What Makes Paper Digital?
I’ve been asked about the outlook for digital papers. I’ve also read about the outlook for digital papers. One question always emerges: What do you mean by digital papers? And of course, that begs the question: What do you mean by digital?
When I think of digital print, I think of print on a production press that is capable of variable data. My less-than-$100 desktop inkjet printer is capable of variable data digital print, but if I print a copy of this blog on that printer, I hardly think of that as digital print. Anyway, that’s my definition. It excludes the desktop printers and excludes offset.
Amazing how much I’ve read that doesn’t have any definition at all.
Now that we’ve defined digital, we can try to define digital papers. Again, there are questions. Are we talking about papers that are designed for digital print, or papers that just happen to be printed digitally? Are we talking about special sizes, or just special papers? Are we talking about color or black-and-white printing? Are we talking about coated papers or uncoated papers? Are we talking about inkjet, or toner?
When offset printers buy a toner-based digital press like an iGen or Nexpress, they very often try the papers that they’re familiar with. They know the papers; they know the merchants. In most cases it works just fine. The only thing different is the size of the sheet.
With inkjet, it gets much more complicated. For black-and-white, a lot of ordinary uncoated papers will produce reasonable results, but for best results, especially for high-quality color printing on coated papers, a special coating or bonding agent is required so that the ink will react properly with the paper and not smear. Some presses have the capability to add the bonding agent in-line, so that ordinary paper will work well; some do not.
The holy grail is low-cost, high-speed, high-quality color inkjet that produces excellent results on untreated coated papers. It’s not here yet, but some of the presses introduced at Drupa 2008 and this year at Ipex are getting close. Meanwhile, the market for specially treated digital inkjet papers is small, but fast growing. Quantifying all of this is well beyond the scope here, but the point is: if you’re talking about digital papers, be sure that it’s clear what you’re talking about.