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Printing a piece of media is far from the last step in a printed project for your client. Depending on dry time, there’s an almost immediate jump to stacking, routing, cutting, trimming, and laminating.

And in today’s one-stop business environment, the majority of print shops are offering these services in house. According to the , 92 percent of companies report they provide post-print/finishing services. Of those who do, they are most likely to utilize lamination, grommeting, mounting, and installation.

In the Q1 survey’s report of the graphics and sign community specifically, the top finishing/post-production services offered by PSPs include lamination (86.6 percent) and grommeting (81.3 percent). Eighty percent of those surveyed currently have lamination/mounting equipment in house; 11.5 percent planned to buy more this year. And 70 percent have cutting, trimming, routing, and die-cutting equipment, while 13.8 percent planned to purchase more this year – both increases from 2015.

Even a white paper compiled by ISA, InfoTrends, and MCT Technologies, “,” stresses the importance of print shops devoting the same resources to their postpress capabilities as they do to the rest of their workflow, saying “Finishing is not an option, but a must for digital printing to march forward.” The report goes as far as saying, “Without continuous, significant increases in cutting capacity, material versatility, speed, and material handling automation, continued investments in faster and wider printers may prove fruitless, eventually eroding growth and profits,” emphasizing that innovations in substrates and print speeds will not solve printers’ workflow challenges unless they invest equally in finishing.

So, with the necessity of in-house finishing, what equipment does your shop currently utilize on a day-to-day basis? Is postpress work your bottleneck? Are you finding automation is your go-to for saving time and laser cutting is a better fit for your media-cutting needs? Here, two print shops reflect on what works best for their digital finishing projects.

Breaking the Bottleneck
There’s always one bottleneck in a print shop, and with increasingly faster print speeds and a myriad of different types of printable media, this tends to fall in the finishing department.


“We are seeing more and more of our customers wanting retail advertising that has more dimension to it,” says Kevin Ortiz, partner, Laurel Graphics. “We’ve added more digital finishing equipment to try and keep up with our printing capabilities, also working with outside finishing vendors that have equipment that complements what we do, i.e., die cutting, embossing, etc.” Laurel Graphics offers guillotine cutting, laminating, routing, mounting, back slitting, and scoring in-house with two guillotine cutters, two digital cutting and routing tables, two laminators, and a slitting machine, for materials such as PVC, Ultraboard, Foamboard, corrugated cardboard, acrylic, wood, and styrene products.

David Leavey, VP, Creative Printing agrees. “The first thing we look at is ‘How are we going to plan the finishing?’ In today’s world, the printing is the easiest part of the process. Quantity and complexity of die cut also play a huge role,” he says. “For example, say you have a back panel project and the order is for 100 panels. Each panel is 48 x 70 inches and has 3000 holes in it. If we ran this on our digital cutter it would take 40 minutes a sheet, for a total of roughly 67 hours of work. Last year, we put in a flatbed die cutter that is 54 x 78 inches and now we can do that same job in one hour.”

Creative Printing focuses on in-store signage, displays, and cartons. They use two laminators, two cutter/router tables, and heat-bending lines; they also offer sewing and kitting. “In my mind, the heat bending and kitting can cause the most issues. We can print the best image, laminate, etc., but if you pack it incorrectly you will never have a happy customer.”

ISA’s report suggests automation has become a critical component: “As printed materials get wider and longer, manual finishing methods are becoming woefully inadequate to meet acceptable costs and deadlines. … As many PSPs operate and thrive by offering short delivery times, it is critical that the finishing processes (e.g., cutting or routing) do not become major bottlenecks that delay delivery and invoicing.”

But as great as stepping away from a cutter and letting it work its magic can be, is that what is actually happening on shop floors? For Leavey and Ortiz, price point and lack of space are too big of obstacles to make the automatic switch.

“Full automation doesn’t work for us today,” says Leavey. “We don’t have the room to add the additional equipment, and with our job changeover and juggling that we do, we can’t seem to justify it.”


Ortiz can’t justify it either: “The initial financial investment is the biggest issue with going to full automation.”

Laser Versus Knife
Whether you’re printing , , , or , most digital print jobs are rectangular or square. With a wide-format cutter, you are able to stack a wide variety and a large amount of materials in a small amount of time. And (at least, with today’s technology) you can’t laser-cut a stack. But there’s definitely interest in laser, as it executes computer-directed complex cuts with intricate details that a standard knife cut just can’t make.

“Laser finishing is one of the things that we have been looking to possibly add to our shop,” says Ortiz. “We like the extra capabilities that it offers that routers are unable to offer.”

Leavey agrees: “We have looked into a laser but just haven’t pulled the trigger yet. Laser is the way to go if you run a lot of acrylic.”

Perhaps the most important concerns when evaluating your finishing department lie in your supply of media. Do you need equipment that can cut a wide range of substrates, from standard rollfed media to rigid substrates to textiles? How important is contour cutting to you? What kind of speeds do you feel you must have in order to stay relevant with deadlines? And, of course, what sizes are you typically dealing with? With indoor media options increasing, from various rigid materials like wood and metal to textiles for interior décor, what would be the finishing option to withstand traffic?

“We currently are printing quite a bit of wood and have been routing it on our digital finishing equipment. We also knife-cut textiles on our digital finishing equipment with very few issues,” says Ortiz.


Creative Printing doesn’t run any fabric to date, but Leavey suggests using a liquid clear coat for wood or metal applications.

At the end of the day, whether you’ve purchased fully automated machines or have made the decision to install a laser cutter instead of a paper cutter, there will still be bottlenecks. But offering finishing options to your clients, backed with proper training, understanding of the machines, and a great crew working for you will inevitably help. “You need to have good employees to make any of this equipment work,” says Leavey. “Surround yourself with a good team and you can accomplish anything.

Read more on or explore the rest of our October 2016 “” issue.



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