Continuous-Feed Inkjet Paper Options Continue to Ramp UpMay 2014 By Jack Miller
Continuous-feed production inkjet means high-speed digital printing. Digital printing. Short runs. Why do we need high-speed short runs?
As we evolve from digital printing being about short runs to digital printing being about versioning and personalization, higher speeds and greater efficiency mean lower cost. With mass customization, runs can indeed be long, but with each piece different. One example that demonstrates the value of continuous-feed inkjet is a case study with Hearst Magazines' Popular Mechanics. The project featured 4.8 million localized pages as 16-page customized inserts that were bound in the November 2011 issue of Popular Mechanics, plus 300,000 personalized onserts. There were several critical requirements that could only be met with continuous-feed inkjet. The customized onserts and inserts required digital printing, and the more than five million total pages could not be handled cost-effectively with toner-based printing. Moreover, quality had to be appropriate for a high-quality, offset-printed magazine and, with an HP color inkjet web press and Appleton Coated's Utopia Inkjet, the quality demand was met. The response rate was more than 4 percent, far exceeding the typical 1 to 2 percent response rate for direct mail.
Indeed, continuous-feed inkjet continues to be an exciting, evolving market. Interviews with various paper mills suggest that growth is strong, with several mills reporting growth rates of around 100 percent per year, and one mill reporting growth in excess of 200 percent. According to Don Burns, Kodak business development director-inkjet technology partnerships, "The technology is well past the tipping point."
Data from IT Strategies confirms this: 146 billion pages were printed globally with continuous-feed inkjet in 2013 (Figure 1). Average annual growth since 2010 has been at 93 percent. Market-Intell estimates that this represents 350,000 tons of paper in North America in 2013.
Still a Small Market, Comparatively
However, based on discussions with mills, the market for uncoated inkjet treated papers and coated inkjet papers remains less than 5 percent of the total market, and some reports put it below 1 percent. Moreover, while 350,000 tons is a big number, it represents less than 2 percent of the 20 million ton North American paper market. If we take out publication papers and converting grades, inkjet is still only about 5 percent of all pages printed.
Why isn't the market share of inkjet papers bigger?