Communication is the Key to Successful Finishing Projects|
Bob Windler, Diecrafters, Inc
GATF World, June 2004 issue
Stop what you're doing for this earth-shattering announcement! Despite what you may have heard, there are plenty of money-making projects available to sheetfed printers - even in this soft economy. The key is to look a little outside your comfort zone to find them. A project with an unusual size or shape, or one that requires a fair amount of finishing work is often much more profitable than a simpler, less demanding project. If you're willing to expend the extra planning effort to produce them properly, these projects can more than make up for that effort through healthy margins.
Communication between printer, designer and finisher is the key to the success of these intricate projects, and it must occur in many different forms throughout the life of a project. But while there's nothing earth-shattering about communicating the various aspects of a project, it's the little things that often make the biggest difference. I recently toured a major Midwest printing company, and was amazed at their attention to detail. For example, one of their presses stacked fully jogged and conditioned signatures automatically. While the reduction in spoilage from this small step may seem minute, it could be the difference between meeting a production quantity and calling a soon-to-be-unhappy customer.
Details forgotten at the planning stage can result in a finished product that doesn't live up to customer expectations. Likewise, key pieces of information that fail to make it onto a quote or press sheet can cause production delays that eat into profits. We'll discuss some of the important details sheetfed printers should communicate to their finishers, as well as some of the production "hot spots" that should be kept in mind on projects that involve finishing work.
Early and often
When it comes to the design, planning and production of a project that involves extensive finishing, involving your finisher early and often will ensure that the end product will look its best and be produced more economically. In addition, any production or design issues that may not arise until the printed pieces are at the finisher can be alleviated.
At our company, we recently met with a client to help plan a highly-detailed, high-end display product. The design called for intricate foil stamping to be performed right next to an area printed with metallic inks. Since metallic inks typically cannot be stamped, we were concerned that the design in its current form would compromise registration. To overcome that, we suggested that the printer knock out the metallic ink under the stamped area and lay down a similar wax-free color in the trapped area. That enabled us to achieve the best registration.
The opportunity to offer input into the design and production of the piece allowed us to help our customer produce a better-engineered product more cost-effectively.
Planning the Nuts and Bolts
Once production of a project has begun, there are a host of critical details that must be communicated from printer to finisher. Here are some of the most commonly-forgotten pieces of information. While some may seem obvious or slight, their absence can leave the finisher scrambling for an answer or, worse, guessing as to the intent of the designer or printer.
Include all information on the purchase order - The purchase order should function as the "go-to" resource for all information about a project. In addition to the basics, such as the finished quantity needed, the quantity you'll be supplying and the services to be performed, there are a host of smaller details that should ideally make it onto the purchase order. Though some of these details may seem obvious, their inclusion will remove all doubt by creating a "paper trail" that everyone can follow.
If you'd like your post press partner to pull some sample sheets, for example, state that on the purchase order and include the number of samples desired. The same goes for any overruns you provide. Be sure to indicate clearly on the purchase order how many overruns you're willing to accept. Without this information, your finisher will be left to guess the quantity the customer is willing to purchase, and may throw away sheets for which you can be paid.
If you'll be sending multiple lots, be sure to place the corresponding quantities on the purchase order. This allows the production manager at your finisher to ensure that your instructions are understood and correctly followed once your project arrives on their shop floor. Likewise, any special instructions for handling, packing and shipping should be on the purchase order as well.
Properly judge the over/under - While it sounds like something you do in Las Vegas, gambling on the amount of pieces you'll need to print in order to meet your customer's desired quantity isn't a smart bet. Production quantities must be carefully calculated by including the amount of spoilage each production process will require. For example, if a project will be printed, folded, trimmed, foil stamped and die cut, each of those processes carries with it an anticipated rate of spoilage.
Don't press your luck. Involve your finisher early in the planning phase, and let them help you calculate accurate production quantities for your particular application. Keep in mind that for finishing projects with multiple post press operations, spoilage is calculated cumulatively to encompass the spoilage for each operation. If you have any doubts about spoilage rates for a particular process or job, check with your binder or finisher before printing.
Identify the contents of loads - It's common for loads to arrive at the finisher's plant with little detail as to how it's organized. If there are quantities of non-production sheets - such as makeready sheets, sample sheets or "last resort" stock that should only be used to meet a minimum quantity - they should be clearly identified.
Color coding systems are commonly used to differentiate what's in a load. While these systems certainly make sense to the printer, they mean little to a finisher without an explanation. Unfortunately, there are no color-coding standards in our industry that we can collectively use and understand - at least, not currently. In the future, it's possible that one of our trade associations may take the initiative to establish a standardized system for this information. Until then, don't assume your finisher knows what certain colors represent. Be sure to include tags within the load itself that clearly identify how it is separated.
Provide visual cues - Written instructions and details go a long way toward ensuring your post press partner knows the expectations of you and your client. However, visual cues complete the picture. Provide your post press partner with a sample of your project showing pagination and folding order. In addition, provide a sample that includes the position of die cuts and clearly marked gripper and side guide locations.
Here are a few additional details that should be considered before passing a job from printer to finisher:
- Use wax-free inks and coatings for projects that will involve adhesion. For example, metallic and non wax-free inks can pose problems during foil stamping, embossing, perfect binding, gluing, laminating, and other similar processes. By using wax-free inks, you ensure that there won't be any adhesion issues that could degrade the quality of the finished product.
- Layouts can often be manipulated to achieve specific objectives. For die cutting applications, we frequently place glue flaps near the lead edge of the press sheet. This helps eliminate the presence of die cutting marks or "nicks" on the finished product. Nicks are placed on press sheets in order to move them through the die cutting process. Let your finisher help you with your layouts to be sure they allow your finisher to produce the best-looking finished product.
Sheetfed printers and finishers that work together can create beautiful products that satisfy everyone. With proper communication, even the most complex projects can sail through the printing and finishing operations and make money for both. The next time a customer presents you with a complex project, don't turn it away. Tell them "Yes, we can handle it!" Then call your post press partner, and work together to make it happen.
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 or email@example.com.