Add Flash to Your Printing
In the four years since Corvallis-based Oregon State University (OSU) added digital embellishments to its printed pieces, they have come to play a role in about one-third of all projects, reports Jeff Todd, director of Printing & Mailing Services. Those embellished pieces include stickers, customized playing card sets, event invitations, and diecut book covers and boxes, he says.
“It’s just very popular, and once customers see what [embellishments] can do, they just love it, and their imagination just goes wild,” adds Mike Varner, production manager at OSU.
This is what in-plants around the country are discovering about embellishments. Already 20% of in-plants provide embellishments or special effects coatings, according to IPI’s Trends and Services in the In-plant Industry report.
The popularity of embellishments at OSU has led to the addition of several machines, including a Duplo DFL-500 to dry coat, foil, and laminate; a Graphtec diecutter; a CWT Worktools LST 1319 digital diecutting system; and a Colex cutter. Todd says diecutting is the most popular embellishment among customers. Adding spot laminating, diecutting, and foiling to printed pieces has enabled OSU Printing & Mailing Services to create some very eye-catching pieces, two of which won back-to-back Best of Show awards in the In-Print contest in 2022 and 2023.
On the other side of the country, the University of Delaware’s in-plant is relying on just one machine — its Xerox Iridesse — to provide embellishments. The Newark, Delaware-based in-plant uses the press’ specialty inks, which can print an overlay and underlay of silver, gold, clear, white, and flourescent pink. The shop is looking to get a rotary diecutter in the next fiscal year to bring outsourced embellishment work back in-house and is considering a Rollem Insignia, says Assistant Director Michael C. Czerepak.
“Adding the Iridesse embellishments has been an easy way to offer low-cost and exciting print options for our clients,” says Czerepak. “The addition has helped create new buzz around our shop and offerings, as well as given our clients yet another reason to keep their print work in-house.”
At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tim Price, director of University Printing & Mail, says his in-plant is using the MGI JETvarnish 3DL with a foiling unit to embellish printed pieces. Customers are taking the biggest interest in dimensional UV, he says, but foil is also in demand. And because of the nature of digital, the shop can easily create proofs with actual embellishments for customers to see.
“They can tweak, they can make adjustments, they can see different textures, things of that nature,” Price explains. “It really lends itself to allowing the customer lots of flexibility and lots of options.”
Czerepak and Price say their in-plants produce similar offerings. At the University of Delaware, most of the embellished pieces are invitations and holiday cards, but Czerepak says embellishments are finding their way into everything: postcards, flyers, pamphlets, reports, even safety inspection stickers. In addition to invitations and holiday cards, the University of Tennessee’s in-plant embellishes official offer letters for prospective student athletes, and books.
Lukewarm Customer Reaction
Despite how popular embellished materials are at some in-plants, however, others are having trouble getting customers to order embellished materials. At Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, Al Goranson, director of Print and Mail, says his in-plant’s Ricoh Pro 7200 has a fifth station for printing gold, and the shop is also able to outsource other embellishments like foiling. But since outsourcing can take four to six weeks, customers often skip embellishment in favor of an in-house option with a shorter lead time, he says.
“They’re interested, but not if it takes more time and costs more money,” he explains.
While these offerings make a printed item stand out, embellishment isn’t the only way customers can differentiate their printed products, as Goranson has found among his customer base.
“If they want to differentiate, they do multichannel campaigns as opposed to a fancy print campaign,” he explains. “There’ll be a print component, but then there’ll be the email message and the text message and all these other electronic components that they’re using as a way to differentiate as opposed to embellishment.”
How to Pique Interest
In-plants that are having success with embellishment suggest one thing above all else to pique interest: sharing samples. That can include providing an extra sample during the creation of a particular project, or even going back to previous projects and showing customers how the in-plant could have elevated it.
Todd says it’s crucial to communicate the costs and benefits of adding embellishments.
“There’s a lot of customers that don’t necessarily see the value,” Todd explains, “or they think that it’s cost prohibitive, because in the past, when it was all done traditionally and you had to build dies ... it was very cost prohibitive, especially for smaller runs. So, a lot of it is just communication.”
If your in-plant doesn’t currently have embellishing capabilities but wants to get started, there’s still a way to generate interest. Czerepak explains that in the past his in-plant would outsource some projects to local printers that had the embellishment options they wanted.
“I told the office staff to just take any job. Don’t ever say we can’t do anything. And then we’ll find out how to do it later,” Czerepak says. The interest generated from doing this could prove the need for embellishing equipment, he says.
Goranson, on the other hand, doesn’t see embellishment taking off at his institution.
“In a university setting, there’s only a certain amount of budget that everybody has,” he says. “So, if I buy an embellishment machine and I sell it, and people are very excited about it, they’re not going to pay more for more printing. They’re going to do less printing overall and more embellished printing.”
On top of that, Goranson believes that the nature of print has changed, with it being “much more transactional now than it used to be 20 years ago.” People often throw away a document as soon as they don’t need it. Customers recognize this, he has observed, and don’t want to invest extra money in embellishment.
Is Digital Embellishment Worth It?
Depending on the interests of your shop’s customer base, getting into digital embellishments may be a great opportunity. But what are the costs to actually add digital embellishment as an offering?
“Fairly reasonable, really,” says Todd. “We started pretty small; started with foil and diecutting first, and we started with really small machines that were — gosh, under $5,000 to get into, just to gauge the market and see if there was interest out there.”
As the demand for embellishment grew, the in-plant began installing more machines, none of which cost more than $30,000, Todd says.
On the other hand, Price cites much higher entry costs at the University of Tennessee.
“An MGI JETvarnish 3DL is easily a six-figure proposition, but it’s a long-term investment for us,” he explains. “The equipment will be viable for many, many years, and as we continue to determine what it will do in different applications, I think it’s going to be very, very popular.”
Regardless of entry costs, those who have had success implementing digital embellishing at their in-plants think it is a missed opportunity for those who haven’t yet looked into it.
“Especially these days, all printers are trying to stay relevant,” Czerepak says, “so the more you can offer your client, the better. And the more interesting an output that you’re able to create for a client, [the more it] keeps you relevant.”
“It’s been nothing but good for us,” Todd adds, “so the sooner we could have done it, the better.”