What's Your Line
What is the best finishing solution for your digital printers, in-line, near-line or off-line? Three printers tout the advantages they have found in each.July 2012 By Erik Cagle
While we're a long way off from saying the offset press belongs in a museum, it is safe to say that digital production presses are capturing more mind share than ever before. This, of course, is the driving force behind how printers situate their finishing equipment with digital presses. The in-line, off-line or near-line debate is anything but a debate, but it is interesting to note the configurations and the rationale behind them, as they vary from printer to printer.
The In-line Route
Take Bookmasters, a full-service provider to the publishing community based in Ashland, Ohio. Ray Sevin, president of manufacturing services, points out that his firm relies on offset and digital printing, with the average digital press run ranging between 200 and 500 copies. All runs under 1,000 are produced digitally, with offset handling quantities in excess.
On the offset end, the average perfect-bound run is 3,000 to 3,500. While Bookmasters' total number of titles produced sees a 50/50 split between the printing methods, about 80 percent of billing is ticketed offset due to run lengths.
About a year ago, Bookmasters installed the scalable Muller Martini SigmaLine, which can produce 1,000 variable length, width and thickness books per hour. Bookmasters prefers to go the in-line route due to schedule and labor savings, but also relishes the flexibility provided by near-line gear.
Bookmasters prides itself on true print-on-demand capabilities and the ability to effectively produce one-off titles. With the SigmaLine, Sevin says the machine brought both variable trim and barcode reader capabilities to the table.
"We can produce product from blank roll paper all the way through to bound book, as well as using it as a stand-alone, near-line binder for other products," Sevin notes.
Sometimes, binding equipment can help bring order and efficiency to scenarios that have the potential to be chaotic. Prestone Printing, based in Long Island City, N.Y., found a unifying influence with its purchase of a Duplo DC-745 slitter/cutter/creaser and a Duplo DSF-3500 full-bleed bookletmaker.
Prestone Printing is an offset, digital and large-format boutique commercial shop that generates $23 million in annual revenues. It digitally produces business cards, brochures, folders, tickets and direct mail pieces, with saddlestitching and perfect binding capabilities. Near-line finishing is the configuration of choice for the Long Island printer.
"Until recently, we would print 200 digital jobs a day and go to the cutters, folders, stitchers," explains Ira Wechsler, vice president of operations for Prestone Printing. "But we found that we were running short on most jobs.
"Since purchasing the Duplo slitter and stitcher, waste is down to a minimum," he adds. "We've also found that it is so much quicker and there's no chance of packaging errors. I love that we can print, slit and pack with one person."
Sometimes, finishing equipment is just too quick to be integrated in-line with a digital press. That was the case with Mail Print, a 24-year-old Kansas City, Mo.-based operation that generates—you guessed it—personalized direct mail along with saddlestitched and perfect-bound books. President Eric Danner says the company has become adept at digital work, which touches 95 percent of the items produced by Mail Print.
"Virtually everything we print is personalized in some way," he says.
Digital printing rolls off a quartet of HP Indigo presses and an HP T200 inkjet web press at Mail Print. Danner believes that the off-line finishing process has inherent advantages over in-line production.
"If the press stops, then the bindery stops. So why tie the two together?" he relates. "In the case of the bindery line we installed, it runs twice as fast as the web press. So, if I was running the press all the time, I'd still be underutilizing the bindery line."
Long runs are an exception, not the rule, for Mail Print when it comes to direct mail production. The printer churns out between 20 and 30 jobs per day with an aggregate total of about 200,000 pieces. A long run length might touch the 50,000 range, according to Danner.
Mail Print relies on Standard Finishing for its digital postpress work. A roll-to-fold line features the Standard Hunkeler UW6 unwinder, DP6-II Dynamic perforator, CS6-II cutter, Standard Horizon AF-566F/T-564 folder and the PSX-56 presser/stacker. A second line consists of the HOF sheet feeder and StitchLiner saddlesticher, which feeds digitally printed sets and produces saddlestitched booklets.
An interesting benefit Mail Print has reaped is the publication work it has gained since installing the HP T200 and bindery line, which has resulted in short-run booklets.
"With our bindery line, we can easily fold those into signatures and print collated signatures," Danner notes. "The intention was to do direct mail pieces with perfs in them. The way we structured the bindery line, we can now print up to 20-page signatures, fold those and end up with collated book blocks." IPG