Trish Witkowski has spent nearly 20 years researching the technical side of production folding and print finishing. An industry expert, Witkowski specializes in creative mail formats and engagement strategies for direct marketing, which allows her to help companies find solutions to meet – or exceed – marketing goals.
With a background in design, Witkowski is uniquely situated to provide a multi-dimensional perspective of aesthetics and production. Having designed for international brands such DAP, DeWalt and Cover Girl, Witkowski continues to influence the industry through productive software tools, books, online courses and a weekly YouTube series.
Able to connect with designers, marketing professionals and printers alike, Witkowski uses her analytical and presentation skills to help companies save money and increase marketing and production success.
What drew you to the industry as a career?
I was always an artist and graphic designer, having received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York. However, I felt like a design education would only get me so far without the production background. I decided to return to RIT for my master’s degree in printing, and the rest is history. I’m an analyst at heart, but I have kind of a left brain/right brain thing going on, and it really helps me to communicate with printers and designers/marketers.
As an analyst, what patterns have you observed in the industry?
Over the years, I have seen quite a few changes and, for me, what has been the most exciting has been the advancements in digital printing and finishing, as well as what can be done in short-run lengths. I love offset printing, but sometimes you only need a few hundred pieces. Or fifty. Or five – and you don’t want sloppy, hand-made comps. It’s great that we now are able to afford and produce quality pieces at any run length.
How will these patterns continue to impact the industry?
I will say – from firsthand experience – that customers are expecting more and more for less. The fancier our processes and offerings get, the more hand-holding they require, which eats away at profits. Managing needy clients and streamlining offerings and workflows as we change our offerings, I think, will continue to be a challenge.
What is “folding compensation mathematics,” and how does this data serve the industry?
Simply put, folding compensation is the math applied to a folded format to ensure it folds properly. For example, a tri-fold consists of three panels, and one of them must be slightly shorter so that it can tuck in under the cover. There is math applied to that measurement, and it has to do with the thickness of the sheet of paper.
Early on in my career, I defined folding compensation mathematics for almost 200 folded formats – it is called The FoldRite System – and I won the InterTech Award for it. That math became the basis for our template-building software that still is available today at Foldfactory.
What are some techniques printers and finishers can utilize to remain competitive?
I’m on the road a lot, and one of the biggest challenges I hear about is the need for printing sales people to learn how to sell and service the new printing technologies printers are offering. There is an entirely different level of service involved, and it requires the willingness to get in there and problem solve for the customer.
Buying and installing the equipment is the easy part. If you can make the customer’s life easier, while making a nice profit, you’re on the right track.
What trends do you predict for the industry over the next few years?
If I had to guess, I’d say improvement in online experiences – the ability to do neat things quicker and better. Everything is getting faster – laser cutting, digital printing, special effects. I love all the attention on haptics and the tangibility of print. There’s so much power in it. I’m loving all of these inline, offline and near-line press coatings and effects. I think it’ll all get faster and easier and more accessible.
Of course, integration of technology with print will continue to be exciting – AI, augmented reality, etc. – but I think adoption will be very slow. Look at even the simplest form of VDP and QR codes and how long it’s taken just to get people to use these technologies. There are lots of cool technologies available, but you basically need the perfect storm to make it work. You need to understand the technology internally, then you need a sales person who can sell it and then you have to find clients who not only have the appropriate marketing scenario and target audience to leverage the technology, but also the budget, the timeline and creativity to make it happen. It’s a lot to ask. So, it’s going to take a while, and it’s going to have to get easier and somewhat inexpensive to use these technologies if we want them to go mainstream.
On a positive note – because I always close on a positive note – it’s a GREAT time to be in print. I love the changes and the excitement of breaking new ground. I was just over at the Komori demo facility in Chicago, and it was crazy to see a state-of-the-art Lithrone Press running at amazing speed, right next to a Highcon Euclid III digital laser cutter/creaser that was skillfully cutting intricate, custom packages on 24 pt. board. The range and the precision and the technology is impressive. I’m really looking forward to Print 17 this year. I hope to see everyone there!