Proper Job Planning: From the Finish First

by Gary Markovits, published in Printing News

Proper job planning is critical to the overall success of a project. New technology has led to much faster workflows, which means more complex jobs are being packed into tighter production schedules. For jobs to flow easily from one production step to the next, everyone involved must agree on solutions that fit within all time and budget constraints. What's the best way to accomplish this? Start your job planning at the finish.

Consulting with your finisher during the design process can work wonders for the overall efficiency of your project. Also, a quality finisher knows much more than just the proper binding solution for a particular job. They can recommend a proper stock weight, type of coating, or optimum page layout. By partnering with a finisher you trust, every step of a job's production can be streamlined, saving both time and money.

What's the end use?

This is one of the first questions that designers, printers and finishers should ask when planning a project. The design should focus around the end use of the product. Literally ask yourself, "How is this piece going to be used?" Then, picture the final project in your mind. See who is using it and how it's being handled. Determine whether it needs to be fancy and eye-catching, or simple and functional. For example, cookbooks are much more user-friendly if they can lay on a countertop, making layflat binding methods (i.e., mechanical binding or layflat adhesive binding) appropriate.

Planning with the end use of a piece in mind allows designers and finishers to focus only on materials and processes that allow for the highest levels of automation at every production stage. The longevity of a project is critical to deciding which materials to use. If the project is a heavily-used hardcover book, PUR (polyurethane) binding is usually a better choice than perfect binding – especially for very long runs – because it's typically more durable and flexible than perfect binding.

Also, test different types of coatings to ensure that they work with your stock and ink color selections. Some coatings do not "hold" colors as well as others, meaning the beautiful blues on the press proof could end up closer to green or purple in a few months. Quality finishers can steer you away from ink and coating combinations that may not produce the best long-term results.

How much will it cost?

A design is useless if it doesn't fit into the budgets of everyone involved. For a bindery, that means the budgets of both the printer and print buyer must be met. Once a job is printed, though, it's too late at that point to figure out how to get it bound on budget.

Other factors are at play when determining the total cost of a project, and they vary based on what type of piece you're producing. Designers and finishers should ask each other plenty of questions regarding the feasibility of a particular plan.

The failure to create a design with the end use in mind can lead to unexpected cost overruns and delayed production. What helps speed up one step of the production process can slow it down once a job gets to the bindery. Likewise, focusing on the lowest cost solution in the pressroom could mean the necessity for costly handwork in the bindery.

Think about layouts for a moment. Typically, layouts are optimized for highest printing quality and throughput – placing heavy ink coverage areas at the lead edge of the sheet, for example. However, that layout may cause problems once the job gets to the bindery. If the paper grain is perpendicular to the spine edge, or if finishing nicks will show up on the face of the piece, extra work will be required to get the piece to look right. The design and layout should be optimized not only for printing, but for the appropriate finishing method as well.

Mechanical and adhesive binding methods have strengths and weaknesses that need to be weighed based on time considerations, end use of the project, and total budget. By partnering with your finisher, the proper method can be determined, and steps can be taken to eliminate problems at every phase of the production cycle. The following tips will help you plan jobs properly and balance low costs with an efficient, automated workflow.

Gary Markovits is President of E & M Bindery, Inc., a Clifton, New Jersey-based trade binding and finishing company specializing in many types of post press services. E & M Bindery recently installed a new 12,000 book per hour Muller Martini Norm perfect binder, which compliments the company's existing Muller Martini StarPlus with layflat capabilities. Call Gary at (800) 7EM-BIND.

If you decide that your job requires mechanical binding (Wire-O, spiral wire, plastic coil or GBC), have your finisher create a dummy with the exact paper stock being used for the job. Then, the proper size binding element can be ordered depending on the paper "bulk." Make sure the finisher has the appropriate size and color wire available. Also, ask about any extra costs or delays associated with special orders, especially if you're matching PMS colors.

