Digital Inkjet: The Paper Challenge

By | October 25, 2010

By Jack Miller, Principal Consultant, Market-Intell

Jack MillerIn the world of digital print and paper, “nirvana” is a press that is capable of producing offset quality at a competitive cost on the same papers that printers use on their offset presses.

 For the most part, coated and uncoated offset papers run reasonably well with toner-based digital laser printing, but toner is expensive. Now, the next generation is here: low cost, high speed digital ink jet web presses made news at Drupa in 2008, Print09 last year, and IPEX this year. These are the Océ JetStream, the HP T300, and the Kodak Prosper, presses that are capable of commercial production output volumes with variable data.  Xerox also introduced a new production inkjet technology at IPEX, and while this technology is not yet commercial, it is  promising.

 Now, the challenge is paper.

Inkjet inks have high water content, and tend to soak into uncoated papers or sit up on coated papers where they may smear. For uncoated papers, HP and International Paper introduced ColorLok technology for desktop printers. This technology involves a calcium chloride-based chemical that is added at the paper mill and adds minimal cost. With the introduction of the T300 color inkjet web press, HP followed up with ColorPRO, a similar technology for inkjet presses. Abitibi Bowater, Georgia-Pacific and Stora Enso all produce ColorPRO qualified papers. The ColorPRO program requires that mills meet quality standards audited by HP. The HP T300 can also apply a “bonding agent” that enables printing on ordinary uncoated paper.

Coated papers, however, remain a challenge.

The list of available coated papers for ink jet is limited (see Table 1). HP’s ColorPRO technology is not designed for coated papers, nor is the bonding agent (although some coated papers do work better with the bonding agent.) Océ, HP, and Kodak are all working with the leading coated paper manufacturers. Appleton Coated reports that they are jointly developing high-speed inkjet coated media with HP, and the first such product is the Utopia Book Inkjet 45 lb. Matte Text.  Appleton Coated also offers coated papers in matte and dull finishes for direct mail and commercial printing applications. The Utopia Inkjet family, including Utopia Book Inkjet, does not require the use of the bonding agent. Appleton Coated has also worked with Kodak to qualify this grade on the Prosper press.

NewPage is also working on coated inkjet, and is working with glossy papers. I saw some beautiful books printed on NewPage 80 lb. Gloss Inkjet with the HP T300. This sheet is specially formulated for the HP T300 and is available on an inquiry basis. Other weights and finishes will be available as market demand increases.

Table 1 Coated Inkjet Papers

Mill Grade Finish Basis wts D65 GE
Appleton Coated Utopia Inkjet web text Matte 60,70 80, 100 93 91
Appleton Coated Utopia Inkjet web text Dull 60.70, 80 93 91
Appleton Coated Utopia Inkjet web cover Matte 65, 80 93 91
Appleton Coated Utopia Inkjet web cover Dull 65,80 93 91
Appleton Coated Utopia Inkjet Book Matte 45 89  
New Page Inquire Gloss 80, inquire inq. inq.


 The two market areas that are finding the most immediate traction are books and direct mail. For books, waste factors are high, logistics are expensive and returns remain a major factor. Digital solves these problems, and even though paper costs may be a bit higher, the economics remain favorable. Digital book printing can be a one-off printed by Amazon or by a digital book printer like Lightning Source, but for these “new generation” digital ink jet presses; this is about medium length runs and keeping the printing cost under control, while slashing inventory and logistics costs. For direct mail, the economics are equally compelling. It is much better to print 500,000 copies of personalized, targeted direct mail and get a response rate of 8 to 10 percent than to print a million copies and get a 2 percent return.

For now, the installed base of digital inkjet presses is small, but as the base grows, run lengths at the mills will lengthen and costs will come down. This will provide a stimulus to demand for digital print, and the range of applications will increase. The new presses have been described as “disruptive technology,” i.e. technology that will change the rules of the game. And ultimately, these new rules will mean more digital inkjet papers.

 Jack Miller is Principal Consultant, Market-Intell, a supplier of strategic consulting and “Need to Know” market intelligence in paper, print and packaging. He can be contacted at     

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