DIGITAL PRINTING PAPER IN DEMAND
DIGITAL PRINTING PAPER IN DEMAND
2004-04-04 at 9:39:00 am #6983
Digital Printing Paper Use Continues to Expand
With digital printing here to stay, paper manufacturers are
rising to meet the demand.
Like printers, paper manufacturers are facing an increasingly digital and paperless future, both in commercial and corporate markets. The fortunes of commercial printers traditionally have been tied to the economy in general. That is, when the economy is booming, so is printing. However, in a recent report, industry market analyst TrendWatch Graphic Arts predicted that although the economy may return to former levels of activity and growth, commercial printing may never fully recover. Digital technologies, which have fostered several new, completely electronic methods of communication, carry much of the blame for the shift away from print communications. But digital technologies also provide the brightest hope for growth for printers.
Printing can be defined broadly as ink on paper. When printers feel the pinch of reduced advertising budgets, combined with a re-channeling of communications into paperless media, paper manufacturers share the downturn. Many mills also produce other forest-based products, such as packaging materials, consumer goods like tissue and paper towels, and lumber and other construction materials. They can, and in some cases, have changed their focus from producing printing and writing papers to these other product lines. But, they also have a hefty investment in paper mills and distribution networks, and unused capacity there can be recorded only as a
loss. Most American paper mills reported a loss on last year’s bottom line. With slow sales, nearly every grade of paper currently is selling at the lowest price in several decades. In efforts to adjust supply to demand, many
manufacturers have closed mills and pulp operations either temporarily or permanently, and as supply balances with demand, prices may begin to creep upward, perhaps in the middle of the year. Energy, transportation, and
chemistry costs already have increased for the manufacturers. In addition, paper makers have had to take a hard look at the markets they serve. Though changing the direction of a paper company might be comparable to changing the course of an ocean liner, paper manufacturers have been steering their activities to meet new demands. As a result of their careful R&D and new production processes, over last year virtually every large and
many smaller mills have launched or expanded their digital paper product lines. Though digital printing still represents a very small part of the industry, it’s growing more quickly than traditional offset and gravure. Similarly, digital paper, though still a fraction of the whole market, is the fastest growing category in paper.
Willing to Experiment
Offering one-to-one marketing programs, variable digital printing, and highly-personalized printing, Montage Graphics in Colorado operates on the leading edge of printing technologies. “Some people call it bleeding edge,” notes Toby Gadd, company president. The firm also provides support for design and sophisticated premedia processing for these types of marketing campaigns.
“There are basically three different kinds of papers for the Indigo. One is the sapphire-treated, and for synthetic substrates, they use a topaz treatment. We run a pretty good selection of sapphire-treated papers from
Smart Papers from their Kromekote line, their Carnival, and Knightkote,” he says. “Sapphire-treated paper is very consistent if it’s fresh. It’s very consistent and reliable, and a good choice.” On the down side, Gadd says, sapphire-treated costs more than other papers,
and the paper expires, or begins to age and yellow.
The second type of paper is treated at the mill. “These are like HP’s Indigo papers. We run that. They have two lines, a glossy and uncoated, and we run all of them. They run extremely well.” Gadd’s third category is what he calls neutral papers. “They’re not sapphire
coated; they just run,” he explains. “We use a brand called Endeavour from Spicers Paper. It’s a European paper and happens to have the chemistry that lets it run very well. A lot of the European papers can run on the Indigo without treatment, but most American papers don’t without going through some kind of process. The Electroink just doesn’t bond well.”
Spicers Paper is based in Australia and operates a sales outlet on the West Coast, offering its own brands and products from many overseas manufacturers.
Montage’s creative bent is reflected in its willingness to experiment to achieve the desired look and feel of a printed piece. “We don’t do a lot of volume, but we run a lot of different kinds of substrates,” Gadd says.
No Longer Special
One indication of the paper mills’ commitment to digital printing technologies is the special case of Hewlett-Packard’s Indigo presses. Introduced almost ten years ago, the Indigo uses a patented liquid toner
called Electroink rather than dry toner. Accordingly, the Indigo press has required the use of paper stocks that were sapphire-treated to make the surface receptive to Electroink. The sapphire treatment adds to the cost of
the paper, and tends to yellow over time, limiting the paper’s shelf life. A few suppliers, like the now-defunct Russell Field Paper Company, bet on the Indigo’s success and took up the challenge of providing a wide range of sapphire-treated stocks. But the company apparently was ahead of its time, and in 2001 they shut down operations.
At the end of 2002, Eastern Paper launched its Inspire product line of uncoated papers, which were formulated and carefully tested to run on HP Indigo presses without the sapphire coating.
Unfortunately, Eastern Pulp, which owns Lincoln Pulp and Paper Co. and Eastern Fine Paper Co., was forced to shut down its mills in January due to extensive financial debt. Hope of resuming production was lost in early February when a bankruptcy judge converted the company’s status from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7, thus barring the owners from any say in the company’s future.
