There’s one overarching theme when it comes to what’s new in the world of digital substrates. That theme is that printers have more options than ever, which means they also have more opportunities to spark creativity than before.
“Today, they won’t struggle to get what they‘ve grown accustomed to on the offset side, but for digital platforms,” says Bob Niesen, senior vice president of sales and marketing at GPA, Specialty Substrate Solutions. “There are some press capabilities that serve as a limitation. But they can get coated or uncoated, textured, finished items, felts and linens, pressure-sensitive labels and stickers, and plastics and synthetics. The reason for this is that the machines are able to do more, and companies like ours are enabling a much larger range of substrates to perform nearly flawlessly on digital machines.”
That wider range of substrates puts printers in a position to give customers more choices, Niesen continues. Run lengths are getting steadily shorter, but relevancy is more important than ever and can be achieved through QR codes, personalization, and more.
“If you do a good job on those and put the piece on a real cool substrate, you’re going to get noticed,” he says. “Printers have to educate themselves on these, but by being a thought leader for their customers, they’re going to put themselves in a position to increase their revenues.”
From her standpoint, Cathy Kimpton, marketing manager for the MACtac distribution group, says sheet size is also changing. Once, sheets were offered in 12x18 inches, but now can be found in 13x19 sizes. “We also get an increasing number of requests for customized sheets,” she says.
As for opportunities, Kimpton says printers that have commercial offset presses and are buying digital presses are trying to give clients consistent color. “This helps printers provide their clients with a wider range of services—the small personalized piece as well as large commercial print jobs of 10,000 units.
“That’s the big buzzword out there: color management. Before, digital was not considered up to the color quality of an offset press, but now it’s getting so close. It’s the media and the equipment together facilitating this change.”
Appleton Coated, a coated paper manufacturer, is offering among its fully commercialized products Utopia Inkjet Gloss. Product manager Howard Kirby says this is the best-performing gloss product for the high-speed inkjet web presses in its price range. “We also just improved Utopia Inkjet Dull, to give it higher sheet gloss, higher image gloss, and improved durability,” Kirby adds. “And we’ve launched a line of products in our matte family, Utopia Book Inkjet Matte P.E., which stands for piazo-electric. That is for OEMs that are not HP and Kodak.”
Opening New Doors
With the gloss and dull, printers now have capability on fully digital high-speed inkjet platforms to produce very near offset quality on substrates that look like offset substrates. “You can do magazines, brochures, sales mailing pieces for direct mail that are very comparable to an offset printed piece,” Kirby says. “In fact, we’ve done some work with inkjet web press owners where a lay person would struggle to see the difference between this and offset.”
With Book Inkjet Matte P.E., an entirely new group of press owners can move into digital publishing, and produce custom published materials that include very short-run books, textbooks, trade books, and manuals, Kirby says.
At Neenah Paper, director of marketing Kingsley Shannon reports, “When we’re looking at digital, we’re looking at how to take that offset we offer, and really make sure we position that same offering in the digital space. We realize a lot of printers are migrating from offset to digital. And areas we’re seeing that are new center around unique products we offer in the colored substrates, like red, black, chocolate brown, and navy blue. They’re really good at showing off some of the newer ink technologies, like HP’s beautiful white ink.”