Folding for Digital Print

By | July 18, 2011

Digital print used to be a fairly restrictive process. It was great for short runs, smaller formats and simple folding styles. Quality was good but not as good as offset, paper choice was limited and the glossy look of the toner was unmistakable. Times have changed, however.

The line between digital and conventional print has blurred and digital is better than ever. Not only has the quality become almost indistinguishable from offset print, the color is amazing, the variety of digitally-qualified papers has exploded, small format digital is moving to larger formats, and the technology of print finishing has caught up as well. High-speed automated folding machines can execute challenging folding configurations at the push of a button. Even highly complex direct mail pieces can be executed inline, taking them from a preprinted web to cut, fold, glue and conversion to a finished product in a single pass.

As a matter of fact, I was in Boston recently to check out some of the latest and greatest in automated finishing equipment at the Standard Finishing Systems National Demonstration Center. Click here to watch the video.

The technology of digital is its strength, as is the ability to create individualized print materials. There is tremendous value in using customer data to customize targeted mailings. This technique, one that many of us know as Variable Data Publishing (VDP) uses various software technologies to pull information from a database to customize the message or graphics in a printed piece. Combine VDP with other technologies such as Personalized URLs (PURLs) or QR codes and behold—the power of print!

From a print finishing perspective, the biggest challenges with digital print are static between the sheets, toner buildup on the rollers of the folding machine, and cracking at the fold. Your printer or print finisher will utilize industry-proven techniques to avoid these common issues, however if you have heavy coverage across folds, you should bring up the topic of scoring because the decision at times is subjective.

One important note: Not all printers have the same equipment, so it pays not to make assumptions. Just because machines exist that can automate an entire complex mailpiece inline, that doesn’t mean your printer has access to it. Some printers have limitations of size and folding style, so ask a lot of questions. Below is a list of questions to ask your printer before your next digitally-printed project.

Questions to ask your printer:

What is the maximum printable area of the sheet?

Are you offering any technology services that might enhance my project, such as variable data, PURLs or QR codes?

Can my project (and budget) benefit from any inline finishing processes that you offer?

Are there any limitations from a folding perspective?

Should I consider a varnish or coating to reduce the likelihood of scuffing?

At what quantity would my project be better suited to offset printing?

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One thought on “Folding for Digital Print

  1. Patty Traynor

    Great points, Trish. You mentioned bringing up the topic of scoring when there is heavy ink coverage. This has always been true, even with offset, but becomes more necessary with digital printing because the process dries out the paper. Even without heavy ink coverage, preparing to fold is important and often a crease is needed rather than a score. Many people use both terms to mean the same thing, but they really aren’t. This was the topic of the July issue of our Helpful Tips (, so check it out to see the difference.

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