The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Optimizing Substrates

Ryan McAbee
Oct 4, 2017

In this blog series, we have been exploring ways shops can automate their workflows. One of the goals of any workflow is to increase efficiency and, in doing so, reduce costs from the operation. Labor, however, is rarely the biggest cost component of any wide format graphics job. The ink and materials are the big ticket items, so any way to minimize the amount needed will improve the operation.

Optimizing substrate use through combining and batching jobs for output is a good start. The next level is to optimize the amount of work, from one or multiple customers, that can fit on the same material through nesting. What once took an operator significant time to move and duplicate images within a creative layout program, like Adobe Illustrator, can now be done in seconds. The nesting software uses the true size of each shape, factors the quantities needed, and then fits them into a tight pattern that minimizes the amount of material needed to print. Below is an example of regular versus a nested layout.

Regular Layout

InfoTrends-Regular-WF-Imposition-2017

Nested Layout

InfoTrends-Nested-WF-Imposition-2017

Most nesting software provides additional controls, such as locking rotation or allowing objects to be placed within the white area of other images, for the user to fine tune the layout. As a last resort, users can manually manipulate any object after the initial optimization if it still needs to be tweaked.

Nesting is not unique to wide format graphics and is routinely used in labels and packaging production. The difference is that layouts for those applications usually start with a computer aided design (CAD) file where the nesting pattern is already set to match an existing dieline pattern. Wide format can combine a greater number of unique shapes due to the use of digital cutters instead of diecutters.

Nesting optimization software can be sourced from either the RIP/DFE vendor or from an independent vendor that specializes in impositions and layouts. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • RIP/DFE-based: Caldera, Ergosoft, SAi
  • Independent: Tilia Labs, Ultimate Technographics

Mileage will vary for the cost savings gained through nesting based on the volume of work using a common substrate, the shape complexity, and quantities being produced. Some report materials savings of up to 50%. Considering the costs of many of the substrates used in wide format graphics, any percentage saved will lower production costs and improve profitability.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

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