Digital influences the short-run packaging and prototype market, creating opportunities for print service providers (PSPs) to add new services and allowing those working in offset to complement current technology with digital. Firms may initially commit to a digital printer for short-run packaging and prototyping, and not extend that commitment to finishing. Soon after, the value of a digital finishing device is apparent.
“If a company is printing digitally and finishing traditionally, they derive only half the benefit of a digital workflow. If you finish a short-run job traditionally, you pay for the cost of the die and the set up time, which is amortized over the cost of the print run,” shares Steve Bennett, VP, sign and display business, EskoArtwork.
There are many benefits to automating your entire workflow. Royce Owen, director of marketing, Summa USA, explains that it opens up potential revenue by filling a niche within the industry for firms that can handle a job from start to finish. With everything in-house, a PSP guarantees the quality of the final product.
“A digital cutting system eliminates the bottlenecks in a finishing department. Manual cutting, with all inherent costs in terms of daily salaries, reprinting with potential for mistakes, and lack of efficiency, is reduced to a minimum,” explains Werner Waden, president, Colex Imaging, Inc.
Digital cutting devices also up the ante with the ability to create three-dimensional (3D) packaging prototypes. “Just about everyone is working from some type of digital proof, but 3D product prototypes are a more powerful communications tool,” says Steve Urmano, director of marketing, Mimaki USA, Inc.
Both standalone and all-in-one print-to-cut devices are available. In regards to packaging, there are pros and cons to each, many of which revolve around floor space and media choice. All-in-ones are typically priced lower than the sum of standalone products. For environments with limited floor space, these devices are an excellent alternative.
“An integrated printer/cutter has the advantage of offering a more streamlined workflow and samples are produced with a push of a button. This saves time and money and minimizes the chance of user error,” explains Dana Curtis, product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.
A standalone approach provides better productivity and flexibility, with speed and throughput providing the highest advantages. However, PSPs need to ensure there is space for two machines.
“A separate cutting system is often preferred when production volumes are higher because one machine can be printing while the other is cutting, decreasing the amount of time necessary to produce the job. Most dedicated cutters also tend to feature more robust cutting systems than can be found on the average all-in-one print/cut machine,” shares Owen.
Software Powers Automation
For PSPs not familiar with digital finishing devices, there is a level of user friendliness. “As with any technology there is some degree of learning involved. Software continues to become more intuitive and server/client-based for easy integration,” explains Randy Paar, product marketing manager, Océ North America.
Software plays a large factor in the communication between a printer and a finishing device. From the prepress stage to the RIP—front end to back end, it is important to understand the appropriate features and how they benefit a short-run packaging and prototyping environment.
Colex powers its flatbed cutters with i-cut, user friendly software compatible with industry leading RIPs and printers, manufactured by EskoArtwork.
EskoArtwork Kongsberg cutters utilize i-cut Vision Pro. The software reads a barcode on the artwork and accesses the file, so operators don’t have to find it. From this file, the system selects the best tool settings to process materials with preset cutting parameters. By reading registration marks before cutting, the table determines exactly where the artwork is placed.
GCC developed its own driver for both die and half cutting so users can easily create packaging. The Microsoft Windows driver allows users to edit projects from design software and output directly to the GCC Jaguar IV plotters’ system.
Mimaki cutters utilize RasterLink Pro version 5 RIP. On the CJV30 printer/cutter series, cut and print data can be combined so print-and-cut processing is done directly from the RIP.
Mutoh America, Inc. offers an open source product line, supported by all major RIP manufacturers. “Printer/cutters are some of the easiest devices to generate great results with minimal experience,” says Randy Anderson, product marketing manager, Mutoh.
Océ’s ProCut Prepress software allows users to design and create cut-and-crease lines all within the same program. It sends print jobs to any RIP, for the utilization of multiple printers while automatically sending digital cutting and creasing lines separately to the cutter. The software also features auto nest, which maximizes media usage by grouping files together based on the finished shape.
Roland print/cut devices are bundled with VersaWorks RIP software. This program incorporates spot color placement for white, matte, or gloss varnish and silver inks, as well as contour cutting. Any current PDF used in a prepress workflow is easily converted to work with a Roland device.
Summa ColorControl is proprietary RIP software. The AxisControl product directly interfaces with the flatbed table and gives full control of the positioning tools, functions, and settings of the table. SummaFlex and SummaFlex Pro are front-end applications with job preparation, post processor, and import plug-ins for CAD and illustration software. The Pro version also offers support for optical camera recognition.