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Archive for the ‘Digital Finishing’ Category

Custom Printing: Press Release Reflects New Digital Trends

Monday, March 4th, 2019

Sometimes you can actually learn a lot from a press release. It’s a bit like reading the tea leaves to divine the future.

A close friend and colleague recently sent me a press release about the Hunkeler Innovationdays 2019 printing and finishing trade show coming up in Lucerne, Switzerland (entitled “Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing,” by Hunkeler). If you know how to read between the lines, you can get a lot of information about custom printing from this simple, approximately 250-word press release.

The Specifics (and the Takeaways)

First of all, this trade show highlights “high-performance technology for the next generation of digital printing and finishing” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”).

What You Can Learn

Digital custom printing has been around in some form or another since the 1980s and 1990s, when my office had a laser printer to produce hard-copy proofs of our jobs prior to sending them to press. We also had an inkjet printer for color proofs. The color fidelity was abysmal, but prior to that we had used colored markers to indicate color placement on tracing paper overlays that went on top of the base art “mechanicals.” At that time, any computer-applied color was a huge step forward.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, color fidelity has improved dramatically, but “finishing” has lagged. What is finishing? Finishing is anything after the printing step (digital or offset). That is, finishing includes cutting, folding, binding, etc. For a long time, it was all about putting toner or inkjet ink on paper, but there were not a lot of digital options for completing a printed job. Now there are.

The trade show in Lucerne, Switzerland, will address these. And that is a fantastic opportunity to see both the products in operation and all the discrete elements of the workflow. More specifically, this means that trade show attendees will see how an actual job travels from a digital press through the following steps of the finishing process.

And this brings me to the second point noted in the press release: “40 live production solutions” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”). It sounds like an advertisement. But that’s exactly what a press release is, really. But it’s still useful.

The Hunkeler press release notes that trade show attendees will see “40 live production solutions running a highly diverse lineup of applications focused on commercial printing, book production, brochure and mailing production, transactional printing and more.” This includes “the latest updates to Hunkeler’s Generation 8 roll finishing, featuring plowfolding and the capability to stack 30” (B2+) sheets in-line with high-speed inkjet presses” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”).

What Else You Can Learn

If you parse out this information, you can learn two things. As noted above, the equipment doesn’t just sit there at the trade show. You actually get a bird’s-eye view of a commercial printing environment, with live jobs traveling from machine to machine, showing exactly how a job might travel through a real commercial printing shop. A prudent trade show attendee will see whether there are any bottlenecks in the workflow, and will be able to ask about any potential issues while the jobs actually progress through the “live production solutions” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”).

In addition, the press release notes the specific, growing areas of digital custom printing: “commercial printing, book production, brochure and mailing production,” and “transactional printing.” Commercial printing usually pertains to marketing jobs, jobs that are not books, large format printing, etc. I personally consider an annual report to be a commercial printing job (the definition varies). For instance, you would take a book printing job to a different kind of printer than you would an annual report: a printer with different printing and finishing equipment.

Moreover, this quote from the press release reflects one key benefit of digital printing: its variability. “Brochure and mailing production” and “transactional printing” reflect the increasing ability of digital custom printing to target small groups and even individuals with their message. Unlike offset printing, digital printing output can be varied from one printed item to the next.

(Transactional printing, as noted above, is a particularly good example of this trend. When you get a statement or invoice in the mail, this document is often not only directly targeted to you, but it also—increasingly—includes promotional information as well as the bill. This promotional information or advertising can now be digitally produced and inserted into the billing information. The two data streams can be combined, and the printed transactional package can reflect both what you owe the vendor and what else you might want to purchase. And all of this is made possible by the current data-collecting and data-mining capabilities marketers can employ. They can pretty much know exactly who you are and exactly what you buy, and they can use this information to target their transpromotional printed material.)

Here are some other key words noted above: roll finishing, plow folding, and 30” (B2+) sheets.

