The Finishing Touch (Wide Format Printing)
Article by: Denise Gustavson
When it comes to furnishing a print service provider with equipment, in many cases finishing equipment—from laminators and seamers to cutters and routers—many times will fall to the bottom of the priority list. These days, however, with the growing install base of flatbed printers and digital cutters and routers—as well as the need for durable graphics—the post-press department is becoming more and more essential to a successful print business.
We interviewed several experts from the post-press side of the business. In the following pages they'll discuss many of the questions print service providers have about finishing equipment. Such as: What is the most important piece of finishing equipment in a shop—the one piece I shouldn't do without? Should I buy new or used? How much time will it take to train my staff? I have a flatbed/roll-to-roll/hybrid solvent/UV/aqueous/latex printer. Does it matter what finishing equipment I purchase?
What type of finishing equipment are the most popular additions to a print shop?
David Conrad, senior product manager, finishing, Neschen
In a production environment where both pressure sensitive and thermal applications will be present, you will want a versatile production based roller laminator with dual heated roller capability that can keep pace with printer output or possibly even a bi-directional machine. A small or newer print shop just getting introduced to finishing may find entry level laminators a wise choice for versatility, ease of use and dependable service. If the shop is looking to add support for walk-in business or for retail environments, pouch laminators are the simplest wide format laminator in the world to operate. Utilize it to provide kiosk type services for the print shop who also has a busy store front business.
Tim Saul, business development manager, D&K Group, Inc.: A laminator is a popular addition to a print shop. Most often, when a print is made, it simply looks like a paper print. With a laminator in the shop, they have the option to apply a laminate and enhance the print. The opportunity to create specialty graphics comes alive due to the different types of laminates and finishes available. Laminates can be applied to the print for added UV protection or to make prints for POP, trade show, floor graphics, backlit translights, and vehicle graphics.
Which equipment should any shop not do without?
Frank Corey, senior sales and marketing manager, Quality Media and Laminating Solutions: Any print shop that does wide-format lamination should have a "cold" pressure sensitive laminator. You need the laminator to mount prints to boards, laminate print media (give clients the surface they are looking for—gloss, lustre, matte, textured, dry erase, anti grafitti) and protect the image from weathering. Also, lamination is a nice profit center if you are proficient at it.
Also a flat trimmer that can be used with cutting mats or has a base is essential to getting straight cuts without cutting your fingers (makes lesser skilled workers more proficient at trimming). These can cut banners, adhesive vinyl, prints, foamboard, Gator, and Sintra materials.
Milazzo: Since more than 50 percent of the profit in most printing jobs is in the finishing of the printed graphic, a robust finishing department will add additional profits to any shops bottom line. Depending upon the applications being run—outdoor signage, floor and counter graphics, window graphics, trade show graphics, point of purchase signs or backlit displays—lamination finishing will enhance durability while increasing profitability. Lamination also provides rigidity to ease the installation process.
Saul: A print shop should not do without finishing equipment that will render the best return on investment. There are many choices in the marketplace; the print shop needs to make the choice wisely which fits their business model. As a standard, laminators are a great choice due to the options for creating graphics that fit end-user requirements.
What level of expertise/training is required?
Conrad: Operator expertise is where good print shops are separated from "great" print shops. The knowledge and expertise of the designer, printer, cutter, and laminator operator is incredibly important. You can never have enough training. Not only should your specific disciplines be experts at their particular craft, a great print shop ensures they are also cross trained in other departments so as to provide complete coverage all the time. Investing in operator training and education is the key to a print shop's success.
David Cowart, director of sales,
Milazzo: Production-level machines are normally located in the finishing departments of production houses where the level of experience in the industry is much higher. The amount of training necessary is also to a degree dependent upon the applications that the shop is creating. Applying a cold laminate to a vinyl banner will require less a level of training and expertise than face mounting to Plexiglas. In the current marketplace, every business is being tasked to do more with less; highly trained and motivated employees are a valuable asset to any shop.
