Specialty Paper Substrates

By Susan A. Eliya | September 7, 2005

Beyond basic papers in pursuit of the new and unusual

Paper is not the same material that was first made by the ancient Chinese 2,000 years ago. Originally used for writing and later printing, paper is now put to countless uses in a multitude of industries. According to First Research, paper product sales are booming, and paper producers are building inventories fast to meet orders. The research firm, based in Raleigh, NC, USA, reports also that wholesale paper and paper products were up almost 21 percent in November 2004 from 2003, to $7.16 billion. (The company publishes purchaseable industry profiles that provide analyses on the market, statistics, issues, changes, and concerns on particular industries.)

According to Jarkko Pajusalo, director of merchant and specialty papers at UPM-Kymmene, Westmont, IL, "The paper market is fairly strong right now, and that strength comes from our customers' businesses being fairly strong. It's typically driven by GDP growth. The US economy has been growing for over a year already and we see that in the demand for paper also." (UPM is the parent of Raflatac.)

First Research also notes that prices for wood pulp can fluctuate sharply from year to year, depending partly on energy costs; changes of 25 percent within a year are not unusual. Paper manufacturers pass these costs to converters, who are not always able to pass increases to customers. Some US paper manufacturers are spending more time getting raw materials from a declining number of sawmills across the country. With fewer sawmills, some paper manufacturers must travel farther to buy supplies.

Cindy White, president of Channeled Resources, observes, "The paper industry in general goes through tumultuous ups and downs. Last year, prices finally started going up. The paper market is a yo-yo: Every three to four years it goes down, every three to four years it goes up. It is much related to the economy but also from the market pressures overseas coming into the US." Channeled Resources, located in Chicago, obtains B-grade materials from large suppliers and redistributes those materials to other converters in North America; some products go to overseas markets. Materials deemed unacceptable for all markets are made into fuel pellets and burned for energy.

Gadi Hoenig, head of the security division of Tadbik, Petach Tikva, Israel, says it is difficult to determine if paper market conditions affect sales, because "If someone needs to put a label on his product, then he needs to put a label on his product. He may try to move to cheaper papers or cheaper materials but he needs the label." Tadbik produces packaging, labels, shrink sleeves, and labeling equipment, and is the parent company of Logotech in Fairfield, NJ.

Market usage

The package decoration market often goes beyond basic papers in pursuit of the new and unusual. Choosing a specialty paper for a label means weighing many critical characteristics. Specialty papers have different production properties and different print and converting requirements.

As the market continues to mature and become more sophisticated, printability requirements are increasing and demands from papers are growing. Among the most popular types of specialty papers are those that can easily be printed on and those that can be used in various markets.

A cork paper from Manter's
Luxury Gourmet Label Collection
"Regarding face materials, printability is one of the most important characteristics," says Pajusalo. "Customers also choose face materials based on the runnability of their converting lines and their customers' converting lines, whether it's coating, laminating, printing, or diecutting. Runnability on the machine is getting more and more crucial. With liners, product performance is the key, which is also important for the face materials."

Darren Headland is an area manager for Manter, of Girona, Spain, a producer of PS papers and films. He says the most important characteristics to be considered when choosing a specialty paper are to focus your strategy towards differentiation, add value to a product, cost effectiveness, performance for the required application, and availability and supplier demand for quantity and quality.

Don Berger, director of the Prime Papers division of Avery Dennison Fasson Roll, Painesville, OH, emphasizes the suitability of the application in selection of a specialty label paper. "While obvious on the surface, application suitability is the most important attribute for selecting a specialty paper or substrate. Converters must consider printing and aesthetic requirements, plus specific functionality requirements of the application to meet the end user's needs. For example, while metalized paper and laminated foil on the surface appear very similar, each of these 'metal look' products performs very differently when looking at performance criteria such as flexibility and barrier properties. We recommend securing specific end-use requirements and testing procedures for each application, and then fitness-for-use testing in the actual application."

