The Right Finish Makes a Difference

As one coatings expert remarks, coatings are the last thing down on a piece of paper, but the very first thing a customer sees.

That’s why the right finish can carry tremendous benefits in helping differentiate your services from others. In this look at coating and specialty finishing products, Quick Printing covers the latest in coatings and other print finishes, with a focus on UV. We examine the question of inline versus offline, explore how to price coating, and eye the pros and cons in specialty finishes.

Now is likely one of the best times ever to look into the benefits coatings can confer. So said Elinor Midlik, president of Prime UV, a Carol Stream, IL-based firm that makes the curing equipment for UV coatings.

Increased competition has rendered UV coating formulations increasingly affordable, Midlik said. “The amount of UV coatings sold worldwide is very large, and the prices from the formulators are very cheap. In some cases, a UV coating could be pennies more than a water-based coating. Yet these coatings provide many advantages, from cosmetic benefits to permanency.”


Differentiating finish

Of course, coatings are an excellent way to differentiate your product from those of rivals. (See also “Digital, Dimensional Game Changer” on page 17.) As the printing industry continues to lose share to the Internet, print is evolving in its role as a mechanism of information dissemination.

“One element of that evolution is in coatings,” noted Joe Chiaramonte, VP with Leland, NC-based Coatings and Adhesives Corp., one of the nation’s largest coating manufacturers for the graphic arts industry.

Rather than mailing a flyer that is promptly thrown away by the recipient, marketers can now send a printed piece that bears an intriguing feel and texture.

“That piques people’s interest, and they want to look at it and find out what the message is,” Chiaramonte said. “They become intimate with a piece that would normally be thrown away if it were not tactile. Texture is one way to do that. But the market trend right now is to give pieces a smooth, velvety feel. It’s a differentiator. Just by touching it, people feel warm. You see a lot of this in cosmetic boxes, in upscale advertisements, and in phone covers.”

Also recognizing the potential of coatings and specialty finishes to provide the advantages of differentiation are the marketers at MGI in Melbourne, FL.

In the printing industry, competitors once competed on quality, explained Kevin Abergel, VP of sales and marketing for MGI. Today, they are forced in many instances to compete on price. “You take the average person on the street: Do you think he knows the difference between a Heidelberg, Ricoh, or Xerox?” he asked. “How can you make money while competing on price?”

On the other hand, with special coatings, you’re not selling on price, but on sex appeal, creativity, tactile sensation, and the ability to differentiate yourself from the competition and offer something no one else can, he said.

As a result, instead of making four to six percent profit, which is the standard for printers today, according to the Printing Industry of America, print service providers (PSPs) can make from 80 to 90 percent profit margin, Abergel argued.

“That’s just by putting down a 3D spot UV, or a hot-foil embossing,” added MGI marketing coordinator Holly Haley. “They have to focus less on how much is printed each month, and more on the profit made on each printing job.”


Inline vs. Offline

The question of whether to incorporate coatings and finishes as an inline process, or handle that task offline, draws differing responses from experts.

Chris Calomino, marketing manager for Delran, NJ-based ACTEGA Kelstar, said from a coating standpoint, “it’s a matter of how creative you want to be with a project. Eye-catching special effect designs are achieved using inline spot application coating systems, while most offline systems are limited to flood-coating a sheet.

“The imagery and piece you are producing could determine which system would be right for you,” Calomino added. “Having said that, the offline market understands the need for spot application. We foresee this technology progressing in the next couple years. This will open opportunity for PSPs who use offline coating systems due to space limitations or special business needs. Our product portfolio has both general and specialty coatings that work on both inline and offline solutions.”

At MGI, the tendency always has been to favor offline processes, Abergel reported. “In our experience, coming from the digital side, even our spot UV coating is digital,” he said. “The problems with doing anything inline is that if the printing goes down you can’t use the varnishing, and if the varnishing goes down you can’t use the printing. MGI sees that it is a safer bet to go offline.”

Added Haley: “Offline coating ensures that all your eggs are not in one basket and helps diversify your risk. If one of your machines goes down, you can use other machines to do your coating.”

Chiaramonte says due to cost, inline is easily the preferred method used by PSPs who have the appropriate equipment available. “Offline does allow for more dramatic effect than does inline, because it’s over a dry surface, not a wet surface,” he explained. “I’m specifically speaking about offline screen application.”

For her part, Midlik believes the choice depends on the equipment being used. But she added, ”Inline is just another unit on a web press. And that is the most cost-efficient way to apply a UV coating, inline on a web press.”

PSPs can do 200 sheets per minute (fpm) running through an offline coater, she said. That is a fraction of the 1,500 fpm achievable on a web press. “The speed differential is enormous,” Midlik asserted.


Pricing Coatings

MGI’s Abergel is among those convinced coatings make it possible to charge much higher prices. MGI’s machine, the JetVarnish 3D, is digital and handles regular spot UV coating or an embossed 3D raised coating, he said.

”What we know is, in the market, the pricing for 2D coating has been set by screen printers and finishers, and has been standard for years,” he reported, noting that it can be bought for $350 to $450 per thousand. “But when you speak of the tactile raised varnish, it’s the wild west of pricing. You can price it almost any way you want, because you’re selling emotion. And it’s easy to charge your final customer what you want for that emotional response.”

The pricing is upwardly elastic because what is being sold is not just paper but more than that, he argues. “You’re selling something that delights the end user,” Abergel observed. “You’re selling a sensation or an emotion.”

Chiaramonte also has observed the ability to dramatically raise prices. Basic coating, he said, can cost $3 to $4 a pound. “Putting a particular pigment into the coating might result in five times the price,” he explained. “These are niche markets that [PSPs] need to identify. They are segments of the market like cosmetics and higher-end advertising of specialty-type products, that in turn [generate] higher pricing.”


Specialty Finishes: Pros and Cons

Specialty finishes have a tremendous upside and offer more reward than risk, Calomino contends. “In a highly competitive market, the ability to capture a customer’s attention with finishes such as MiraFoil Silver, Raised, Pearlescent, or Soft Touch coatings creates a lasting impact. Studies show a higher retention and return on investment when using specialty products.”

Still, the downsides cannot be waved away. Specialty finishes do require specific equipment and a significant investment. “However, we have some of the brightest people in the industry assisting customers in these types of decisions—regarding manufacturer or equipment recommendations, based on their focus and strategy,” Calomino said, adding that as for pricing, “I always like to say it‘s important to remember that coatings are the last thing down on a piece of paper and the first thing a customer sees.”

Chiaramonte, too, feels PSPs must recognize the downsides of specialty finishes. “The specialty types of products do require research on the part of PSPs,” he noted. “They need to research the products they intend to use and the compatibility of their equipment, working in concert with their vendors.”