Getting the most out of digital finishing sometimes requires hardware and software decisions.
By Bill Hartman
Where’s the bottleneck?
While not completely germane to tables, we would be remiss without discussing workflow software. Print providers are seeing more and more files, requesting shorter and shorter runs, yet with quicker response. To stay profitable, you need to ‘feed the beast’ (the press or printer). Digital printers are becoming more productive. Where cutters used to be the bottleneck, it is often no longer the case. The next step will be prepress. A print provider must look at the big picture if they purchase a cutter solely for productivity. Often, after the installation, they find that the prepress software is now the bottleneck. Many shops are not always aware of dedicated workflow tools from design to print to cut, to reduce file preparation and operator time and eliminate waste.
Preflighting is the logical starting point for a true workflow. A good preflighting system will detect errors, generate a professional report, and enable error fixing right within the PDF file.
Of course, if you are going to make cuts, you need to give instructions to the cutting table. Coordination of the cutting and graphics workflow is vital. If you don’t print a job right, you can’t cut it correctly. Making sure cutting instructions and registration marks are coordinated between the graphics and cutting instructions is paramount to producing jobs well. A print provider who can design to print to cut most effectively can complete jobs—sometimes two to four times as many.
In the simplest form, a cutting path is generated in Adobe Illustrator. However, if the cutting system is more complex, you can do a lot more in the workflow. The biggest challenge is adding a cutting path if none is present or of poor quality. One thing that many people don’t think about is adding bleeds to the edges of the artwork. You don’t want the color of the substrate to show if there is any distortion in the print. And, you cannot expect your client to tile a job or prepare irregular shapes properly.
A good layout program will help save expensive substrate material costs, because it efficiently gangs artwork together to get the most use of each sheet and reduce waste. A good system can take rectangular shapes, irregular shapes, double sided jobs, and oversized jobs, and come up with the most cost efficient layout. In fact, nesting is often done in such a way that good-sized pieces of boards are saved to be used for future jobs. Fewer boards are printed if artwork is placed on them efficiently.
Second, the software will work seamlessly with the vision control system on the finishing table, ensuring that even contour pieces placed off-kilter on a table are cut cleanly.
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