At the Finish Line
Finessing the production process between print and install.
Wide-format digital printers are often the focal point in our line of work, and with good cause: The industry as we know it wouldn’t exist without these workhorse machines. But as anyone involved in production will tell you, most digitally printed graphics don’t come off the press ready for installation. While manufacturers are making some strides in the print-and-install realm, the reality is that many jobs need some extra oomph before they leave the print shop floor.
These printed materials require cutting, laminating, routing, framing, mounting, sewing, grommeting, and beyond. Finishing procedures are nearly as diverse as the substrates PSPs image. “Across the board and regardless of application, today’s consumers are demanding finished products, and this trend will likely accelerate as the market becomes increasingly more competitive,” reads ISA’s 2017 “Market Opportunities for Digital Printing” white paper by InfoTrends.
Just as PSPs are eager to keep up with the ever-growing list of customer requests, manufacturers are keen to address the growing demand for in- and near-line finishing equipment. “The global market for new postpress equipment is valued at $4.8 billion in 2018, and … packaging and label finishing equipment [markets] will grow, as will postpress equipment aimed at digital printing systems,” says Smithers Pira’s “The Future of Print Finishing Markets to 2023” report. If your shop’s on the lookout for a new cutter, router, or laminator, the future seems bright.
To produce the most stunning long-term graphics and expertly routed displays, the finishing process should be deliberate and planned from the get-go. “From a workflow perspective, it’s important to design with finishing in mind to eliminate waste creation along the path,” the ISA report adds. Finishing should be much more than an afterthought – “Finishing’s value-added benefits also enable printers to develop consultative relations with clients that extend well beyond print alone.” Awe a new client with your impressive knowledge of which laminate will most prolong the life of their outdoor ad, and you may have a new, long-lasting print buyer.
But with printers churning out thousands of square feet of graphics per hour, how can the finishing department keep up without becoming a burdensome bottleneck? And with so many substrates, how can one shop offer all the finishing that may be required?
So Long, Middleman
Cumming, Georgia-based Deco Retail Solutions is a graphics and décor manufacturing company and custom sign shop. Mainly catering to the retail industry, the nine-person PSP offers everything from design and engineering to digital print, woodworking and metalworking, and nationwide installation services. Deco’s bread and butter is wallcoverings, signage, and “basically all the décor on the interior” for franchises with 50 to 200 locations around the country, says Steven Worsham, Deco Retail director of national accounts. About half of the shop’s business falls under print, while wood, metal, and paint work account for the rest.
With a name like Deco Retail Solutions, the 50,000-square-foot shop’s goal is to handle as many services as possible in-house. Prior to this year’s ISA Sign Expo, Deco’s finishing department relied on a single CNC router. “Either it was done by hand, it was outsourced, or we ran it on the CNC, if we could. But it was more than likely outsourced,” explains Worsham. After seeing Summa’s F1832 grand-format flatbed cutter in action at the company’s ISA booth, Deco bought the floor model and installed the machine the next week. The added finishing capabilities began streamlining workflow almost immediately. “We purchased that machine and it’s been like night and day – it’s actually made us more efficient,” Worsham adds.
While the tried-and-true CNC router is still the shop’s go-to for thicker materials, the cutter offers more routing, cutting, and creasing capabilities, which in turn offers Deco more control over the final product they’re producing. “It’s more about cutting out the middleman, instead of outsourcing,” says Worsham. “It’s nice to have it in-house so we can do better quality control.” Gone are the days of being pushed against a tight deadline, seeing an outsourced final product for the first time, finding issues, and starting from scratch with a third party – now Deco’s aware of any finishing issues right off the bat, eliminating that time-consuming back-and-forth.
While finishing may have once been the shop’s bottleneck, it’s now shifted to the design department. Deco has a two-person design team that does creative work for some customers, though other clients work with design firms that send files that essentially just need to be preflighted. Worsham says continued dialogue between designers and the client leading up to final approval is the main production challenge the shop now faces. “So, we solved one problem to create another one,” he laughs.
But not every shop has the finances, human capital, or floor space to add yet another machine into the mix. And if not all your projects require the same type of finishing, it makes sense to find a trusted print partner that can finish the job.
With facilities in New York, California, and Virginia, wholesale fabric printer Creative Cause Solutions serves as that resource for many shops. “We take the overflow or provide production output they don’t currently have,” says John Otsuki, Creative Cause CEO and co-founder. Nearly all of Creative Cause’s products are blind-shipped under someone else’s label. When starting the company in 2012 after years of fabric printing under a different name, “It was natural to focus primarily on that and not on direct sales to the end consumer of the product,” Otsuki adds. The PSP does offer vinyl, board, and paper products as well, but roughly 90 percent of business falls under the textile umbrella.
For Creative Cause’s signage market clients, “100 percent require finishing. We don’t really have any customers using an unfinished, uncut piece of fabric – it has to be cut and it has to be sewn or finished in some manner,” says Otsuki. The shop stays ahead of the curve with more than 2000 sewing machines, manual cutters, transfer machines, and a Zünd G3 XL-3200 digital cutter that offers rotary and oscillating blades and laser cutting.
Having such a wide variety of finishing equipment for one type of substrate may seem excessive, but the fabric market is nearly as varied as the overall inkjet-receptive substrate market. “What we’ve seen is a move toward a wider variety of textiles,” notes Otsuki. Whereas customers in the past mainly just wanted a knit and woven option, “now they want 20 different choices of each.” Otsuki attributes some of the change in demand to Creative Cause’s expanded client base outside of the signage market, but as wide-format textile printers know, the need for more options is alive and well in our industry, too.
That desire for more is evident in Creative Cause’s finishing offerings. The shop provides options for edge beading, pockets, zippers, dimensional aspects for displays, and embellishments like metallic foils and sequins. If a customer can think of it, Creative Cause can probably execute it.
Looking to the future, Otsuki hopes to see more textile finishing options. “Fabric finishing is a lot more challenging, in my opinion, because there’s so few solutions out there,” he says. “There really isn’t any product or machine automation for fabric handling.” The shop’s Zünd cutter does offer automated cutting, “but beyond that there’s very little automation available.” And a walk through the sewing department even further exemplifies the need for automation upgrades: “A sewing machine hasn’t really been improved much over the last 100 years, so the sewing machines we use look a lot like the ones our grandparents used.”
“Finishing is no longer an option; it is a must for digital printing to march forward,” asserts ISA’s “Market Opportunities for Digital Printing” report. After all, a 52 x 3000-foot roll of fabric or 3 x 4-foot vinyl sheet that fades after sunlight exposure is oftentimes not what your customer is after. Finishing ensures that your hard work pops and stands the test of time. Is your shop prepared to march forward into the future?