At New York City’s Print On Demand trade show in April, 2003, Hewlett-Packard introduced its own brand of papers for Indigo presses. HP Indigo Printing Papers were launched in three uncoated grades, 70-lb. text,
80-lb. premium, and 80-lb. premium cover. More recently, HP also unveiled a line of coated Indigo Printing Papers, as well as uncoated rolls for the new HP Indigo model W3200.
A Giant Responds
Unlike its smaller competitors, International Paper has taken a somewhat different approach to the digital paper market. Its Memphis-based Hammermill brand has long been a leader in uncoated paper for copiers and other dry toner devices, but its new Color Copy Gloss was introduced only this year. “We seldom develop papers for a specific piece of equipment,” says Ned Spangler, brand manager for Hammermill’s imaging papers. “Most of our papers work for multiple applications and on most equipment.”
Dry toner printers generally require sheets that can tolerate the heat of the toner fusing process and offer appropriate electrical properties. A very smooth surface accepts toner better, and a bright white shade shows off
color images well.
“Coating is probably one of the most demanding characteristics for xerographic papers,” Spangler says. “You can’t take standard coated paper for offset and run it through an electrophotographic printing system. The
coating could melt and stick to the drum. The coating is slippery, so depending on the paper path in the equipment, you could have jamming issues. If you take a coating and put it under intense heat, odor can be an issue. It can crack with folding. It’s a complicated process, and it took Hammermill several years to develop Color Copy Gloss.”
“Five years ago there were a lot of coated papers out there that people were selling for digital applications, and the papers just didn’t run very well,” he continued. “We’ve invested the technology dollars in developing a coated
product that we believe has superior performance.”
Hammermill Color Copy Gloss joins the comprehensive range of Hammermill products for all types of digital printing, and is available in cut sheets sized 8.5″ x 11″, 17″ x 11″, and 18″ x 12″ 32-lb. weight, with a 90 brightness. International Paper is also pleased to have recently introduced a new heavier basis weight to this line 100 lb. weight is excellent for business cards, menus, and table to displays.
Another relatively new supplier of digital papers is Smart Papers. The company’s mills once belonged to Champion International and have a long history of producing primarily coated stocks.
“The digital market is a lot like the switch from letterpress to lithography,” notes Tim Needham, president and CEO of Smart Papers. “It took a long time to happen. As digital gets better and better, the costs will
keep coming down, and you’ll see more and more growth.”
This promise of growth in the digital print market has prompted Smart Papers to develop an extensive line of digital coated papers as part of its existing brands “Our Kromekote and Knightkote products have surfaces that can accept toners and stand up to the fusion of dry toner applications. For inkjet, we’ve added microporous surfaces that will perform better with inkjet printers. We make both sapphire coated paper for the HP Indigo, and we make uncoated papers that are not sapphire coated for that press. They work well for operators who know how to handle them and the presses,” he adds. Though Needham says he believes the market for sapphire treated papers will dwindle over the next 18 months or so, he calls the papers bullet-proof because they accept the HP Indigo’s Electroink without press adjustments. “And, of course, digital printing equipment has improved dramatically,” he notes. “The Xerox iGen3, NexPress 2100, HP Indigo, the DocuColors have all improved not only their quality, but the stability of their running environment. There aren’t as many jams. They don’t take paper through extreme paper paths. Everyone wants to find something new, but the truth is, in the paper world, digital paper has been out there a long time copier paper. The new equipment can use better papers and can get better
Digital papers are improving too, suitable for the full range of technologies and as many applications as designers can imagine. “We have a very high-end inkjet paper we’ve been working on that will compete with the new Kodak and HP papers,” says Needham. “That will be coming out shortly in 8.5″ x 11″ and other cut sheet sizes, not large format. We’re also going to introduce Kromekote with 30 percent postconsumer content for digital. We introduced coated textured papers last year and will continue to introduce more interesting surfaces in the future.” He concludes, “We’re expecting double or triple-digit growth in the digital market. I’m extremely optimistic compared to where I was six months ago. Print run lengths are still going to be short, but people are going to look more and more at color printing. Direct marketers will start asking how to get better responses, and there are two ways start personalizing. And those are very important things for the digital world.”
Mohawk Paper was among the first U.S. mills to make a serious commitment to the digital paper marketplace, and the company is currently a leading supplier in the field. “We sold more digital paper in 2003 than we have since we introduced our digital products in 1998,” says Chris Harrold, Mohawk’s manager of digital papers. “This was our fifth year, and it was a year of more growth and continued growth in digital papers.”
At the end of 2003, Mohawk unveiled Mohawk Color Copy paper. “What we’re all about in 2004 is addressing two sides of the dry toner printing world,” he says. “There is digital color production, which is the faster, more
expensive equipment, like the iGen3 and the HP Indigo. Products for those are already in the Mohawk digital paper portfolio. Now we’re going after the very large installed base of color copiers.”
“We’re committed to our traditional core products grades world,” Harrold says. “We’re committed to having a paper for every kind of imaging our customers do.”
Printers today can find a paper stock to run on any type of digital device, including those that use dry toner, liquid toner, ink jet, or offset inks. As printers migrate in growing numbers to digital technologies, they’ll find an appropriate paper for every application.