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.

Jack Miller is founder and Principal Consultant at Market-Intell LLC, offering Need to Know™ market intelligence in paper, print and packaging. Previously, he was senior consultant, North America, with Pira International.

Known as the Paper Guru, Jack is the former director of Market Intelligence with Domtar, where he also held positions as regional sales manager, territory sales manager and product manager. He has presented at On Demand, RISI’s Global Outlook, PRIMIR, SustainCom World and at various IntertechPira conferences. Jack has written for Printing Impressions, Canadian Printer, Paper 360, PaperTree Letter and Package Printing, along with publishing a monthly e-newsletter, MarketIntellibits.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from The College of the Holy Cross and has done graduate studies in Statistics and Finance.

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