The Importance of Inkjet Paper Certifications for Quality Results
In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, customers expect the best. It is up to commercial printers to see that they get it, which is what inkjet paper certification is all about.
Printers need to buy and use certified inkjet papers because, according to Tim Bolton, senior technology portfolio manager, Inkjet, Ricoh USA, it is important for customers to have confidence their jobs have the resolution and color quality that they — and their customers — expect.
“Recommended papers are papers where the trial-and-error has already been done for you, so you can be confident in your investments, and typically only need to perform minor calibrations for picture-perfect output,” Bolton notes. Information from the tests can also help users uncover valuable business insights, such as the levels of ink coverage necessary to produce the desired image quality on a paper. An inexpensive paper may seem attractive, but if it requires twice as much ink to produce the image quality needed, the total cost of print is actually higher.
That is even more true today, as commercial printers are looking harder at their paper choices due to the recent economic challenges and uncertainty. “In light of the current business environment, many printers are looking to increase transparency in their costs and find ways to drive those costs down,” Bolton notes. “Using a paper that you know works — and know how it works within your environment — reduces the need for reprints, and helps deliver more consistent output quality.”
Even before COVID-related mandates, inkjet had been surging. More volumes continue to migrate to inkjet, which means there are printers new to this space looking for unique ways to help these applications stand out. Printing on specialty media is one of those ways, and paper testing ahead of time makes those jobs much more reliable, and quicker to turn around.
Benefits of Coated Grades That Are Treated
“There are a number of benefits in purchasing inkjet treated papers when printing on an inkjet press,” notes Jason Barbero, senior marketing specialist, Production Print Solutions, for Canon Solutions America. “Inkjet treated papers are specially formatted to give customers outstanding quality.” Coated papers that are inkjet treated are available in gloss, dull, silk, or matte, which offers the same benefits, “but also allows a nice variation in finish for that special project that needs to have the perfect touch and feel.”
In addition, Barbero continues, there are premium coated papers that have a higher brightness level “to really make prints pop. If you are looking for rich saturated color that really stands out, you will see the difference with an inkjet treated paper printed on an inkjet press.”
Barbero characterizes the conversation over inkjet paper as a “constant hot topic; lots of discussion about what to buy, price versus quality, etc. Again, it’s all about balance. If you are a graphic arts shop, your needs will certainly vary from those of a transaction print shop. Understanding the difference in the paper, what press you are printing on, and how it affects your final print job is key to maximizing profit.”
It is important to keep in mind, however, that even though the inkjet treated paper costs more money up front, “you actually use less ink because of the ink holdout on the sheet,” Barbero says. On an inkjet sheet, the ink sits at the top of the page, which will give prints a more robust and vibrant color, while using less ink than a non-inkjet treated sheet.
Many times, the ink savings will outweigh the paper savings, “so again it’s up to the customer to understand the balance for their business. This is where our sales and support teams can assist customers to help them make the best decisions to meet their needs,” he continues. “This is also where cost estimation tools like VIEW or TrueProof can help a sales team quickly cost applications by estimating the ink usage on various paper profiles.”
John Crumbaugh, product manager, ColorPRO Technology for HP, says the importance of inkjet paper certification is a subject close to his heart, and something he feels very strongly about. When it comes to inkjet, he points out, the topic of true paper qualification, “tends to be one that is misleading to many end users. Most are used to the paper qualifications from offset or toner devices such as HP Indigo.”
Qualifying a paper for a toner device is in many ways much easier than for any inkjet press, Crumbaugh feels. “Papers are qualified by printing a volume of paper, enough to be statistically robust looking for quality, durability, adhesion, etc., and then ranked based on the results.” Since papers are made to tolerance and the toner has few variables, such as coverage, speed, or dryers, “a once-and-done qualification or certification is enough unless the paper were to change dramatically.”
With inkjet, Crumbaugh continues, the coverage can make a difference in how a paper will perform. He calls it “very important” to test papers as they will be used. “For example, a paper designed for lightweight pharma or religious printing of one- or two-color tests can perform extremely well for that use. However, if it were to be used for a graphic novel or direct mail application it would not perform as well. Equally, a paper for direct mail can be assumed to require the capability of supporting a high ink load, which is typical of this application type.”
The same holds true for books. A graphic novel or textbook will commonly have to support more ink than a mono trade book. This makes testing papers for inkjet more in-depth, Crumbaugh notes, “but it is worth the effort to look at the variables that will impact the customer.”
Papers used in inkjet should be trialed with the coverage, speed, quality, and finishing that will be used in production. Producing jobs efficiently and with quality are part of the equations when looking at how a paper will perform in real-world printing situations. More paper mills are now producing coated and uncoated papers specifically made for inkjet production printing that consider the need to print at speed, with coverage and finish cleanly resulting in superior quality products, according to Crumbaugh.
“HP, through its ColorPRO technology program, leverages HP’s many years of inkjet knowledge to assist paper mills’ efforts to produce papers targeting the production inkjet industry,” he notes. “Customers can easily tell by the ColorPRO logo on a paper that it is engineered to perform with production inkjet technology.”
What Do You Need to Know?
More people, Barbero suggests, need to better understand the benefits of the different technologies available in the market, such as digital web, digital sheetfed, inkjet, and toner.
“It seems like people stick to what they know and what they are comfortable with,” he points out. “However, understanding how much more time and money can be saved, and where their break-even point lies when switching from webfed to sheetfed, or from toner to inkjet, is a huge opportunity in evolving their business for future success.”
Something many in the industry fail to take into account is paper’s impact on the total cost of print. Bolton calls it “tempting” to look at material costs and decide to cut corners with a cheaper paper. “But if you pick the wrong paper, it can take twice as much ink to get the same results, which means you end up spending more on the piece.”
What Bolton labels a “good job” is “the coming together of the right paper, the right ink, the right design, and the right technology. You need all of them, or else you’ll find yourself paying to compensate.”
What does all of this mean for someone looking to add production inkjet printing to their operation? It means that unlike offset or toner printing, there is no single test that can ensure a substrate will always run perfectly. Finding papers certified to work with a specific press and ink combination is a good start, giving a base to work with. But, from there, shops should still plan to do their own testing and certification, ensuring that for each specific job, the right substrate is chosen.
Don’t choose a paper based solely on the up-front cost — don’t be afraid to break down the numbers based on ink coverage, saturation, and even how the image “pops” for a given project. Just because a paper will run well on a given press, doesn’t mean it’s always the right one for the application.
But this is also where manufacturers — both of equipment and substrates alike — can help. When purchasing a new inkjet printing press, don’t be afraid to ask about their inkjet paper certification process, and what their recommendations are for the specific job types you plan to run. That will give you a solid base to start from, and narrow down the options to something much more manageable for testing in your own facility when the time comes to start running live jobs.
Howard Riell is a veteran journalist who has written and edited for more than 200 business and consumer publications, national trade associations, advertising/PR agencies, newspapers, research firms, newsletters, non‑profit groups, e‑zines, blogs, manufacturers, and other clients across the country and abroad.