All of these reflect the increasing speed of digital commercial printing operations. Roll finishing is based on printing toner or inkjet ink on webs of paper (rolls as opposed to sheets). Roll-fed presses print a lot faster than sheetfed presses. For jobs like transpromotional printing, you can even print a whole roll of variable data marketing and billing information, and then move this roll to finishing equipment for final folding, cutting, and inserting into customer envelopes. What this means is that more work can be done much more quickly than in the past.

Plow folding (also noted above) involves running a length of paper from a roll (as opposed to sheetfed) through folding equipment before it is cut. Again, this reflects speed. In prior printing generations, you would find a plow folder on a web offset press. There it did one of the “finishing” operations for an extremely long magazine press run (for instance).

The final notation above is the 30” (B2+) sheet. This addresses the size of the paper that can now flow through both digital printing and digital finishing equipment. It wasn’t that long ago that digital presses accepted (approximately) 8.5” x 11”, or more recently 13” x 19”, paper. In contrast, offset presses accepted sheets closer to 25” x 38” or 28” x 40” paper. Granted, on an offset press, you would print a 4-page, 8-page, or 16-page “press signature,” which you would then fold and trim to the final size (let’s say 8.5” x 11” book pages). On a digital press, in contrast, you might print 2-page or 4-page signatures.

When you can print on a 30” (B2+) press sheet, this means you have an (approximately) 20” x 28” format (actually 19.7” x 27.8”), which is much larger than prior generations of presses could accept. So you can print larger products (pocket folders, for instance), or more copies of the same product, on a press sheet. Or you can even print more book pages (presumably even book signatures).

Newer inkjet publication presses can now print these larger sheets, and this means a digital print job can run much more quickly. (Or you can print a much larger job, which means that digital printing equipment can begin to compete with the longer runs of offset printing.) A custom printer would appreciate this efficiency because it would allow him to take in more work, and this would yield a higher operating profit.

The Larger Takeaway

On the much larger (macro) level, this means that increased customer demand for faster printing and more intricate finishing of digitally produced, (often) variable-data driven, custom printing jobs has led OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to innovate. They have produced equipment that will print on larger press sheets, equipment that will run faster and print color more accurately, and equipment that can produce infinitely variable output. This you can see at trade shows like Innovationdays in Lucerne, Switzerland.

However, if, like me, you can’t afford to go to Switzerland, you can still learn from these press releases. In fact, what I do is look for articles that analyze the new technology I first learn about through the promotional releases.

As a final take away, I encourage you to use the Internet as a learning tool, as I do, and to tap into the power of article aggregators. Every night Google collects and presents to me a handful of online articles about all aspects of digital and offset printing based on specific parameters I have specified. Even if I do nothing more than read the headlines and then dip into a few of the articles, I learn something new each night about printing.

You may want to do the same thing.

Custom Printing: The Euclid IIIC Digital Cutter/Creaser

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

A colleague and friend sent me a press release this week for the Highcon Euclid IIIC, a digital cutting and creasing machine that accepts thick enough stock to be used for folding cartons and even fluted, corrugated stock.

Let’s look at what this means and at what it implies for commercial printing in general.

Cutting, Scoring, and Creasing

Up until recently, cutting (or die cutting) was done with metal cutting rules inset into flat blocks of wood, using a separate custom printing press (often a converted letterpress). If you’ve ever taken apart the glued pockets of a pocket folder and laid it flat on a table, you have seen that it is not a perfect, rectangular sheet of paper. Portions of the flat sheet have been cut away to create the pockets and the glue tabs that hold the custom pocket folder together. Metal die cutting rules are responsible for this ingeniously functional, irregular shape. The same goes for cosmetics boxes, food packaging, cartons for medicine, etc.

Unfortunately, creating custom metal die cutting rules costs a lot of money (hundreds of dollars, sometimes, for even simple cutting rules). It also takes extra time and is usually subcontracted work. Because of this, it is prudent to create a die cutting rule for only a long commercial printing run: not one copy or five or 100.

Now, what is creasing? Creasing, which is an alternative to scoring, presses a channel into the paper substrate, allowing for easier folding without breaking the paper fibers, causing a badly-placed fold, or creating any other problem that would reduce the precision of subsequent folds. Scoring is done on finishing equipment (often along with other operations, such as folding and gluing) using a rotary wheel, while creasing is done with a metal creasing rule. Creasing is more precise. It is also slower than scoring (https://graphicartsmag.com/articles/2011/02/folding-vs-creasing/).

