Pushing Paper: Technology is Driving the Substrate Evolution
Production inkjet media is continually changing. Through research and development, technological advances and customer input, paper manufacturers continue to cultivate quality options for the inkjet marketplace.
Where is the Market Headed?
For paper manufacturers, evaluating the needs of the market is key when developing new products. Many take the time to regularly sit down with printers to discuss their needs - and wants - when it comes to inkjet papers. One of the biggest discussions usually revolves around coated inkjet media versus uncoated offset papers - both of which can run on production inkjet machines with acceptable quality. “We at Mondi are sure that there will always be a market for truly inkjet treated media even if printing presses are becoming better at producing acceptable quality on untreated media,” says Wolfgang Kropiunik, head of high-speed inkjet at Mondi Uncoated Fine Paper.
Midland Paper Company says it is frequently approached by paper mills as a testing ground for new inkjet paper formulations. Through this experience, Midland has found printers should be taking advantage of the new inkjet gloss and silk-coated papers that are relatively new to the market. “These new papers produced with inkjet coating technology offer a high color gamut with a competitive paper cost,” explains David Field, senior business manager, inkjet technologies at Midland Paper Company. “In addition, paper mills have developed uncoated inkjet treated papers that are super-calendared during the paper making process, which results in a smooth uncoated finish with high color gamut results, which may emulate the color gamut of a coated paper.”
One thing is certain, however: the production inkjet market continues to evolve at a rapid pace and the latest advancement of the sheetfed inkjet market is of particular significance to both the media and finishing side of the business. According to Field, the new sheetfed inkjet technology coming to market will enable printers to enter the inkjet market with lower overall monthly page volume than it would otherwise require to enter the web-fed inkjet market. In many cases, printers will be able to utilize their existing finishing equipment within their operation, which will considerably reduce their overall equipment investment. As the “burgeoning sheetfed inkjet segment grows, additional paper options will continue to be introduced in sheet sizes and configurations in order to support printers needs,” he adds.
As print quality continues to increase along with innovations in ink and paper, high-speed production inkjet product output is getting closer to compete with commercial offset applications. It’s these applications - both old and new - which dictate where paper companies spend their R&D dollars. According to Catherine Cartolano, North American sales agent, Drewsen Specialty Paper USA, variable data capabilities “will dictate continued growth in the direct mail space and book printing will continue to grow with the introduction of new grades and surfaces.
“The value of paper” is now being re-evaluated in some instances as well. According to Atsuki Kimura, deputy general manager of technology and marketing, digital print media, international sales department, paper division, Mitsubishi Paper Mills. “Because paper media is a device sensuous to the five human senses, many marketers particularly realized that catalogues, brochures and direct-mails are very strong tools to impress customers other than the web marketing alone.”
This theory has been proven in Japan, where the way direct mail is implemented has been revised. “The printing industry and related organizations realized that direct mail with paper media - in addition to email campaigns - is the most effective promotional tool, and was experimentally verified by the Japan Direct Mail Association,” Kimura explains.
As for the transactional printing market, most invoices have already been converted to high-speed inkjet printing and, at the same time, brand owners are pushing end-consumers to use digital tools to receive their regular information. This means that high-speed inkjet printed invoices or statement pages are no longer growing heavily and, for select printers, are even declining. Coupled with increased printing capacity, this leads printers to seek alternative products they can run on their presses.
“Of course, they want to add higher value-added prints such as marketing collateral and direct mail to their customer portfolio,” Kropiunik says. “A logical option is to differentiate this quality upgrade with a higher value paper, coupled with an ICC profile that utilizes the best possible printing quality. The opposite route is also taken by some printers: downgrade the standard transactional printing quality by using a lower quality inkjet paper and using less ink, so higher valued prints can keep the high-speed inkjet media and quality.”
Some manufacturers have also been discussing the ability to optimize paper with coatings applied on press during printing or in a separate pre-coating process prior to printing, to facilitate printing on non-inkjet engineered paper. This has the potential to lower the paper input cost for the printer. By comparison, inkjet-engineered papers manufactured by the paper mills are developed and manufactured to achieve high color gamut, improve ink conservation and aid in water absorption, which generally comes at a higher cost.
“We are also seeing the OEM’s attempt to lower the paper input cost with new, offset-paper-compatible inkjet inks,” Field explains. “The theory is that these new inks, perhaps in conjunction with enhanced paper drying technology and new nozzle technology that produce smaller droplet sizes, will be compatible with ‘off the shelf’ commercial coated fine paper, thereby reducing the paper input cost.“
Overall, customers are looking for a wider variety of papers and the paper manufacturers are starting to deliver. According to some mills, there has been a higher demand for lower base weight papers in the book sector while some other customers in the direct mail space are looking for matte papers with soft-touch surfaces.
“We also see an increasing demand for heavier stocks such as 7-pt. or 9-pt. papers,” Kropiunik says. “Printers use them to create business reply cards or self-mailers. For example, customers using NEUJET silk premium can apply a water-based varnish directly on top of the high-speed inkjet printed surface without needing to pre-treat the printed stock. This helps to bring the total cost for the postcard down.”
For Drewsen, 9 pt. seems to be a highly-requested stock. The company has just released a super smooth 9-pt. professional grade paper for direct mail applications.
“We also get requests for lighter weight grades, as well as our new silk finish that will well suit the publication market,” Cartolano explains. “Drewsen has a line of lighter security papers and features for check printing and other security applications.”
Paper plays a critical role in the printing process, and not every paper works the same on all inkjet presses. There are many different types of inkjet papers, manufactured by multiple paper mills and many of these papers interact differently from one another based on the OEM press, OEM ink, press drying capacity, the printer’s ink density setting, the press speed and other variables.
“Selecting the right paper can make or break the printer’s operation and boost overall customer satisfaction,” Field says. “The inkjet paper market is rather diverse, with multiple paper options in the coated and uncoated/inkjet treated category. Inkjet media is developed with specific market segments in mind, such as transactional/statement, publishing, direct mail and commercial printing, among others, and there are inkjet paper options available for each of these market segments, in a variety of basis weights, surface finishes and so on.”
Shops need to make sure they do their own research and test the papers on their devices before putting them into full production runs to ensure runability and confirm acceptable quality levels.