the test of time.

“I see a lot more people going to trade shows, using the specialty UV where people aren’t going to pick up their literature and just throw it away,” said Chmielewski. “Some of the marketing stuff we send out—our clients have said they don’t throw our stuff away. It’s got that tactile finish. It’s something they hold on to. It’s a whole different, dynamic type of print that we’re starting to see.”