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Digital Papers--Made to Order

February 2000
BY ERIK CAGLE


Selling paper for the on-demand digital printing environment is even more lucrative than hawking millennium wares. But long after the last can of Spam has been devoured from Y2K survival kits, the market for digital printing grades will be bustling.

The growth of digital printing, a process that envelopes entire workflows, has been well-documented, and paper mills and their distributors are continuously jockeying to reap the benefits of this constantly growing niche. Choices abound, calling for a sophisticated and calculated approach to choosing the bread for your digital printing butter. So many choices, so seemingly little difference among them.

Robert Hieronymus, market manager for imaging papers at Georgia-Pacific, feels the paper characteristics most sought after can be traced to color laser printers and copiers, which fueled demand for smooth laser papers with high whiteness characteristics.

"Printers now have the option to produce short-run promotion pieces either offset or on digital laser equipment, and both technologies coexist in many commercial print shops," Hieronymus maintains. "Demand is growing for higher basis weights, very smooth text and cover grades to support the high-resolution capabilities of the new digital laser equipment. Printers are also placing greater emphasis on paper products that work equally well in both offset and laser printing applications, to help minimize the number of grades they need to carry."

Georgia-Pacific unveiled its Microprint Technology Papers more than five years ago to address the emerging technology. The company uses feedback from OEMs and customers to tweak products, adding basis weights and sizes to existing offerings while adding new products to back specific applications. The company also unveiled Quantum Digital Opaque for the digital laser environment to complement its Quantum Opaque offset printing grade.

"We believe the main growth segments of the paper industry, for at least the next five years, are tied closely to the growth in on-demand printing," Hieronymus says. "As OEMs continue to refine print quality capabilities of their equipment and printers continue to create applications, growth demand will be highest for papers supporting these digital technologies."

Mohawk Paper Mill's digital papers were the result of an existing product line—in this case, five products—being repurposed for the digital printing platform. According to Chris Harrold, manager of Mohawk Digital Papers, with many traditional printers making the switch to digital, the manufacturer wanted to leverage product identity.

Launched in 1998, Mohawk Digital Papers enjoyed double-digit growth early on, backed by the familiarity of established lines such as Navajo and Superfine.
 

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