The most frequent mechanical binding problem is punching through copy. Many beautifully-printed pieces have been ruined when the signatures don't have enough space between the copy and spine edge. For Wire-O jobs with less than 1/2" bulk, 3:1 (three loops per linear inch) wire is used, which typically requires 3/8" punching margin from the edge of the sheet to the copy (or image) area. Book blocks thicker than 1/2" need 2:1 wire and at least 1/2" margin.

Plastic coil and spiral wire binding typically require at least 1/2" spine margin. Also, if three-hole drilling is to be done in addition to mechanical or adhesive binding, allow for an additional 1/2" margin for the holes to clear any text or images.

Special considerations are often necessary when a job calls for drilling or punching into substrates such as Mylar sheets, laminated board or plastic. Check with your bindery to make sure that they're capable of handling such jobs, and what time and cost factors need to be considered.

If the book has crossovers and needs to lie flat, you'll want a binding style that doesn't step up and cause the crossovers to appear uneven. Either Wire-O or GBC binding styles will fit that bill. GBC, however, does not open 360 degrees the way Wire-O, plastic coil and spiral wire do. Thinking of exactly how the piece will be used ensures that you don't select a binding style that limits product functionality.

Adhesive binding

Adhesive binding jobs printed with the stock grain running perpendicular to the spine is a common problem. The end result may be serious adhesion problems or wavy and cracked spines. Make sure your grain direction runs parallel to the spine. If this negatively impacts your printing layout, involve your finisher as early as possible to factor the implications for both the printing and binding processes. Though a particular layout may result in a slightly longer press run and increased paper waste, that may be more than made up for during the binding stage.

Glue adhesion should be tested before a project hits the press. Make sure your finisher produces a dummy of the project with the exact paper you plan to use. Then, the finisher will be certain that the selected adhesive won't require additional spine preparation (grind-off) beyond the allowances of the standard margins. Also, use this dummy to check the flexibility of a stock's grain. A rigid grain could cause a "clamshell" effect, preventing the book from remaining open. If this is a problem, layflat adhesive binding would probably be a better choice.

A typical perfect bound cover layout calls for trim margins at the head and foot to be 1/8" beyond the trim margins of your inside signatures, with face trims the same for cover and text stock. However, an additional 1/4" glue trap margin is recommended at the foot of your cover. Also, be sure that ink, varnish and coatings do not enter the hinge score or spine areas by more than 1/16".

When your perfect bound project has crossover images or text, you'll want them to look seamless, without any of the image becoming hidden, or text becoming "swallowed" and unreadable, in the gutter. Be sure to leave at least 3/16" at the spine, and 1/4" of image duplication at the center of a two-page spread, regardless of where in the book it will be. This ensures none of the image or text will be lost.

On a perfect bound job, aqueous coatings and heavy varnishes on paper need to be ground off at the spine to ensure proper glue adhesion. A better solution is often notch binding, which takes notches from the signature spines and places glue in them to hold the book block to the cover. The result is a stronger book because both the paper itself and the glue are securing the pages. It requires no grinding, which is a big plus on projects where heavy coatings, ink and varnish in the spine area would require a significant amount of trim. Let your finisher help you decide if notch binding is a more cost-effective solution to perfect binding on projects with these characteristics. Again, advanced planning helps a lot!

While coating removal is necessary for adhesion at the spine, applying a UV coating or film lamination is advisable on projects that may incur scratching or marking during production and transit. Covers with metallic inks, or facing covers with dark ink on one and little or no ink on the other, run the greatest risk of marking. A proper coating or laminating will prevent a beautifully printed cover from becoming marked as finished books are prepared for packaging and shipping.

These are some of the many considerations that must be made when planning a project. But they illustrate the depth of thinking that is required for a print run to go smoothly. Even the slightest forgotten detail can cause significant delays and cost overruns. However, by securing the details of a production process from design to delivery, you stand a much better chance at avoiding production problems.

Gary Markovits is President of E & M Bindery, Inc., a Clifton, New Jersey-based trade binding and finishing company specializing in many types of post press services. E & M Bindery recently installed a new 12,000 book per hour Muller Martini Norm perfect binder, which compliments the company's existing Muller Martini StarPlus with layflat capabilities. Call Gary at (800) 7EM-BIND.

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