Brady Glett, VP of the Roll Products division of Spinnaker Coating, Troy, OH, says that customers want a high-end look in the materials they select for their labels. "They are looking for a material that they can print on, block out the holographic or reflective surface in certain areas and leave it exposed in other areas, so that it has a very high-end look to it," he says. "From a graphics and color standpoint, the brightness and color of the sheet is important, whether it's a specialty paper or whether it's white because of the interaction of the inks to the paper. You want a nice smooth bright printing surface that actually keeps the ink as close to the surface as possible."

Label customers want brighter shades, substrates that can give a high print quality and grab the attention of the consumer, says Chip Ficyk, technical marketing manager of MACtac, Stow, OH. "They really want those labels to pop and grab someone's attention for that on-the-shelf appeal."

White says that choosing a specialty paper depends on what the end user is trying to do. "From gloss levels to what sheen or finish a product has, it all depends on what the end user is trying to accomplish," she says. "That's where the label printer has to work with his customers."

Environmental factors

Some labels spend their lives in shower stalls and bathtubs. Some live outdoors, or on motors. Others decorate containers that take a physical beating, or that contain substances that can damage or corrode the paper, the adhesive, or both. The label's end-use environment, therefore, must be known before the label is created.

"The construction of the label needs to fit the environment it goes to," says Hoenig. "Think about sunscreens. There is oil in them, and if the oil penetrates the label you get edge lift. There are some kinds of hot stamping that will dissolve under hot water. In food, there are also some things to consider, such as if the package goes into the refrigerator or deep freezer."

"In the industrial market," adds Glett, "labels are going through difficult environments a lot of the time, such as under the hood of your car."

"Grease resistance is a big one," says Michael O'Connell, market manager of Neenah Paper, Alpharetta, GA. "Also, if you take ordinary paper and run it through an inkjet printer in your office, it's not going to stand up to the water or coffee you spill on it." Stability in the presence of heat is another factor, O'Connell adds.

Specialty uses

Specialty papers offer the ability to design specific performance characteristics to meet application requirements, add higher value for converters' customers, and give the opportunity for creative and differentiating product development. Their use also can provide a higher profitability than core offerings.

According to Berger, "Specialty papers characteristically have specific performance attributes that the end user is looking for. This list of potential needs or attributes is extensive. A visual attribute like color or finish is common. Barrier properties afforded by a foil laminate, flexibility and cost effectiveness offered by metalized paper or the tamper resistance of a UL-recognized material are just a small sampling of less visually obvious attributes a converter may need to achieve."

White says, "The fluorescents that we sell usually go into less sophisticated applications. They are more useful for trying to get someone's attention, maybe a label that reads, 'Hot Price' or 'Sale'."

"Fluorescents are a quick attention getter. They are used as price markings or warning labels," says Ficyk.

Glett says, "The vast majority of fluorescents are used for promotional items," notes Glett. "Sometimes they are used for hunting licenses where high visibility is needed. They are certainly lower in costs than the holographics. Holographic papers are used far less than metalized papers but they are often used for promotional items. Sometimes they are used for kiddie stickers because they have that far-out look to them."

Papers courtesy of Avery Dennison Fasson Rol

"Holographics are used for special products such as kids' stuff, and foil laminated papers are used in beauty products and also in prime foods, like specialties," says Hoenig.

"Foil laminated papers are mainly used in decorative packaging-type applications," says O'Connell. "For example, CD-ROM covers or even the outside covering of a Cartier watch box."

According to Metallized Papers & Films: World Sourcebook 2004, published by AWA Alexander Watson Associates, the world demand in 2003 for metalized materials was estimated at 552,550 tons, and is forecast to increase at an annual rate of 7 percent between 2003 to 2007 to an estimated volume of 711,200 tons. In 2003, metalized paper volumes were estimated at 179,100 tons (32 percent of the global metalized product market). The study also determined that metalized label papers accounted for 23 percent of the total global market for volume use of metalized materials.

