"Beyond Finishing: Ink Jetting"
[Column #20, 8/96]
Up to now, I have limited discussion in these columns to operations in which printer and finisher routinely interface: binding, diecutting, embossing, foil stamping and varnishing. However, there's another finishing process many post-press houses offer; namely, ink-jetting. Because of the growing demand for single-sourcing and ink-jetting's natural fit with finishing operations, many binderies have added ink-jetting to their list of services.
Ink-jet printing is ubiquitous. It's used by every industry, from publishing and direct mail to pharmaceutical and financial. We see it on everything, from the food we buy in the supermarket to pills and payroll checks. Because of its wide usage, ink-jetting is an important process to understand. So here's a brief overview.
Ink-jet features. The two important distinctions between offset printing and ink-jetting is that the latter is a non-impact process and is also highly portable. Ink-jetters can be stand-alone or mounted on folders, stitchers and perfect binders. Because it's a non-impact process, it doesn't care if the substrate is flat, folded or bound. A couple of years ago, one ink-jet company was promoting its product by ink-jetting on the yolk of a sunny side-up fried egg.
A third important characteristic of ink-jetting is that it's computer driven. Pentium processors have dramatically increased the speed of the process, enabling extraordinary product throughput. Increased memory capacity due to the new chip allows the image on every product going through the equipment to be unique. This is why it's so popular with direct mailers.
Here's an example: A client wants all the catalogs going to one zip code in San Francisco to have a $10 discount, those going to a certain zip in Alabama to have a $20 discount, and those being mailed to my zip code in Baltimore to have a 2-for-1 special offer. The codes are automatically interpreted by the machine, which then prints the right message on the right piece.
Ink-jetting and folders. This is a perfect marriage of equipment. The advantage of having an ink-jetter mounted on folding equipment is you can print barcodes and variable messages on parent sheets before folding, something a mail house cannot do. A job we have in house right now is a good example. We're double addressing a poster-sized brochure with perforated reply card while it's being folded in line on our folder. This particular client had conducted research on its past reply mechanisms and found that 80% of the people responding filled out the name and address information either incompletely or illegibly. This drove the client to ink-jet addresses and barcodes on both the mailing panel and the reply card.
Ink-jetting in line on folding equipment also facilitates lot changes. In the past, printers had to stop the press at certain points in the run to remove coding data from the plate. An expensive and time-consuming process. The ink-jet and folder combination allows us to gang-run material as many as five across and five down on a sheet, each with a different serial number and version code.
As I write this, we have thousands of coupons on our folder that are being barcoded in line. Since the barcode equals the person's name being mailed to, when the coupon is redeemed, the marketer simply scans the barcode to know the name of the person who's redeemed it. These names can then be forwarded to new lists for new offers.
Finally, because ink-jetting has to go in the same direction, the same direction as the material goes through the equipment, proper placement of the area to be ink-jetted needs to be considered early in the design phase. Your finisher can help you with placement of the image area to be ink-jetted to make sure it's correct with the folding sequence.
Postal barcoding. While barcodes appear on everything these days, we're most familiar with postal barcodes. Like any other barcode, these use a binary identification system that's based on numerical series and parallel bars. Optical character recognition (OCR) equipment scans the width of the bars and the sequence of numbers and converts the data into electrical signals. Barcodes can be ink-jet or offset printed when data is not variable, as in the case of return addressing.
By the time you read this, the U.S.P.S. will have changed for profit business mail classifications. This means bulk mail rates will increase unless certain requirements are met. Generally, the more direct mail can be automatically processed, the more the discounts.
Accurate and correctly placed, make sure they fall within U.S.P.S.-designated areas on the mailing piece, can mean substantial savings in mailing costs. Spot gluing, another process we perform on our folding equipment, can also result in discounts. These factors, in addition to the above-mentioned ink-jetting issues, necessitate early discussions with your finisher. It will pay off for both you and your client.
While many of us may snub ink-jet printing as an unworthy step-child of the craft of printing, there's no denying that those of us who work with direct marketers are better off since its invention.