A Guide to the Changing World of Inkjet Papers

Inkjet papers have become much more versatile over the past few years. There are a great number of printers just starting to move into inkjet production. What should these newbies to inkjet production know about inkjet papers?

The answer, says Normand Champagne, general sales and marketing manager for Cascades Fine Papers Group, is they need to know ink technology and choose an appropriate paper for the technology. “There are dye and pigmented inks and, in most cases, they will perform differently with different papers,” Champagne says. “Our paper has been designed to be compatible with both technologies, and work equally well. That’s been tested by the major OEM inkjet press manufacturers.”

Printers also must understand that if treated paper is not selected and used, the quality of the print will be affected. That’s because a treated paper will control ink absorption, ensure the intensity of the color will remain as desired, and will not totally penetrate the sheet, Champagne advises.

Finally, Champagne suggests printers get to know recycled product. “Our product at Cascades is made from 100 percent recycled product, and it will not have a lower performance on the machine than virgin product,” he says. “It actually looks like virgin product, because the surface treatment hides the contaminants from the recycled fibers.”

For his part, Garth Geist, director of sourcing for xpedx, believes printers must look at and optimize not just the paper, but the entire system, consisting of paper and ink. One of the earliest adopters of digital printing, even going so far as to write his own digital printing guide, Geist is an expert on the latest innovations and trends in inkjet systems.

“You can run a paper through an inkjet press, but if it’s not optimized or otherwise treated to enhance the quality of the results you achieve, you won’t be pleased with the results,” he says. “Manufacturers of the equipment and the paper mills are working more closely together to find that balance of the right papers for the right inkjet system, to provide end users with acceptable quality.”

It all comes down to the paper’s ability to absorb water at production rated speed, Geist says. “Whether they’re pigmented or dye-based inks, there’s a vehicle that carries that pigment or dye, and that’s water,” he adds.

 

Paper Evolution

In comparing inkjet papers, the old adage of you get what you pay for really rings true, Geist says, noting there’s quite a spectrum in quality levels of paper. “But these particular papers do get very technical,” he adds. “The process of putting ink on paper has always been a challenge, but these production inkjet systems are really pushing the limit and driving technological advancement between the paper and printing system like nothing before.”

The porosity of the paper, the basis weight of the paper, and the surface chemistry all come into play in determining how fast the sheet will dry and the level of quality obtained. Many paper companies worldwide have been working to find that elusive balance. “Whoever unlocks that secret of that balance at production speeds with the quality they‘re seeking, and offers that at a more economical price point will tap into a bigger part of the market,” Geist says.

Champagne believes the quality of inkjet printing has improved over the recent past not just because of the improvement in the quality of paper, but because of the improvement in the quality of the presses and inks. “For sure, in all of that evolution of the paper formulation for inkjet product, the latest technologies that have recently been introduced have contributed greatly to the result looking very much like offset,” he comments.

 

Use in Non-inkjet Printers

Some inkjet papers can be used in toner and offset output devices. However, for many specialized treated inkjet papers for production web systems, that is not recommended, Geist comments.

The reason? The surface characteristics are very different. “Toner-based systems work by fusing toner through heat and pressure,” he says. “That system likes smooth papers. Inkjet production systems, by their nature, require a more open, porous surface to absorb water. You want that droplet of ink to fix where it’s placed, and you don’t want it to spread or wick into the sheet. Typically, that surface chemistry doesn’t work well in toner-based systems.”

Champagne reports, “I can’t speak for all the products, but the Cascades product is compatible with both printing technologies.”

 

What about Expense?

Remember that earlier cited adage that goes “You get what you pay for”? Inkjet paper is more expensive due to the specialized nature of the coatings and the fact that its formulation is more technical, Geist says. “Paper making and printing have always been an art and science,” he says. “These particular papers exhibit much more science and technology in terms of what you’re asking them to do, and there‘s the added cost of chemicals and coatings.”

Champagne agrees inkjet paper is more expensive than non-inkjet paper. The added cost is due to the surface treatment, he reports. “The cost related to the surface treatment has an impact on the paper’s formulation,” he says. “As a result, there’s a small price premium attached to the product.” While there is additional expense, at least it doesn’t cost more to store the papers. They typically require no more specialized storage than standard printing papers. In any printing environment, paper should be kept wrapped in its original packaging as long as possible prior to being used for printing.

That’s the case for inkjet as well as conventional papers, which means they should be stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment right up until the time they will be used. “We recommend you remove the wrapper as close as possible to the production time,” Champagne advises.

 

Versatility

One frequently asked question is whether there are different inkjet papers for different applications. Indeed there are, Geist says.

Very high quality coated inkjet papers work very well for high-resolution images, such as photographs. But there are also what Geist calls economical coated inkjet papers that provide a “good enough” quality. “Then you get into surface treated uncoated papers,” he says. “Again, they are not to the level of coated, but there are high-quality uncoated papers and more moderately priced uncoated papers for these systems, all designed for production inkjet printing.”

In the case of the Cascades products, there are not different inkjet papers for different applications, Champagne says. “With the Cascades product, you don’t have to differentiate because Cascades products are compatible with all technologies and all the OEMs,” he says. “Our product at Cascades is made from 100 percent recycled fibers, and made using renewable energy, because we use bio-gas to power our paper machines. That makes Cascades a greener solution.

“It’s also the only product in North America certified chlorine-free. That’s a big issue, because the chlorine-based manufacturing process could damage the delicate ecosystem of the continent’s river and streams.”

Geist closes the discussion saying, “Over the past couple years, xpedx has seen good growth in production inkjet papers, mainly in purchasing and transactional printing markets,” he says. “However, we’re just starting to see growth that’s gotten our attention in what we would consider commercial printing markets. That growth has become meaningful enough that xpedx is starting to track it on a month-to-month basis.”

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