To be a Jack-of-all-trades is said to be master of none. But is that actually true in this age of diversity and opportunity? Yes, I did say 'opportunity'. You might be thinking how can anyone in their right mind believe that there is now room for opportunity and growth? Well, when you've lived through and survived one recession, what's another except a new challenge to wake up to every day and tackle the situation head-on.
For some that means going back to basics and for others cutbacks and redundancies. Some are diversifying - and bringing finishing inhouse seems to be one of the main focuses of those looking to offer new services. Traditionally, talking to a printer about installing finishing kit other than a bog-standard laminator would throw up responses like " we don't need that" or "we outsource all our finishing" or simply "we don't have room". But this year that's changed. Printers have started asking questions about a whole range of finishing products in more depth. With work naturally slowing down they've found that print machines that were usually busy anywhere up to 12 hours a day are now less busy, leaving the operator time to tackle other jobs - if they were to exist. Enter finishing services. Of course bringing finishing services in-house also increases the printer's control over the quality of the finished job, as well as bringing the added benefit of faster turnaround times. To have the control over your entire product from pre-press to print to finishing is a powerful statement and a value-added service. Most finishing machines are easy to use so its not difficult for existing in-house printer operators to start producing high quality finished banners, boards and textiles in no time at all. So not only do reap the benefits of bringing your finishing in-house, but you up-skill your staff into the bargain. There are now impulse and fully automatic welding systems that are easy to use and have a smaller footprint than some traditional track welders which allows you to produce all sorts of finishes in house, from hemming and looping to eyeleting on everything up to 5m wide by whatever length. Eyelet machines themselves have evolved from the basic manual type to fully-automatic. Whereas previously when recycling a banner you'd have to cut through and take off all the metal eyelets, there are now eyeleting machines that insert recyclable transparent plastic eyelets which means that you can produce a completely bio-degradable eyeleted banner that can be just thrown in the recycle bin when you're finished with it! Textile printing is becoming de rigueur and with the trend larger printers and sign makers are becoming increasingly interested in liquid laminators (due to the enormous wastage produced by traditional lamination film and phenomenal savings per square metre). If you think about it, your roll of lamination film has the same length again of film release, is wound on a cardboard tube is then packed in a plastic bag with plastic end-caps to hold it in place inside it's cardboard box. Oh yes, and that's before you trim it. OK, so most of it can be recycled but the carbon footprint of producing all that packaging and then recycling it is enormous. Compare this to one bucket of liquid laminate, which is fed into a machine and used. No waste - you only use what you need for the surface you're actually laminating and so therefore the only item at all that is waste is the recyclable and re-usable bucket your liquid laminate came in. A pretty powerful argument - and that's before we start talking of production prices on average of between 30p - 75p per square metre. And it's not just the machinery that's being looked at in detail - it's the service contracts that inevitably come with a large capital purchase, medias, inks and the long-term view of partnering up with a supplier that values your business. I've seen many changes in the large-format signage, photographic and display market in the 30 years I've been supplying, installing and servicing equipment. The combination of emerging technologies and the millions spent on R&D each year will determine that this trend towards more in-house finishing is one that is set to continue through the good times as well as the bad.