Turning precious paper into a work of art
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By Alexander Jauker, product manager, SBS Cutting, Trotec
7 September 2012
Fine detail is added to a cover with laser finishing
Enhancement and post-processing has been around ever since the invention of printing. Treatments like varnishing, laminating of films and foils, and mechanical embossing is well known within the industry. Several hundred years after Gutenberg's innovation, paper finishing remains an exciting field. A rather new technology in this field is laser finishing and this technique provides the inspiration for new products. Personalisation, individual design and intricate shapes can be offered – even for unique pieces, small quantities and short runs – and the combination of engraving and cutting is delightful.
Paper finishing with laser technology offers a wide scope for design and leads to impressive results. For logos, photos or graphical ornaments the possibilities are endless for graphic design, and surface finishing with the laser beam offers wide creative leeway. Users can realise the finest details by combining engraving and laser cutting of paper and creating tactile adventures out of your material.
The combination of engraving and cutting is one possibility, but another workflow that adds value to print is print-and-cut. The laser produces the highest precision and accurate contour cutting and, thanks to laser technology, users can produce their own very detailed geometric shapes to high levels of quality. A cutting plotter is unable to meet such levels of detail, and laser cutting offers a kind of a redefinition of paper finishing. An additional camera system enables the precise contour cutting of printed materials, and there is no need for elaborate positioning as distortions in the printed design are identified and the cutting path is adjusted dynamically.
No matter if it's natural paper, laid paper or high-quality paper, finest, premium and design stocks become even more valuable with intricate shapes. Opportunities abound for invitations, high-end packaging, personalised letterheads, quality brochures, cards or financial reports, menus, book covers, diplomas, attention-grabbing direct mail and many others. The laser makes the noble substance of paper even more precious.
Paperlux, a design agency for luxury brands, recognised the opportunities and possibilities of laser finishing and is working with a Trotec laser. Marco Kühne, Paperlux managing director, describes his way of working with a saying from the famous designer Richard Buckminster Fuller: "When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong."
A fairly common and widespread prejudice is that the laser beam burns paper, but this is not true. The beam is very concentrated when it cuts the paper which is sublimated by the laser beam with the following chemical reaction. The energy of the laser beam abruptly vaporises the paper, which means it is sublimated. The material in the area of the cutting gap leaks very fast as gas and the smoke is visible. As a consequence, the paper near the cutting gap is only thermically stressed a little. This fact is precise in that it makes laser processing of paper such an interesting application. With the help of additional gas users can minimise the traces of the laser beam. The surface of the material stays perfectly clean; the cutting edge is slightly brown coloured.
The clean surface is a crucial advantage of laser processing. Furthermore, this technique is extremely fast compared with knife cutters and is the perfect choice for small quantities or short runs. Unlike cutting plotters, lasers are not subject to material resistance, nor is there the need to raise or rotate the laser beam, as in the case of a knife. Compared to die-cutting, laser processing pays off for small quantities up to 1,000 pieces.
When discussing the finishing processes for luxury, high-quality products produced in very small quantities, it is not the productivity that counts. It is more the attention to detail and the tactile adventure of paper that delights the spectator. Laser technology fulfils both requirements equally. It's all about choosing the right tool for a specific application.
In the last two years there has often been one question posed: "What does the future of print look like? Is there a future for print in a more and more digital society?" The answer is: "Of course. The USP of paper compared to electrical devices is and will always be: you can feel paper." Thinking of mailshots, greetings cards or menus made out of noble paper, there are many applications that have an effect only with the sensory experience.
The full version of this article appears in Issue 2, 2012 of Specialist Printing Worldwide.
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