Bringing the back end to the fore

Des King
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My name is Des King. I had a call from the editor of Printing World and found myself in this column. Am I mad, in a bind, back at finishing school – or all three?

It is evidently my turn to sort out some past-life unfinished (forgive the pun) business by delving into the world of post-press on an episodic basis. Less ‘sewn up’ than ‘stitched up’ then.

So, I put my hands up. I confess that I’ve been guilty of being seduced more often by a Speedmaster than by a shrinkwrapping line. Am I alone in that admission? I should cocoa.

God forbid, though, that my personal pedagogue should be a one-time sales director of Wohlenberg, who I first met back in the seventies. His party-piece, when demonstrating the kit-maker’s latest guillotine, was to halt the quivering blade millimetres above the index finger of his right hand.

Apart from being a glaringly obvious argument in favour of a health and safety clampdown, if nothing else, it taught me that, while the front-end might be steeped in the black arts, here at the end of the line there’s no shortage of black humour. First impressions not only have a habit of sticking – they can also colour what comes afterwards.

Broadly speaking, it’s my opinion that, unless you’re employed south of the inking business, there’s a relatively low level of awareness across most of the supply chain to the critical role played by the finishing department in transforming pulp into print. Looking in from the outside at this ultimate stage in the print process, it’s easy to see why.

With the pressroom and the repro studio respectively collaring most of the power and the glory, where’s the drama in cut and crease, stitch and sew, bind and bundle.

To the untutored eye, it must appear to be about as much fun as tidying up after the party.

I’ve yet to meet a fully equipped printer who’s led his sales pitch on the strength of the skill-set lodged at the rear, nor a client who’s committed his budget on the brilliance of the bindery.

Fair enough, until you remember that the finishing post is invariably where the difference lies between the workmanlike and the wonderful.

That dividing line increasingly resides in-house these days. Unrealistically perhaps, I find my initial sympathies being tugged to other departments, but wherever it’s placed, post-press is caught up in the self-same process of redefinition as the rest of the printing industry.

So I’ve been asking myself who this column is aimed at. Well, self-evidently in-house and trade print finishers; but equally so, the less well-informed, for whom developing a greater insight into what makes the end of the line tick might strike more resonance than had hitherto been supposed. In short, people like me.

Finishing by definition might be the last thing to happen, but is not the one least deserving of attention. Fire up the Morgana: there’s an unfolding story to be told.

Des King is a freelance journalist specialising in print and packaging. He can be contacted on


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