Print’s Special Powers – The Embellishment User Experience

Embellishment Photo Blog

Print’s Special Powers: The Embellishment UX

As Q1 ’23 marches on, strategic marketers seem more tuned into end-customer’s user experiences (UX) than perhaps ever before. The use of “embellishments” to enhance the printed medium, making print “louder and stronger” can take UX to the next level.

Also referred to as specialty print applications, embellished finishing effects combine the science of touch with the power of print for a truly multifaceted and tactile user experience. Thayer Long likes to call it “sexy” print. “Really, it’s anything that rises above putting ink [or toner] on a substrate to add value to what comes off the press,” he explains. For example, folding, laminating, diecutting, embossing, foiling or other types of finishing all are embellishments that help to keep the print medium relevant as the 21st Century heads toward its second quarter.

“Traditionally, we tracked the success of the printing market by shipments,” notes Long. “It was a volume-based industry measured by click rates or the number of pages printed.” However, printing and packaging have evolved, placing a premium on value over volume. “The business model now is focused on how we can produce less but provide more value to produce printed products that have more impact on consumers,” he explains. “And, that’s where these innovative postpress techniques come into play.”

"Printing and packaging have evolved, placing a premium on value over volume."

Some market observers contend that consumers buy packaging first and products second; that they are willing to pay a premium for luxury packaged goods and extraordinary unboxing experiences. “Think of packaging that sparkles and/or has a raised finish,” says Long, citing Apple’s iPhone box as an elaborate example of completely clean design, a “baby bottom soft” laminated surface and embossed Apple logo. Some folding boxes (cardboard, corrugated board) used for cosmetics, medical gifts, fine spirits and food are laminated with glossy and transparent films or with printable PET metalized films.


Monetizing Mail

Why does embellishment matter? For direct mailers, it can heighten the interactive experience of the mailpiece for the recipient – and also substantially increases response rates. Plus, there are postal discounts available for “tactile” mail, stresses Jack Noonan, VP of business development at the PRINTING United Alliance trade association.

Effective January 22, the U.S. Postal Service raised its rates 4.2% across the board:

  • Mailing a single domestic postcard now cost 48 cents, up from 44¢.
  • The 1-ounce letter mailing tax is 63 cents, up from 60¢.
  • Metered letter (1 oz.) postage rose to 60¢ from 57¢.

While this uptick may not seem steep, it can quickly drain project budgets for agency creatives and brand ambassadors who rely on mass direct-mail distribution as part of their omnichannel marketing mixes.

The latest price jump translates to $4,000 more for postage on a 100,000-piece direct mail job -- and $20,000 more if mailing quantities of 500,000 pieces. However, if designers build in a tactile element to a mailpiece they can more than erase this price increase for their customer by achieving a 5% discount during 2023, up from 4% last year and 2% previously.

“This can save some mailers 2.4,” notes Noonan, who serves on the U.S. Postal Service Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee (MATC), which is a task force that links the mailing industry with the Post Office. The 5% discount applies to eligible postage for USPS Marketing Mail® letters and flats and Nonprofit USPS Marketing Mail letters and flats. The USPS promotion covers specialty inks, sensory treatments and interactive elements, such as folds or other dimensional effects that can be physically manipulated by recipients.

USPS fully understands that the touch and feel of direct mail is a key factor in keeping this tried-and-true marketing strategy relevant and effective, and the discounts they offer help forward thinking direct mail printers convince their customers to produce projects that will help the mail recipient enjoy a tactile UX.


Amplifying Print

Last year, APTech joined forces with the Foil & Special Effects Association) for the Amplify Show, a print finishing/embellishment exposition held at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Nearly 1,000 attendees congregated for the mid-June showcase, which was a first-of-its-kind technology gathering for all parties involved in the value chain – from printers, print finishers and binders to brand owners and designers.

In the exhibit hall and during educational programming, Amplify celebrated “all things [that] print finishing – analog or digital – can achieve: the vibrancy of colors, the beauty of embellishments, the shimmer of metallic and foil finishes, and the intricate designs,” reported Dianna Brodine, managing editor of UV+EB Technology magazine.

The show floor featured the latest in foil and coatings, diecutting, laser cutting, embossing, folding, gluing and other stand-out effects from some 80 exhibitors. Twenty-five pieces of machinery were on display. Attendees saw live demonstrations and high impact print samples from various manufacturers, including Foliant, RMGT, Horizon, KURZ, Sakurai, KAMA, and others.  A more robust Amplify event is scheduled for 2024, according to Long, In the meantime, he says, APTech will be adding relevant supplements to its website and is planning road shows toward the latter part of this year.

Laminated Products and Foil effects make print shine

Foiling is a prime example of embellishing print and using a Foliant laminator with a foiling attachment provides an easy to produce and stunning finished product in every color of the rainbow.  This effect can even provide foil and holograms in variable output which can highlight important information and personalize the printed piece.

The utility value of laminated products is vastly improved and increased with soft-touch, high gloss and writeable laminates. The Foliant line of industrial laminators feature such foiling capabilities as an option, and since direct mail and packaging runs tend to be larger volumes the ultra-high speeds of Foliant laminators make them the best choice for mailers and packaging houses of all sizes . Manufactured in Europe and distributed in North America by Graphco, Foliant’s value-added applications include everything from direct mail, posters and high-end product brochures to soft- and hard-cover books, photobooks, restaurant menus and even high-strength advertisement shopping paper bags and dozens of other high value-add products.

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