How to Select Paper the Right Way
As a marketer for a paper mill, I needed to know how my customers, and their customers, selected paper. Why would they buy my paper instead of my competitor’s paper?
We did benchmarking. We went into the market and bought samples of our competitors’ papers, and had them printed along with ours. When ours was the best, we took our test results to the market; when ours didn’t measure up, we made improvements.
But what was interesting—and disappointing—was that our customers weren’t impressed with our test results. After all, the papers were all pretty good. So why switch for a slight improvement in print quality that may or may not be borne out in the real world?
So we did more homework and learned that printers sometimes just buy on price and availability, and other times buy what the customer specifies, but often they buy what they know and recommend it to their customers. And sometimes, they have to switch suppliers. Maybe a grade is discontinued, or a merchant relationship changes. There could be lots of reasons to switch suppliers.
So, then what does a printer do? Ask the merchants to bring in samples? Look at printed samples? Look at unprinted samples? Buy what’s cheapest? Buy a truckload of four different papers and see how they perform and then decide?
That last option isn’t very realistic. And there is no magic formula, but there are a few things to keep in mind:
• Price, quality and service are not equal from mill to mill or merchant to merchant, but for the most part, they are close. The mills and merchants have to be competitive. That brings it down to relationships and negotiations.
• Unprinted samples are the first step in the process—swatchbooks, dummies. But be careful: the best looking unprinted sheet may not be the best printed sheet. With uncoated papers, the smoothest sheet may look best—and many printers have told me that the smoothest sheets print best—but unless formation is excellent (e.g. with top-quality text and cover grades), the smoother sheet may actually give you more mottle.
• Runnability is a big factor in your cost. Yes, runnability is a given. Yes, all papers run well. But if one paper runs a little faster, or with fewer problems, the differences can add up. Some printers track this; some don’t.
• Mill printed samples are useful, but they have their limitations. They are produced under optimal circumstances. You may or may not be able to achieve the same results cost effectively. Try to get commercial samples from your mill or merchant.
• Commercial samples also have limitations. Are you printing faces? Scenery? Metallics? Fabrics? Large areas of solid colors? The best sheet for one application may not be the best sheet for another. Get samples that approximate what you’ll actually be printing.
Most printers know this, but some don’t. And some print buyers and paper specifiers know this, but some don’t.
As for the mills, yes, you should benchmark your paper, but be sure you also understand what your customers—and their customers—are actually looking at when they decide what paper to use.