Why Designers Should Think About Finishes at the Beginning

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It’s understandable that designers would think about finishings at the end of the printing process, as that’s where finishing takes place. But thinking about the kind of finishings you want to incorporate into your design should actually be one of the first things you consider, particularly when designing for digital inkjet. 

As authors Elizabeth Gooding and Mary Schilling write in The Designers Guide to Inkjet, 3rd Edition, designers that account for finishing at the start of the design phase can save themselves a lot of time, money, and heartache from using less than ideal finishes that result in poor quality print or costly reprints. 

“If you are using high-speed inkjet, aqueous inks and lighter weight papers, there can be a bit more preparation than with other printing processes, or even other types of inkjet printing,” write Gooding and Schilling. “We’ve found (from painful, personal experience) that the biggest considerations when designing for inkjet are ink coverage and paper basis weight — and, most important, the interplay between the two.” 

With this in mind, let’s look at a couple of important reasons why designers should think about finishes at the beginning to help ensure high-quality inkjet print. 

Ink coverage and saturation can complicate finishing

Successful finishing depends largely on how much ink is used and where the ink is applied to the sheet, especially if you’re using lighter weight substrates. Areas of the sheet that are too heavily saturated with ink can cause paper deformities that can catch or stick in the high-speed finishing process. 

“Papers of 90 gsm and lower tend to curl toward whichever side has the heavier ink coverage,” write Gooding and Schilling. “Paper curls can cause entry jams on automated feeding, folding, and inserting and exit jams on finishing equipment.” 

In cases of heavier ink saturation, print operators may have to reduce the total ink coverage when printing heavy coverage pages to allow for inserting capability. If your print partner reduces the amount of ink that is jetted it can change your color settings, and this can reduce your color gamut and affect the overall color quality of your design. 

Even in small areas, paying attention to ink coverage and saturation is key, and using heavy saturated colors can also cause finishing complications. 

“When using polymer-heavy inks on higher basis weight papers with low porosity, such as inkjet coated or offset coated, the ink stays on the surface later,” write Gooding and Schilling. “The ink needs to be completely dry to ensure smooth finishing. If the ink’s surface is still tacky or soft as the paper comes off the press, it can result in offsetting, sticking, and building on the rollers of the finishing equipment.” 

The weight and shape of paper plays an important role in streamlining the finishing process

Your choice of paper basis weight will impact the level of ink coverage a design can support, which, as we see in other facets of digital inkjet printing, makes the relationship between paper and ink so important in executing inkjet print that incorporate various finishings. What’s more, this choice of basis weight is complicated by the fact that the ideal basis weight for a particular amount of ink coverage will differ based on the porosity of the substrate. 

“Porous offset papers lighter than 90 gsm may not be able to handle even a 240-percent maximum coverage,” write Gooding and Schilling. “Heavier and thick papers that are inkjet treated or inkjet coated may be able to handle a slightly higher TAC. Non-porous coated sheets may be completely incompatible with older inkjet models at any basis weight.” 

For the latest generation of digital inkjet presses that support coated offset stocks, it’s also important to consider the combination of basis weight and surface treatment in determining how much ink can be used without saturating the sheet to the point where incorporating finishings is not feasible.  

The shape of paper and the way it moves through the press is another important factor to account before your piece goes to print. The difference betweens rolls versus sheets and a web-fed press versus a sheetfed press play an important part in determining the kind of finishings you can apply to your project. 

“The shape of paper is an important consideration in web-fed inkjet,” write Gooding and Schilling. “Your paper shape could be very long indeed, with some printers supporting individual images of sixty inches or more in length along the web. This provides designers with a huge array of options for creating continuing images made up of multiple pages, shapes, or panels that can be scored and folded with interesting results.” 


With a little preparation and planning before you start designing, you can help ensure a smooth print process with a finished product that is compatible with any number of finishings. But there’s much more to this topic than we can fit into a single blog post. Download The Designer’s Guide to Inkjet, 3rd Edition to learn everything you need to know about designing digital inkjet for interesting, engaging finishings.