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Special Report

Growth Opportunities Paint New Print Finishing Landscape

by Jeff Peterson, Executive Director, FSEA

May-June, 2010
As with many areas of the graphic arts market, changes are taking place with print finishing that are affecting how companies market and offer their services. Simply offering basic trade finishing services and waiting for the commercial printer to bring business to the back door is a luxury of the past. In today’s marketplace, finishers must be proactive to protect business and create new opportunities. What’s more, they must look at new diverse services not only to stay ahead of the competition but also, to provide additional business opportunities with existing customers.

Service Diversification
Print finishers are realizing that just offering basic diecutting, foil stamping, and folding/gluing services is not enough to be successful and potentially grow. Many are venturing out into off-line UV coating and film laminating services. This especially has been an area of potential growth with recent innovations that can help finishers expand beyond basic coatings and laminates.

One such off-line example is the patent-pending process known as Cast & Cure™, which provides a high-gloss, matte, or clear holographic surface to printed materials. The process lays down the UV coating and then applies a specialty film that incorporates a micro-embossed holographic pattern within the film. With the film lying over the coated sheet, the coating is cured and the film is stripped away, leaving the holographic pattern on the sheet. This is a unique process that can add to the services and options offered to potential customers.

In addition, several types of unique coatings now exist on the market, including glitter UV, which has a major advantage over other glitter processes in that the glitter is cured within the coating and does not allow the residue of the glitter to be easily removed or rubbed off. Another development with UV is a process recently introduced by Henkel called Mirafoil®. It is a recyclable metallic coating and can be an alternative to laminated foil board and foil stamping. Initially, it looks to be a very good alternative to foil board when full metallic coverage with overprinting is the application. However, when there is not full coverage, foil stamping is most likely the most feasible choice to obtain a metallic finish.

Other developments with UV include specialty coatings such as raised, textured, scratch-off, and soft touch. All of these UV processes provide print finishers the opportunity to offer all types of distinctive coating choices outside the standard UV gloss.

Film lamination also offers more options today than in the past. Films are no longer relegated solely to clear films used for protecting printed materials. Laminating films are now available in many metallic and holographic patterns that can be overprinted or foil stamped. In addition, clear iridescent films are available, which are translucent, allowing graphics and text to show through while still displaying a distinct pattern with the film. Again, these decorative options combined with the rigidity and protective advantages of film laminates offer another potential service and decorative option for print finishers.

Cold Foil Technologies
The application of foil through a cold foil process continues to grow in popularity. Today, this is utilized mostly for in-line narrow web applications. However, there is a growing trend for applying cold foil through larger sheet-fed presses where the foil is laid down before the printing process and then overprinted – entirely in-line. Although this is being done in the marketplace through commercial printers, many printers still are reluctant to step into the foil process. This can provide print finishers an opportunity to have a press dedicated to applying cold foil and then provide the sheets to the commercial printer for the finished 4-color over-printing process. The advantage of utilizing cold foil versus a foil paper or foil board includes the potential for less cost, more flexibility with metallic colors and holographic patterns, and a more sustainable product (if the foil board is a traditional laminated board).

Although applying the foil in-line in one pass creates an extra step in the process, cold foil provides the advantage of no dies and little to no makeready. In addition, a press designated to run cold foil alone can run at speeds as fast as 18,000 sheets per hour.

Conversion units exist on the market that can be retrofitted to existing off-line UV presses or printing presses that will allow both the application of cold foil and Cast & Cure™ (discussed earlier). This will open up new opportunities for print finishers to expand their portfolio of service offerings with the addition of only one piece of equipment.

A More Proactive Approach
For print finishers to survive into the future, they must consider a more proactive approach to marketing and selling their services. Many finishers have operated as a mere extension of the commercial printer and simply wait for the work to show up on the dock. This approach will not work in today’s changing graphic arts environment.

Print finishers today also must devise a direct approach in reaching both end users as well as advertising agencies that can take advantage of their services without the need of a commercial printer’s involvement. These applications can range from pocket folders foil stamped on colorful uncoated stocks to a carton that may include a laminated or Cast & Cure™ coating with foil stamped lettering and images. With some of the new decorating options mentioned, products can be offered that may not include printing but instead, other techniques to create eye-catching shelf presence for the customer.

Moving in this direction will take a completely different mindset for the print finishing market – one that will require innovative marketing and thinking that will include (trade) pricing for commercial printing customers and separate retail pricing for direct customers. This will help keep the playing field fair for all parties involved. Making this change also will encompass a marketing effort that will involve direct mail campaigns, email marketing, and of course, more face-to-face meetings and prospecting.

It should also be pointed out that if print finishers are hesitant to begin working direct, it still should not deter them from making sales calls to advertising agencies or end users. The approach simply can be to educate them further on finishing techniques such as foil stamping, coatings, and special diecuts. It can be explained to them that they can specify these techniques and work with their printer to coordinate the production. An excellent tool for helping educate the design community on decorating techniques is the FSEA’s 2nd Edition of The Designer’s Guide to Foil Stamping & Embossing. It provides detailed information on working with foil and embossing and includes a variety of excellent examples of foil stamped work. Copies of the Guide are available through the Foil & Specialty Effects Association by visiting www.fsea.com or calling (785) 271-5816.

Digital Marketplace
With more end users and non-traditional printing operations having the ability to provide digital printing options in-house for short-run annual reports, brochures, and even books, a growing market exists for finishing and specialty covers. In turn, this equates to a growing opportunity in the future for print finishers. A company may decide to bring digital printing in-house but would still like to consider foil stamped, coated, or laminated covers for certain products such as annual reports. Print finishers can work directly with the company to provide the cover and finished reports, again, without a middleman or the involvement of another printer.

The digital printing market also will provide opportunities for products that may need to be film laminated or UV coated. Again, either through a printer who offers digital printing services or end users with digital printing capabilities, offering these services can open up more business opportunities for a print finishing operation.

Although growth opportunities will continue with conventional finishing options such as foil, diecutting, and other processes, many opportunities have emerged with new decorating and coating processes in the marketplace. And for those print finishers who become proactive in how they market their services and products, opportunities for growth will persist now and into the future. The graphic arts landscape is clearly changing in many ways, and the print finishing market must change with it. Those who do not choose to change will certainly be left behind.

This article was included in the Printing Industries of America (PIA) 2010 Forecast: Technology, Trends, and Tactics. This annual publication includes articles and statistics for the upcoming year, and provides insight on what lies ahead in the printing industry. For more information on the PIA 2010 Forecast edition, visit www.printing.org.