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The Finishing Touch



When it comes to keeping customers satisfied, few imaging services providers can afford to overlook the importance of a well-staffed and skilled finishing department. Not only do the products and services there ultimately determine client satisfaction with the quality of the images printed, they also offer the service provider one final opportunity to sweeten profits on each job.

This is especially true with today's large-format graphics, destined for display in a variety of settings. Despite advances in digital print, ink and media, many still require the finishing touches that guarantee a vibrant image will endure under the harshest conditions. A growing selection of mounting, laminating and finishing products can enable a full-service print provider to identify and promote new ways to use images.

Partnering With Vendors

Andres Imaging in Chicago produced this banner for the Guess? flagship store in San Francisco.

Just as their customers look to them for guidance on what should be done to an image, lab owners and digital services providers often rely on their suppliers for insights into the latest finishing products and applications and how to sell them. Many, in fact, have developed close relationships with proven suppliers over many years, working with them like partners to ensure the big print buyer is always satisfied with the final result.

"The finished piece is what the customer sees," notes Craig Tinkelman, CEO with Philadelphia-based Quaker Chroma Imaging. "All that you do for them up to that point is impacted by what you do to the image in this final stage of production."

His company buys all its finishing products and equipment from one supplier: Quality Mounting and Laminating Systems (www.qmls.com). Quality Mounting and Laminating Systems is a full-service distributor specializing in mounting, laminating and inkjet products for the large-format graphics market. The company ships from three warehouses stocked with a full selection of products, including equipment, large-format media and all types of thermal, cold and heat-set laminates, and liquid laminates from a range of suppliers. "They're our only source," Tinkelman says. "We get great pricing, and they provide plenty of education for our staff as new products become available."

Tinkelman regards finishing as a service that can impact the overall profitability of each job. He estimates as much as one-fifth of his company's sales comes from its finishing services. "It's a big area for us, and one of our big opportunities for profits," he says.

The company puts appropriate emphasis on the service, with a finishing department staffed by three full-time employees. They work with a range of photo and digital prints produced by the company. "Almost everything we do requires some form of mounting or finishing service," he notes. "It used to be that we had to use different products for digital than for photo, but now we can use many of the same products. It's gotten much easier."

Andres also created this banner for The Athlete's Foot store in Philadelphia.

The quality and selection of finishing products have improved as well. Tinkelman notes that today's rich combination of cold and heat mount products make it much easier to achieve the desired look of a finished image. "The laminates have gotten much better as far as clarity, and much more forgiving in durability and what they hide," he says. "When you combine the laminating products with today's mounting presses, there's much less room for mistakes."

He believes all those involved in using, producing and selling imaging services should be aware of how finishing services can impact the final product. "Customers already understand to some extent," he notes. "Salespeople need to understand as well so they can go out and show their customers what they can do and sell these services."

Looking for Answers

At Engineering Graphics in Lansing, MI, clients expect their company contacts can impart advice on ways to finish images. "We find our customers want our advice," says vice president Mike Lamond. "They want us to go over their different choices in laminates and boards and advise them [about] what works best for their intended use of the image."

QCI's Tinkelman regards finishing as a service that can impact the overall profitability of each job.

Typically, those clients are eager to protect the large-format photo or digital prints produced by the company. Lamond reports the company does a lot of large-format work for murals, aerial photography composites and trade shows. With the trade graphics, finishing the product correctly is especially important, as these images will likely be put up, displayed and taken down repeatedly over many months, even years.

He estimates as much as 80 percent of the work gets laminated and mounted on boards before leaving the shop. "Being able to provide those finishing services makes it a lot more profitable," Lamond notes. "Instead of just selling a print, there's more you can do for customers."

The company relies on General Formulations (www.generalformulations.com) for all its laminating needs. The company is a full line supplier of pressure-sensitive materials, including mounting film, overlaminates, special films for floor and fleet graphics, and vinyl, solvent and inkjet media. Its products can be purchased directly from the company through its website.

"They have always provided good service and are real good about getting us products when we need them," Lamond says. "Whenever we've asked them about testing a new product, they've been real good about getting us samples as well."

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