Controlling Media and Finishing Across Cutsheet Devices

Welcome to the world of digital printing, where technology continues to push boundaries, making print production more efficient and versatile than ever before. This SolimarSecrets video will explore the intriguing capabilities of controlling media and finishing operations across cutsheet devices, a game-changer for the printing industry.

Defining the Concept

At its core, controlling media and finishing across cutsheet devices is all about having the ability to manage the entire print process, from selecting different media sources to applying finishing operations like stapling, drilling, and folding at both sheet and job levels. This level of control offers unprecedented flexibility and opens the door to a world of creative possibilities.

Page Level Finishing: A Game-Changer

Traditionally, finishing operations were applied at the job level, meaning the entire file received the same treatment. However, page-level or subset finishing allows individual sheets or groups within a file to be treated differently. Imagine you’re producing variable data saddle-stitched books with varying sheet counts. You can select a preprinted cover from one tray and thinner interior sheets from another while controlling an inline saddle stitcher and adding colored slipsheets or cover letters between books. This automation eliminates manual labor, reduces errors, and boosts productivity.

The Rise of Cutsheet Inkjet Printers

In recent years, cutsheet inkjet printers have been gaining ground. While continuous-feed inkjet printers are highly productive and cost-effective, cutsheet devices offer unique advantages. They are more flexible, scalable, and easier to manage, making them an excellent choice for short-run digital print applications. Having both continuous feed and cutsheet inkjet printers in your arsenal allows you to handle a wide range of print and fulfillment projects effectively.

The Challenge: Lack of Standardization

Despite the incredible capabilities of cutsheet printing, managing media and finishing across various vendors’ devices remains a challenge due to the need for more standardization. Each vendor has its own methods, making job portability and flexibility a struggle. In an ideal world, print jobs should be seamlessly transferable between devices and vendors, irrespective of the print stream.

The Solution: A Vendor-Neutral Approach

One solution to this challenge is adopting a vendor-neutral approach, such as the one offered by Solimar Systems. Our solutions can ingest various methods for managing media and finishing, manipulate them if necessary, and output them to any other method. It can even add finishing to files that never had it or convert these commands into barcodes for offline finishing processes. Solimar ensures that your print jobs remain portable and flexible, regardless of the devices and vendors involved.

In conclusion, the ability to control media and finishing across cutsheet devices revolutionizes the world of digital printing. It empowers printers to create unique, high-quality products efficiently, eliminates manual work, and enhances overall productivity. While challenges exist in achieving seamless interoperability, solutions from Solimar provide a pathway to a more efficient and flexible print production future.

Clarifying the topic here is probably a good place to start. There are a number of names for this capability, none of which are completely descriptive. Subset finishing, page level inline finishing, sheet level finishing, sheet wise finishing. I define it this way. The ability to control media input, output and integrated finishing operations such as staple, drill, fold, etc. at a sheet and job level. Media controls allow you to select media from different input trays and to control where and how pages are ejected from the printer. In traditional digital printing, finishing operations are applied to an entire file, so they are typically done at the job level. Page level or subset finishing can be applied to individual sheets or groups of sheets within a file. For example, if you’re printing a batch run of variable data, saddle-stitch books, with each having a different number of sheets, you can use media selection to pull thick preprinted cover and die-cut window for the address and then pull thinner interior sheets from a different tray. When each book is complete, you can control the inline saddle-stitcher. You can even insert colored slip sheets and add a cover letter between the books. This allows you to completely automate the production of very creative and interesting products that would otherwise be very hard to produce.

I saw a recent webinar from WhatTheyThink. I thought I’d share some of that data. The spotlight for years now has been on highly-productive, continuous feed inkjet printers. Their stability and low cost per page have made them a no brainer purchase in many digital printing environments. Yet, the placement of new continuous feed printers peaked in 2017, while the placement of cut sheet inkjet printers continues to grow. Many of these cut sheet placements are replacing toner or electro-photographic printers, but with their reduced cost per page, they’re also becoming a cost-effective alternative for short run offset print applications.