Basically, all three operations–die cutting, scoring, and creasing–require custom made rules that must be individually created.

All of this is what has existed in the analog world. Now, with Highcon, we have digital cutting and creasing.

The Highcon Euclid IIIC

According to my research, Euclid was “the father of geometry,” and according to Wikipedia, “His Elements is one of the most influential works in the history of mathematics,”

So Highcon is clearly positioning the Euclid IIIC as transformative technology.

Over the past years I have read a lot about Highcon. Digital cutting and creasing is not a new technology for this manufacturer. What is intriguing, though, is that the Euclid IIIC’s ability to cut and crease larger press sheets (and thicker press sheets) makes it ideally suited for work on folding cartons and corrugated board. That is, the Euclid IIIc is perfectly positioned for package printing work.

To give you some specifics, the Euclid IIIC will work with “single ply paperboard, laminated stocks, and N, F, G, E, and B-flute corrugated from 1mm to 3mm in thickness (40-120 points)” (“Highcon Releases the Euclid IIIC,” by India Tatro, 03/05/2018). This directly addresses the packaging market by using the new equipment to create “small but sturdy boxes for cosmetics, consumer electronics, and home furnishings” (“Highcon Releases the Euclid IIIC,” by India Tatro, 03/05/2018).

How Does It Work?

The cutting and creasing functions of the Euclid IIIC are digital, not analog. That is, the machine does not require custom metal cutting and creasing rules. Rather it creates the creasing matrix from digital information using proprietary Digital Adhesive Rule Technology (DART) that involves jetting a polymer onto a foil base and then curing the material. The cured, jetted polymer forms a matrix of slightly elevated rules that can then be used to crease the substrate as it passes between the DART cylinder and a drum.

This is done in one pass. The second, separate process is the cutting, which is done with CO2 lasers, again based on digital information. Thus, both the creasing and cutting functions are driven by digital data without using metal cutting and creasing rules, so they can be infinitely variable. You can crease, change the creasing matrix with new polymer, and then cut subsequent sheets with the laser in infinitely variable ways for much less than the price of a metal cutting or creasing rule.

According to Tatro’s article, all of this can be done at a speed of 1,500 sheets per hour, using B1-sized press sheets. This means the process is done at a respectable speed (relative to analog finishing equipment—for instance, 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 sheets per hour for analog die cutting). It’s also very precise, and it can therefore be used for “special effects including variable cutouts, perforations, etching, and possibly others” (“Highcon Releases the Euclid IIIC,” by India Tatro, 03/05/2018).

Moreover, in 2015 Highcon installed a Euclid IIIC at LxBxHx in Kirchberg, Switzerland, and through box compression tests, it was found that the digitally produced boxes and cartons were actually stronger than conventionally produced boxes. This meant that less packaging material could be used to achieve the same strength at a potentially lower cost. Additionally, lighter boxes would reduce postage costs.

What Are the Implications?

Here are some thoughts regarding the Euclid IIIC’s implications for commercial printing in general:

  1. Package printing is a quickly growing arena of commercial printing, unlike publication printing, newspaper printing, and book printing. There will always be a need for folding cartons and corrugated packaging. The Euclid IIIC will benefit significantly from this market growth.
  2. Brands are demanding shorter press runs, quick turn-around, and personalization. The Highcon Euclid IIIC can produce even one item (a prototype, for instance) or a short run to support a seasonal product. If the prototype requires changes, these can be made quickly and inexpensively (unlike the analog die cutting and creasing process), and a new prototype (or the final press run) can be produced.
  3. The increased strength of the cartons made with the Euclid IIIC may reduce materials costs and shipping costs without reducing box quality.
  4. The Euclid IIIC will not supplant analog die cutting and creasing. These will still be appropriate for much longer, “static” print runs (those with no versioning or personalization), since for this kind of work analog cutting and creasing is faster and more cost-effective (i.e., once the cost of the cutting rules has been spread over the individual units in the longer press run).
  5. The Euclid IIIC eliminates the need to produce long press runs and store extra cartons (involving storage and inventory costs, as well as potential waste if the stored cartons become obsolete).
  6. The lasers can be used to etch serial numbers and other variable-data information on the cartons.
  7. Digital laser cutting is more precise and cleaner than the same analog process, which affords easier carton opening by the customer.
  8. The larger format (B1 and B2, or approximately 28” x 40” and 20” x 28” respectively) accepts sheets from conventional presses, making the Euclid IIIC fit nicely into commercial printer’s’ workflows.

