The embellishment of printed materials to give eye-catching effects has a history that stretches back before the dawn of printing itself. Some surviving manuscripts produced in the dark ages sport hand-made embellishments that would challenge any printer to reproduce today.
Whether hand-applied, mechanized, or as today increasingly digitized, producing such effects has always been an expense on top of the basic print (or indeed, manuscript). They are time-consuming and may use more costly materials than standard pigments. But how exactly do you accurately estimate those costs in advance, so they can go into a quotation that won’t either scare off the customer or see you suffering a loss?
Here at Taktiful our goals include helping producers and specifiers of digital embellishment to understand not just the commercial and aesthetic appeal of these emerging technologies, but also the realities of production and costing.
Digital embellishment has changed costs and therefore estimating, in other ways. Although the capital investment in an inkjet system is much higher than the letterpress-style machines used for traditional foiling and embossing, the running costs are different. Although there’s the cost of UV varnish on each sheet, there’s no need for metal dies or lengthy makeready whose upfront costs have to be recovered. So for digital, short runs are economical and, unlike traditional embellishment, digital allows variable data and personalization where every sheet can be different.
The Estimator Angle
We talked to estimators at several U.S. digital embellishment sites about how they predict and assign costs for the inkjet-based systems, then put some of their points to an MIS developer. All of the estimators interviewed work with the MGI JETvarnish system, though the workflow and costing/estimating processes would be much the same with the equivalent inkjet varnish-foil embellishers offered by Scodix, Duplo and Kurz.
Bowen Griffitt is the lead estimator and office manager at Post Press Specialties in Kansas City, Mo. They are a specialist print finisher that offers conventional foiling and embossing/debossing embellishment alongside folder-gluing, binding and mailing services. Their digital embellishment is done on an MGI JetVarnish 3D Evolution with iFoil.
“People have a mindset that digital is like traditional embellishments, like traditional UV varnish or traditional foil, where you’re pricing by an image area or a block," Griffitt said.
Estimating for digital is different.
“The important thing is having a file before we estimate it," he said. "With traditional flat foil stamping with a copper die, you’re figuring the cost by square inch and the foil by square inch. But with digital embellishment, that’s not necessarily the case. It’s based mainly on the varnish consumption.”
Building up height by multiple layers will affect both cost and the speed, unlike traditional embossing.
Estimating at Post Print Specialties is handled using a custom FileMaker Pro database system.
“When we get an actual file from clients for digital embellishments, we use the consumption and run speed calculator that comes with the MGI," Griffitt said. "That will tell you how many impressions an hour and what varnish consumption at what micron level. We also do end-to-end proofing for this work.”
Customers’ knowledge of how to prepare artwork is variabl
“We have some clients that have bought in more than others," Griffitt said. "People who have embraced digital embellishment are more astute to what we need for accurate estimating.”
Less is More
Others are still learning the ropes.
“We still have a fair number of clients that just say, okay, we need a digital UV varnish with a 30% coverage," Griffitt said. "Well, if you understand digital embellishment, less is more. If you highlight areas with less UV coverage, you get more of a contrast. So you’re actually getting a better-looking product a lot of times while using less consumables. Teaching the designers that is, I think, one of the key things that have led to the success and the adoption of digital embellishment.”
The substrate choice also affects production and costs.
“Explaining to people that uncoated doesn’t work when they’re wanting to do an embellishment on their business cards is tough," Griffitt said, "because traditionally business cards have been uncoated forever. Convincing customers to go to a dull coated cover, where we can work with digital embellishments at a lower cost and they get more value, is a little bit tricky sometimes.”
Post Press Specialties offers personalized embellishment for its direct mail work, but estimating for this has not caught up with the capabilities.
“How do you charge for a product that didn’t exist until just very recently?" he said. "How do you charge for variable data embossed foil? To be honest, we really don’t charge any more for it. There’s a little more for file set up, but we don’t charge any more than that. We are not realizing what we could.”
Otherwise, digital embellishment is certainly worth the effort.
“We can be very profitable on our traditional embellishment side, but when people prepare correct artwork for digital embellishment, we can be very, very profitable," Griffitt said. "The key is we’ve got to get the messages out there to people, so they’re preparing things in a digital fashion, building the four-color file with the UV mask and using the less-is-more, keep-it-simple concept, so that you can actually run faster and you’re using less consumables. That’s where you really shine. We’re very profitable in situations like that.”