Long-Run Laser Imaging on Target

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Is your large-volume direct mail project appropriate for continuous laser-imaging equipment? Have you dodged this technology because of image quality concerns? Rest assured that today's exciting high-speed machines are appropriate for many of the finest long-run direct mail projects.


Continuous laser imaging is great for a range of high-volume direct mail projects. Industries as diverse as financial services, the nonprofit sector, business-to-business and consumer products have had great success with this technology.


Reasonable expectations. Are you concerned that continuous laser-imaging machines don't have the resolution you need? Think again. Admittedly, some companies still use 240 dpi equipment, but many others have moved to resolutions of 300 dpi and higher. With the growing availability of high-speed 300 dpi machines, there is no reason to settle for less. Direct mail designers have an array of fonts to choose from because many companies are heavily invested in this vital area.


Higher printing resolutions mean your scanned logos, signatures and halftones will look great. With today's incredibly low cost- per-megabyte of storage, there aren't any significant limitations on the size of graphic images. In the rare case that a large image is unwieldy, your data processing professional can split and remarry it before output. Toner registration to offset printed forms is dead-on because continuous laser-imaging machines have accurate pin registration systems.


For large volume jobs, you will save time and money if your laser-imaging partner has roll-to-roll equipment because it's faster and less costly than fan-folded or cut sheet production.


Design/layout tips. When working with large-solid areas of toner coverage, direct mail designers should ask for technical advice before committing to a design. Today's machinery can lay down rich, 100 percent toner coverage for a while, but as the run length increases, consistent quality depends on how the solid areas are positioned on the form. In general, large solids running parallel (horizontal) to the perforations are OK, but those running perpendicular (vertical) aren't. Bad layouts may result in "toner starvation," which results in inconsistent and sometimes splotchy coverage. Be safe and get advice from your data processing professional before signing off on a risky and untested design.


Paper and ink. The paper you choose is important. Gloss-coated stock is almost impossible to run on continuous laser-imaging equipment because toner cannot penetrate it, much less adhere. Fortunately, there are special stocks with glossy appearances that are porous enough to accept toner. Instead of naming specific enamel sheets, ask your mailing partner how the intended appearance can be achieved.


Once you've selected the right paper, make sure your offset printer uses heat-resistant, "laser-safe" inks. Forms that pass though high-speed continuous laser-imaging equipment are exposed to high heat that will melt any and all wax present.


Die-cut forms. Direct mail jobs with die cuts can be eye-popping and beautiful, yet still run efficiently. However, there are a few caveats. Not only must die-cut forms run well in high-speed imaging equipment, they also have to be compatible with other downstream machinery.


Kiss-cut jobs can be tricky. If the cuts are too deep, the carrier substrate may catch, resulting in frequent jam-ups. If the cuts are too shallow, the labels won't peel off as intended, rendering the product functionally useless.


Tipped-on cards can be problematic, too. If your direct mail job has a plastic or paper card tipped on, don't try to print too close to the edge of the card.


Quality control. Companies with high-speed, continuous laser-imaging printers should have an extensive series of quality- control procedures in place. Every hour, machines should be stopped, inspected and cleaned if necessary.


Maintenance is another important aspect of quality control. Regardless of whether continuous laser-imaging machines are maintained by an inhouse staff or a third party, round-the-clock service is essential. Today's direct mail deadlines are so tight that there is little if any scheduling slack.


Ken Boone is president of direct mail firm Harte-Hanks/DMA, Baltimore. His e-mail address is kboone@dmamail.com.

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