The end game: print finishing
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By Laurel Brunner
1 August 2012
Every two years Hunkeler hosts a technology event in Lucerne. Ideal for the latest in digital finishing technologies, the next iteration is the February 11th to 15th 2013
Printing is just about putting colourants on substrates, but a print media product is only really created once it is properly finished. Be it a book, newspaper, magazine or package, only finishing systems can turn print media into print media products. Finishing technologies from guillotines to binders are mechanical wonders – industrial monsters that gobble up printed pages at one end and spit out completed products at the other. For dyed in the wool pre-press boffins there is something curiously restful about finishing systems. It might be that watching the marvellous mechanics entrances, or that the wonders of seeing something real without having to consider what the software and RIP processes are up to is somehow unstressful. You used to be able to sit for whole minutes at a time watching these technologies that for analogue print are generally sector specific. But no longer.
As run lengths drop and the volume of digital print rises, finishing technology for short-run work is becoming more compelling. The emergence of digital finishing systems designed for short runs is long overdue and much needed. In part this is because finishing technology has been a bit of an afterthought for digital printing. One of the earliest digital presses was the Agfa Chromapress, a rebadged Xeikon press. It was a lovely piece of kit but it failed in the market in part because there was nothing that could stitch or bind its output in a streamlined or even vaguely elegant manner. Digital press manufacturers now work with numerous partners so that they can offer integrated systems, most notably Swiss developer Hunkeler. This company offers a range of technologies including roll-to-roll, stack and cut systems, book finishing and even solutions for digital newspaper printing.
Another major player is British company Morgana Systems, which in recent years has shifted its focus to be exclusively digital. The company is a preferred partner for all of the major digital press manufacturers and products range from booklet makers and trimmers through to shredders and drilling tools. Unlike Hunkeler and its other competitors, Morgana is both developer and distributor working with a number of major finishing system providers to serve its various market sectors.
With the rise in digital packaging presses we are seeing a new generation of developers entering the finishing sector, specifically founded to serve the needs of digital print media producers. Highcon is an Israeli outfit founded in 2009 by a brace of ex-HP Indigo engineers with funding from various investors including Landa Labs, the development outfit owned by Indigo founder Benny Landa. The company is focused on digital converting for short-run packaging. Highcon's direct-to-pack digital converting technology is called Euclid and is a digital creasing and cutting machine designed for digital packaging applications. This machine creates dies on demand for short-run creasing, perforation and cutting of materials up to 550gsm. The polymer-based dies are good for runs of up to 10,000 pieces up to B1 size. This cutting and creasing can be part of an integrated digital workflow.
Highcon has developed its Digital Adhesive Rule Technology so that product designs can be imaged direct without resorting to conventional processes. Highcon has already established a number of partnerships with companies. Presstek for example worked with Highcon at drupa to finish output from its 75DI using the Euclid technology. Screen, Xerox and HP Indigo are also working with Highcon.
Finishing technologies are generally designed to be very specific: splitters split a web for instance, stitchers stitch and folders fold, and so on. As long as there are pages that need to be given specific mechanical properties beyond the look and feel of the print, there will be machines around to do the job. The emergence of short-run production technologies, however, is encouraging more innovation from both developers and designers. The Highcon developments are only the beginning of a new generation of tools for creating innovative print media products in very short runs. This will be great for print service providers who want to offer complete print media production services. It will also be great for small businesses or consumers who want only a handful of their family advent calendars or die cut commemorative albums. Once again, the future is about to be invented.
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