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When Planning Your Next Piece, Start At The Finish(er)
By: Bob Windler, President, Diecrafters, Inc.
Published In: Printing Views, January 2002 issue

The following scenario happens at finishing companies more often than you think. A beautifully printed piece arrives on the shop floor, ready to be diecut and folded. The purchase order calls for nothing out of the ordinary. No handwork, no lengthy makeready, etc. It doesn’t take long, however, to realize that the look the designer had in mind is going to be very difficult – if not impossible – to achieve with the finishing option they’ve chosen. The finisher is then left scrambling for a viable solution to get the job done properly and on time.


This scenario can be easily avoided if everyone involved with the production of a piece remembers one thing: START AT THE FINISH! It’s fruitless to come up with a great design that can’t make its way from the computer screen to the client’s hand. By consulting your finisher during the design phase of the production process, you can be sure that the great idea in your head can be accurately and efficiently produced. The following article will outline a few tips to keep in mind that will ensure swift, worry-free movement of your project between all production channels.


What is the end use of the piece?

Involving your finisher while the piece is still being designed is the best way to prevent problems. The best way to make sure that you’re covering every base while in the design phase is to ask, “What is the end use of this piece?” Picture in your head the finished product, and take note of all of the details pertaining to it. How big is it? Who will use it? What do you want the look to accomplish? Do you desire a flashy, eye-catching effect like a paperback book cover?  Or do you want to portray a classy, polished image for a law firm?


The answers to all of those questions will determine what finishing techniques will be used and what the best materials and applications will be for every step of the production process. If you’re designing a piece for a law firm, you may want to use detailed, sculptured dies, soft “tint” foils and heavy, uncoated paper to give it a refined look. On the other hand, a paperback book may require fancier die cuts and flashy foil stamping to make it jump off bookstore shelves. 


Regardless of which materials or processes are selected, it all needs to fit within your budget to become a reality. Here is where a finisher’s expertise can really be an asset. That great design with the multiple die cut and folded panels and bright colors might look terrific on the computer screen – and even better when it comes off the press. But it’s too late at that point to realize the finishing technique required will put you over budget. Very often, a knowledgeable finisher can suggest options that ensure your project is completed on time and within your budget, without compromising the quality of the piece.


Let your finisher know every detail about the piece.

It’s common in our industry to assume – rightfully – that those responsible for the next phase of production are pretty good at what they do. Therefore, we tend to skimp on the small details when sending a job along. For example, as finishers we’ve all worked with 80 lb cover with aqueous coating. And that’s what we see on the purchase order: “80 lb cover, aqueous coated.”


Very often, however, that isn’t enough. I once had a job come into my shop from a longtime printer client. The instructions were pretty standard: die cut, score, fold and glue. But when we got to the gluing, we found that none of our adhesives would adhere. At that point we called the client, who informed us that they had just begun using a different aqueous coating with a Teflon base. Our solution was to hand-grind the glue tabs down to paper fiber, which enabled us to finish the job on time.  Had a simple phone call been made, we would have gladly tested the new coating and saved the customer the additional charges that resulted.


This is the type of small detail that is commonly forgotten when a job is passed from printer to finisher. Printers are always looking for ways to increase speed, as well they should. But don’t forget to make your finisher aware of any changes that may alter the properties of the stock you’re using – even the type of aqueous coating! Though every job is different, you can never provide too much information.


Think of subsequent operations before it gets on press.

By letting your finisher know what you want to do with a piece before it’s printed, costly mistakes can often be avoided. Our shop recently helped a client avert disaster with a piece requiring some difficult folding and gluing. It was made up of four long, narrow strips that were to be glued together and folded into 16 panels, each about 4” x 6”, creating a piece almost eight feet long when unfolded.  There was a lot of text and image crossover that needed to be handled carefully to make the piece look right. The client’s initial layout included lining up text and images across glued panels. It would have required substantial handwork to get those panels to line up properly. If any of them were off, the subsequent folds would be off as well. The end result would likely have been rejected by the print buyer.


Our solution was to print three panels with identical copy to the ones they were being glued to. We created a dummy of the piece without copy to show the client how it would look, then made a dummy with copy to check where all of the crossovers were. Perpendicular perfs at the center of each of the four pieces acted as the “control” for both the lineup of the glued pieces and the placement of each fold. The resulting workflow eliminated much of the handwork, yielding a better-looking product while reducing production time and costs.  Though our customer was worried about the amount of up-front planning needed to produce the job, they were very happy when we maintained the production schedule we had committed to.


Make sure the solution really saves money

It’s common when designing a piece to place too much emphasis on finding the most efficient, cost effective way to get it onto the press. The modern pressroom, however, is probably the most versatile step of the production process. Press advancements like single-pass perfecting and fully automated makeready consoles enable jobs to get on and off very quickly. Also, a steadily increasing variety of press widths means that just about any size sheet can be accommodated.


There are literally dozens of solutions available if you’re looking to cut 10% off the time a job will spend in the pressroom. But many of those solutions will add that 10% – and much more – right back when they cause slowdowns at the finishing stage. Every time you think of switching to a new aqueous coating, or repositioning the layout on the press sheet, give a quick call to your finisher to make sure you’re really saving time and money all the way down the line.


By starting your project planning with the end in mind, you will be sure that there are no surprises as it makes its way through every step of the production process. A quality finisher can be a valuable partner, offering suggestions not only for diecutting and folding, but also how important decisions such as paper selection and layout will affect end results. Simply asking questions and providing every detail of a piece will save you both time and money, while giving you the piece of mind that your project is in good hands!


Bob Windler is president of Diecrafters, Inc., a leading Midwestern finishing company.  Diecrafters offers complete post press planning and finishing services including: Die cutting, foil stamping, embossing, folding, gluing, binding, mounting, fulfillment and warehousing.  Bob can be reached at 708-656-3336 x112 or rwindler@diecrafters.com.