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.

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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  • http://MarkHenry Mark Henry

    I come from an IT/WEB background and have only recently been exposed to commercial printing operations, so when I hear the term “digital paper” something completely different than the chemical makeup of a paper substrate comes to mind. To many people out there, digital paper is all about leveraging portable, electronic devices to deliver what has traditionally been done in printed format. Think about Wired magazine or the New York Times on the iPad, or how about purchasing a copy of Moby Dick for the Amazon Kindle? The concept of digital paper (with my definition) goes far beyond just putting an electronic copy of the paper version in a viewer, it’s about enhancing the user’s experience with multimedia, external links, blogs and comments (like this one) and other interactive elements that can’t be offered in a traditional print medium.