Commercial Printing: Digital Die Cutting and Creasing

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

A friend and business associate sent me a press release today entitled “mori and Highcon Announce Strategic Business Partnership” (02/04/16, by mori and Highcon).

According to the press release, “Komori will be selling and supporting the Highcon™ Euclid digital cutting and creasing solutions in the Japanese market. This partnership is a key step in Komori’s strategy to provide comprehensive solutions to their customers, covering both analog and digital workflows, and spanning printing and finishing alike.”

The Backstory

I find this exciting for these reasons:

  1. Prior to the advent of digital finishing, jobs that had been digitally produced on laser or inkjet equipment still had to go through analog finishing processes. As Highcon described the implications on its website, this not only slowed down the commercial printing schedule, but it also required “highly skilled employees, high expenses, and a time-consuming, complex supply chain.”
  2. In addition to folding and trimming (usually done in-house), finishing often included die cutting. And die cutting usually necessitated subcontracting (since it was not economically feasible for many custom printing shops to own die cutting equipment). In addition, dies often had to be remade to correct errors, driving prices even higher. And in most cases the dies had to be stored after being used (to accommodate possible reprints).
  3. The advent of digital finishing will make most of these problems disappear. The bottlenecks will cease since no outside services will be needed. There will be no need to make or store metal dies, so costs will drop and storage issues will disappear. And the whole process will proceed faster than analog finishing.

The Technical Side

Basically, the digital process involves cutting and creasing printed press sheets using lasers run by digital information from computer consoles. So there are no metal dies to be made. All die cutting work occurs in-line.

Here’s Highcon’s description of the technology and it’s specific attributes:

“The machine combines the patented DART technology to create the digital crease lines, with a unique high speed and high quality laser cutting solution. The machines handle sheets up to a maximum 760mm x 1060mm (30” x 42”), enabling output from both conventional and digital presses. [The machine supports] label and paperboard thicknesses from 0.2mm to 0.6mm (8-24 pt.), and N & F microflute up to 1.2mm (47 pt.)”

Why This Is Important

Consumers and businesses want shorter and shorter print runs now. They also want jobs delivered more quickly. According to Highcon’s website, “…from the client perspective, market segmentation, whether by region, language, season, age or gender, requires ever shorter print or packaging runs but at an even more demanding pace. Time to market is critical while the product lifetime gets continually shorter.”

According to Highcon, the Euclid II+ can do intricate, detailed cutting work. What this means is that no quality is lost in the transition from metal dies to digital laser cutting. The laser cutting system can actually do jobs that metal dies cannot do conventionally.

This also means that designs for folding cartons and other packaging work can be prototyped before a full commitment to a press run. The Euclid II+ can be used to create one sample box or package, or a short run for test marketing.

What This Means: The Implications

According to the press release, “mori and Highcon Announce Strategic Business Partnership,” Highcon has installed Euclid equipment in more than 20 jobsites worldwide.

What this means is that:

  1. The process is not just theoretical. Neither is it just for trade shows. Real commercial printing suppliers are using the equipment in real-world business settings. This bodes well for future expansion of digital finishing.
  2. Real-world usage of digital finishing will make any problems or issues in the technology very evident, allowing for any retooling necessary to improve the process.
  3. Analog printing (i.e., offset custom printing) can also benefit from digital finishing and for the same reasons. Offset printed jobs such as pocket folders that used to be jobbed out to die cutting subcontractors can now be completed in-house more quickly and for less money.
  4. Since most commercial printing establishments have both offset presses and digital printing equipment, digital finishing can benefit most printers.
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