20 November 2017 xDigital Printing Technologies

Paper suppliers wake up to digital expansion

As volumes of papers for litho continue to decline, mills and merchants are following the growth of digital printing with papers to match, especially as larger format machines are reaching the market.

If digital printing is gaining ground and growing as the machine vendors say it is, it stands to reason that the volumes of papers (and non-papers) printed is also on the increase. And that paper mills and merchants have geared up to meet this demand.

It is frequently different to the litho print model: digital implies if not highly personalised print then print for a precisely defined audience, and the use of higher quality papers to match the higher spend per item.

With higher volumes the frequent changes in digital print technologies and their requirements means the question of whether to work with inkjet optimised papers, with a pretreatment coating or whether a new generation of inks will render such considerations obsolete, means that there is no settled picture.

Coated papers suited to inkjet printing are edging on to the market and while the technology vendors are keen to drive adoption because this will expand demand for their inkjet presses, printers are proving more cautious.

In the cutsheet world, the situation is very different. Developments in both the printing technology and the papers is opening up greater opportunities for most technologies. Canon and Ricoh presses can handle textured materials, lower fusing temperatures have expanded the opportunity for films and synthetic materials, and all of this generation of printing presses are handling heavier materials making them suitable for light carton printing.

Some of the versatility is lost with gloss coated papers where the toner remains vulnerable to heated lamination and other factors such as cracking, but improvements in toners and their application has eased the difference between the reflectance value of the toner and that of the paper itself.

This does not apply to HP Indigo where the toner is a liquid and lays down like a litho ink. However, electro ink needs a coating to ensure good adhesion between the ink and the substrate. HP will run tests on papers to certify them for use without a pretreatment or to declare that its Sapphire coating is necessary. The sheer population of Indigos in use makes this worthwhile.

At the same time the variety of materials that can be printed creates challenges for the paper merchants. The emphasis for the Indigo user is on higher value print and thus there is a strong inclination towards Fedrigoni and GF Smith style papers and those supplied by Antalis under its creative papers division.

Antalis marketing director James Jarvis says the drive towards premium papers “is increasingly significant in the marketing industry as, with modern consumers typically bombarded with digital communications, businesses are beginning to recognise the benefits of a tangible, paper based item as a way of creating cut through.

Aligned to this, printers are now able to cost effectively produce variable data campaigns on speciality materials, and in short runs, for highly targeted and impactful marketing campaigns which can deliver a higher return on investment.”

The expansion of digital printing into B2 formats, with the Indigo 10000 and 12000, as well as the Fujifilm Jetpress 720 inkjet machine, is creating challenges for the paper providers: how deep should they stock digital papers in this new format; is the handful or Jetpress machines and approximately 30 B2 Indigos in the UK enough to warrant filling shelves for call off deliveries?

Antalis says it has worked with Fujifilm on optimising papers for the inkjet press, working confidentially with the supplier says Jarvis. “Together, we created a recommended media list for customers to confidently select specific materials for their new presses, ensuring a seamless introduction to market,” he says.

The process applies a coating to the paper which responds to the ink to hold droplets in place and prevent the water based ink seeping into the fibres of the paper.

Jetpress product manager Mark Stephenson says there is a list of all the papers that have been tested at the Advanced Print Technology Centre in Brussels. These are papers that have been tested on behalf of the mills or by customers looking to check the suitability of one brand above another.

While in theory all papers will print, some can be designated as ‘prints well’ or ‘works with lighter ink coverage’, he explains. “There are some favourite papers that we know we will get the best results from. There can be problems if the same paper is available under different names or the same name applies to papers made at more than one mill. Certainly our customers across Europe find that the same paper can have different names.”

Customers can either bring in papers to test or submit 2,000 sheets to the APTC for evaluation and to generate the profile to enable the printer to run the job without problems.

Stephenson says: “The idea is that the printer can buy normal offset litho papers and not have to think about whether he needs a special version for digital printing. On the day of production he can send the job down either path, one day printing it litho and the next time can print on the Jetpress. The primer does not change the look or feel of the stock.”

Sales of the KM1/Komori iS29, the other B2 inkjet press have been slow to get off the ground. Indeed there is only one of this machine in the UK to date. In any case it uses UV inks so should have no problem with substrate compatibility.

In reality, this is also the case with the Indigo 12000 because it has a built-in coater to apply the Sapphire coating if the paper has not been approved by HP Indigo and the printer does not wish to hope for a good result. Most will test a few sheets before committing to the full job.

Issues relate more the availability of Indigo suitable papers in the right format, either B2 or the 530x750mm maximum sheet size the press can accommodate. This creates another question for the merchants if they intend to hold stock. Not surprisingly this means that there is restricted availability from stock for some more specialist and coloured papers.

If Antalis is building its portfolio of digitally suited papers, it has work to do to catch market leader Premier Paper. The company has the largest spread of papers for digital printing, spotting the importance of the technology early on and has consequently developed expertise with both printers and the mills.

Mills, explains John Vic, Premier’s digital paper sales director, need to be more precise in supplying the paper. The tolerance for litho can be 2mm either way, with the larger format Indigo the sheets must be within .5mm.

“When the B2 Indigo was launched we knew we would need coated and uncoated options, but had to think of the exact format and the grain direction that would be needed,” says Vic. “We have recently added LumiArt and also Arcoprint in the uncoated in both B2 and the 530x750mm format.

“We are now starting to think about stocking speciality papers and we are getting the choices from the mills. And we are adding synthetic materials. Everything for Indigo is certified by HP as suitable for Indigo.”

The merchant is developing a swatch set for the full range of papers and materials suited to Indigo. The swatch can be customised for the company using the 12000 and which they can provide to their customer base to select from. “We are finding that volumes are increasing with the number of installations,” says Vic.

The growth of digital has attracted the interest of others. For the first time Denmaur has added a paper specifically for digital printing. This is Innovation, a premium uncoated paper that Denmaur has UK exclusivity over. “It has taken us a few months to get the grades in place,” says sustainability and marketing director Danny Doogan. “It’s a premium product, with high whiteness levels, more expensive than a standard sheet and for people wanting to run jobs with runs around 500-1,000 sheets.”

It is a new market for Denmaur, but seeing existing customers adopt digital printing provides the confidence to move into the market. “We have been working with Indigo on the uncoated paper range since earlier this year” says Doogan. “While it is early days for us, we are hoping it takes off. We will stock the paper in three or four sizes and weights.”

It is sourced from Sweden and made from birch without inclusion of eucalyptus pulps. It will work on both toner and Indigo presses and will be stocked in formats for the Indigo 12000. The paper is also FSC and can be carbon balanced.

Other papers in Denmaur’s range are suited to digital printing, particular for book printing, including Amadeus Primo Silk which is Indigo certified.

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