Continuous feed and cut sheet inkjet are complementary. Having both in your arsenal allows you to handle the widest variety of print and fulfillment applications cost effectively. Cut sheet inkjet is particularly interesting and has a stability and lower cost per page of continuous feed, but has a number of really compelling advantages over it. Not only does it give you a lot of flexibility to produce different types of products using different and even mixed stocks, cut sheet printers are cheaper, smaller and easier to run than continuous feed. This makes them scalable in that you can much more easily add another unit to scale your volumes. Continuous feed is a really big commitment from a money, staffing and space perspective. Just wanted to point out that I’ve been talking about inkjet, but the functionality we’re talking about here applies to any cut sheet printer.

One of the key capabilities and benefits of cut sheet printing is automated control of paper from tray pulls, and finishing, and delivery of final output from the device. Yet the methods for managing this key capability are kind of a mess. There’s no real dominant method for managing this across vendors. Each vendor seems to have a different way to do it, which makes things complicated for all of us. You create a job, test it, get it working perfectly on a device. If you want to batch jobs together, forget about it. It’s likely to break the finishing. Move to another type of printer, not without recreating the files. What if you have an overflow or need to run at a D.R. location? They better have the same hardware and configuration or you’re out of luck. Many times, you’re likely stuck with that device from that vendor as long as that job lives because it’s so hard to move that work.

So, in a perfect world, how would it all work? You could take any job with any kind of finishing, merge it, batch it, slice it, dice it to optimize for production. You could send it to any device capable of handling the print and finishing required regardless of the vendor or the print stream. Many composition systems don’t support subset finishing or media handling well. Having the ability to analyze a document, figure out where to add commands where they never existed in legacy jobs, is also a key piece of functionality. Converting inline finishing commands to barcodes used by offline finishing processes is also important. This gives you the flexibility to use offline finishing when needed. At the end of the day, you want the freedom to run all of your jobs how and where you want.

There are a number of ways to handle this today that have grown up over the history of digital printing. They all work, but they’re not interoperable. This is what makes it a bit of a mess. Proprietary job tickets have been around forever and work great since they were created by the printer manufacturer. They support all of the features of the device perfectly. Proprietary means that they are not a standard and are typically not created by most composition or post composition software and that they won’t work on another vendor’s printers. PostScript SetPageDevice is the solution for handling this that came from the publishing space. Using SetPageDevice command, you can control many inline finishing capabilities. While PostScript is a standard, the specifics of SetPageDevice are not always. Plus, it was designed to handle finishing at the job level, not within a file applied to a subset of pages. Many vendors have added proprietary extension to PostScript just to make this work. That clearly doesn’t help with the portability. DPM finishing as the standard for PDF. Most of you have probably never heard of it or used it. While it is a standard, it has largely been ignored by the user and vendor community, although Solimar supports it, IPDS has a very comprehensive and standard way of handling page level finishing. Unfortunately, AFP and IPDS are not typically used for cut sheet applications.

Solimar is vendor neutral. Printer vendors are like our children. We love them all the same. Our job is to allow our customers to pick the vendor and the technology that works best for their business. To that end, we have the ability to ingest all of these methods and more to manipulate them if necessary, and then output them in any other method using Rubika. You can also add finishing to files that never had it, or even convert these commands into barcodes to drive offline finishing processes.

SPDE has powerful transform capabilities for print streams. This any to any capability also carries with it page level finishing. Page level finishing is the superpower of cut sheet printing. It gives you capabilities that are complementary and impossible on continuous feed printers. There are lots of different ways to handle it. While they all may work great, they are completely incompatible with each other. Using SPDE, you can make your jobs portable across devices and vendors by not just converting the print stream, but also converting the sheet level finishing commands as well. Rubika can be used to add page level finishing to jobs that didn’t already have it or to make changes to existing finishing plans. Because these capabilities are so fragmented in the market, it is hard to make generalizations about what will or will not work in the wild.

If you’re interested in more information, we recommend that you gather information about your devices, printers and finishing equipment and your specific finishing scenarios. Then work with our support teams to figure out the best way of achieving the results you need.