When does investing in new finishing equipment make more sense than purchasing used equipment?
Conrad: Purchase new whenever the economic and financial condition of your company allows for it. The continued development of laminators enables newer models to handle new and more demanding applications that may not have been main stream years ago. New equipment can provide increased application satisfaction. Although a well built laminator should last for many years, there does come a time when newer is better. Always be sure to purchase quality new equipment.
When you purchase used equipment you do not always know what you're getting. Sometimes you may be purchasing someone else's problem—buyer beware.
Saul: New equipment is always the best choice. It comes with a full warranty and has options that fit the requirements of today's production requirements. Traditionally, the reseller or manufacturer has options to have the equipment installed and training for the production staff.
Used equipment has the unknown of how well the equipment has been maintained and will perform in the long run. Purchasing used equipment can be a gamble.
A good value is to look at refurbished equipment that has been serviced by the OEM. Many times there is a great deal for refurbished equipment with a limited OEM warranty.
How important is it to marry up the printing equipment in an existing shop with the correct finishing equipment? In other words, do existing wide-format printers dictate what kind of equipment would be best?
Conklin: The more versatile your finishing equipment is the less you need to worry about your printing equipment. When you purchase a coater that can handle many different applications, the need to marry up the printing equipment is reduced.
Conrad: It is more important to match up the existing printer technology with the appropriate substrate/ink and film/adhesive or liquid combination. You need to make sure that the ink and substrate technology being used by the printer can be effectively protected with film or liquid that is compatible with said technology. This is where money can be lost, jobs ruined and reputations questioned. Be sure you know the right "recipe" for ink, media, film and adhesive to provide the customer with the expected and desired results.
For the printer and laminator equipment, as long as the existing printer satisfies the requirements of the shop and can provide the expected output necessary to retain high quality and customer satisfaction. For example; if you have a 60-inch inkjet printer and you are running 60-inch prints, then it makes sense to purchase a laminator that is at least 60 inches wide. If you have a 42-inch printer and you find yourself outsourcing wider print jobs you would be better served to upgrade your printer, or add another printer to the production floor, and purchase a laminator that is the same width as the new printer. This will allow you to handle the finishing requirements of both devices.
It is always important to ask the question; "where will I be in a year, three years, five years?" Just because your existing printer is 42 inches and all your current jobs are 42 inches or smaller does not mean that in a year or two you will not be taking on new business that requires wider material.
Plan for the future when you purchase your laminator—with a wider laminator you can always finish narrower prints, but you cannot finish wider images with a narrower machine. Think about new opportunities and what those opportunities mean with regard to finishing requirements.
Saul: Partnering a laminator with the type of printer a print shop has is a priority. When considering the purchase of a laminator it is best to consult with your reseller or the manufacturer. Let them know the applications and growth potential within your plan.
Thermal / pressure sensitive laminators vs. pressure sensitive only laminators have different production control and may not work with all printing output inks. The cost of laminators varies, which will determine the cost of films you may use. Typically, thermal/ pressure sensitive laminators offer the best ROI because a print shop can use thermal vs. pressure sensitive films for indoor print applications. Thermal films cost less money than pressure sensitive. Over time of use, that can relate to dollars the print shop can save.
Another consideration is the thickness of printed material to be laminated. Popular flatbed printers can print up to several inches thick. When choosing a laminator, it is important to match up the aperture or opening of the nip rollers on a laminator to match or exceed the maximum printing thickness of the printer.
Effectively laminating wide-format prints requires enough floor space to work on the preparation and finishing of the laminated prints. If you are going to laminate 4x8-foot prints, the shop will need a preparation table in front of the laminator and a finishing table at the output end to support and run the large print through. Definitely consider your available floor space and the finishing equipment's footprint when judging options for your operation.
Article taken from: www.myprintresource.com