Dec. 29 2006 10:52 AM

Producing creative, attention-getting direct mail has moved beyond the basic level. Today, marketers demand more sophisticated, interactive features such as holograms, tipped-in cards, unique substrates and multi-layered documents. In addition, more marketing strategies involve financial and security elements requiring specialized printing such as Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR).


Direct mail houses are challenged with supplying these features in greater volumes without compromising efficiency or profit. Magnetography, a method of high-speed, non-impact printing and cold-flash toner fusing are technologies that combine to facilitate many of these increasingly popular direct mail trends and can be the key to success for direct mailers entering new market segments.


How It Works

Magnetography uses a durable metal imaging drum, specially designed electromagnet writeheads and magnetized toner to image documents. Once toner is transferred from the drum onto the paper, the image is fixed using a cold flash fusing process. This fuses the toner onto the page using high-energy flashes of light. The intense flashes heat the toner but not the paper, so paper warping, drying and shrinking are eliminated along with other degradation problems associated with heating non-traditional substrates such as plastics and metallic films.


Although the technology is currently used for many print applications such as financial, transaction, security and book printing, it provides direct mail houses, in particular, with a lower-cost, faster, more efficient solution over traditional digital printing methods. As direct mail applications become more diverse, flexibility has become more of a priority. Quick changeovers, eliminating downtime and increasing output are all essential. Magnetography and cold-flash fusing offer flexibility to direct mail houses because the technologies can be applied to a wide range of jobs with no sacrifice in productivity.


Members Only

Versatility in print technology is important to facilitating new marketing tactics that have recently become very popular. Memberships and various benefits "clubs" are used by the marketing departments of virtually every airline and hotel chain. The trend has reached museums and theaters as well as grocery and department stores. Even the corner coffee shop often has a frequent customer program. For this reason, printing tipped-in cards is not just an occasional request but a major potential revenue opportunity for direct mail printers.


Finding the right technology to produce these types of applications quickly and efficiently is key to higher profits. For instance, magnetography-based printers are able to print on substrates varying from very light-weight stocks, such as cellophane or "bible" paper up to heavy card stocks. · What's more, they can handle thickness variations within the same page, enabling them to print on stocks with piggy-back labels and even tipped-in cards attached. This level of flexibility is essential in competing for business fed by the "membership" trend. But flexibility in substrates also facilitates a wider range of marketing projects broadening the range of direct mail projects to offer to customers.


Check Please

MICR is a character recognition system that uses special ink or toner and characters. Documents with MICR printing can be read with systems that magnetize the ink and then translate the magnetic information into characters. Numbers and characters found on the bottom of checks (usually containing the check number, sort number and account number) are printed using MICR. MICR was, at one time, confined only to check printing. Today, checks are used by marketers to compete in credit arenas and even in some non-financial markets. Car dealers, phone service providers and credit card companies are more commonly sending these individualized documents in the mail for the recipient to take to the bank, generating activity and involvement, and, hopefully, driving revenue for the sponsoring company.


And MICR isn't just used for checks. It can be used to track direct mail responses and verify personalized data. As personalization gets more complex, sometimes involving confidential or information personal in nature, MICR can become an important tool for verification.


This trend is driving demands to include MICR printing in marketing material, and direct mailers must have the flexibility to do so or face losing business. Having the flexibility on hand to anticipate customers' needs gives a direct mailer an edge over the competition. A MICR-ready printing system offers that edge. Since the toner used in magnetography is already magnetic, it is MICR-capable by default, requiring no changeover or special adjustments. This is a key consideration when evaluating a printing system, since any time spent changing components to set up for a special job is time lost from production. As MICR printing becomes more requested, direct mail houses that do not have check printing capabilities will need to add this capability or could be left out in the cold.


Security Printing

Security printing is both a new challenge and a tremendous opportunity for direct mailers. Once a specialized print application, elements of security printing have become much more mainstream. Substrate diversity plays a vital role in security printing. Often incorporating holograms and metalized film, these applications also require an element of personalization, serial numbers, barcodes and MICR. Magnetography and cold flash fusing are ideal technologies for printing on these substrates for all the reasons outlined earlier. But substrate flexibility is not the only attribute to consider when selecting a printing system capable of security printing applications.


Many security applications that are duplex printed require printing to be done in a single roll-to-roll run. This is done to ensure that sensitive security information and markings do not become mismatched if a roll is removed from the printing process and then re-fed into the printer. Roll-to-roll duplex printing can be accomplished through Twin Engine Duplexing (TED) where paper is fed from a roll through two print engines separated by a turning bar. Or, a Single Engine Duplexing (SED) printer can be employed, which brings paper from a roll through one side of the print engine, out to a turn bar and then back through the same print engine on the opposite side. The advantages of SED printing are speed, cost and reliability, as well as space-savings. And since it can also run full-width simplex printing, SED provides direct mailers with even more of the versatility they need in today's marketplace.


As direct mail marketing evolves to a more intricate level of interaction, so must the technology used in its production. Large and small print houses are finding magnetography to be the key technology to accommodate these shifts and help maintain industry leadership. Leveraging this technology provides the flexibility to print on a variety of materials, ensures consistent quality assurance and allows security-sensitive documents protection. With these attributes in place, print houses maximize their abilities to help their customers reach all of their marketing goals efficiently and profitably.


Alain Flament is president of Nipson America, Inc., a provider of flexible magnetographic digital printing equipment for a wide-range of direct mail applications. Alain has had sales and marketing responsibilities in companies such as 3M, Nicolet Computer Graphics, Nipson U.S. and Giesecke and Devrient America, Inc. For more information about Nipson in the US and Canada, please call 847-357-9210 or visit Nipson online at