Ficyk says, "Metalized papers are used where customers want a reflective look. You can see this in automotive-type applications like motor oils, or some type of additive or cleaning product for the auto industry. Many times you'll see metalized products popping up in the food market, such as meat labeling, like hams or even in sauces."

"Metalized papers are used for health and beauty aids, liquor, wines, really anything related to cosmetics or expensive items," says Glett.

Industry demands

Each industry has a different request for the production of its labels, and each demand is crucial for the sales, safety and effectiveness of their marketing.

"In the pharmaceutical industry, you've got some highly technical requests where you need conformability to a small container," says O'Connell. "Performance characteristics above and beyond a standard paper or film are required."

"For pharmaceuticals, what people want is a very smooth, highly reliable print surface and very tight adhesion to the bottle," says Glett. "The consequences are dire. Instead of .5 dosage, you can have a 5 if the point is missing, so they are looking for highly reliable versatile print surfaces. And they are also looking for very tight adhesion to the bottle so that nobody can remove the label and use it somewhere else or use it for counterfeiting."

Label courtesy of Manter
"These market-driven requests are usually very application and/or end-user specific," says Berger. "Typically there will be a specific appearance or performance need that the end user wants for the package." Barrier properties, for example, often are a requirement in food markets.

The specialty paper market also faces challenges which affect the quality of the paper. "The narrow web printing market is getting more and more sophisticated and the printability requirements are higher," says Pajusalo. "UV flexo is getting stronger and it puts higher demands on the papers, so we have to have papers which are suitable for that process."

Specialty papers can present challenges in various  processes. "Specialty papers are more abusive on dies," says Ficyk. "If you are just diecutting a semi-gloss, you are cutting through the semi-gloss coating and the base paper of the product. When you get into metalized papers, for example, you are cutting through the base paper that the metallization has been applied to, and then a top coat on the surface, so now you are cutting through multiple layers and the die can become dull sooner.

"Paper is a bit friendlier to print because you are printing right through a surface of a paper," he adds. "It's much more absorbent and you can achieve certain hold-outs. When you are dealing with metalized papers, for example, you are printing through a topcoat, which may be a little more difficult to achieve. If somebody wanted to foil stamp a semi-gloss and they didn't want the rest of the label to be reflective, then you have to change the way you lay down the ink, because the ink could bleed through. You may have to apply a primer coat or another bump of ink."

Berger explains that holographic papers are microembossed metalized papers with two-dimensional holographic diffraction patterns. "Holographic materials used for labeling are typically inherently printable or topcoated to ensure printability by most conventional print methods such as flexo, letterpress, screen and offset.  Holographic materials typically do have a shim line that needs to be taken into consideration during label layout. This shim line is inherent in the holographic manufacturing process."

As for challeges in diecutting and finishing, or the effects on press speed, Berger says that holographic papers are smilar to standard metalized or coated papers.


In addition to environment, shelf presence is a huge factor of why companies use specialty papers. A product needs to stand out among the hundreds of other products on the same shelf. "Whoever wants the shelf image to differentiate themselves, makes the product as sellable as possible," says Pajusalo.

"From our perspective," says O'Connell, "laser-type

materials seem to be more popular than some of your thermal transfer type materials. If you are going to do thermal transfer, most people use the commodities to do that job. Whereas, where we see things grow is into cut and stack coupon-type applications, in addition to the laser printing applications being pretty popular."

"One of the slight trends is toward using the metalized and holographic papers," says Glett. "Another way of putting a shiny surface onto a label is called hot stamping. Our customers can either do hot stamping which is very slow, expensive, and time-consuming, or they can buy a metalized or reflective paper stock in PS form and print over the areas that they don't want a reflective surface to show up on. More people are demanding metalized papers because they don't want to do hot stamping. The metalized papers cost more than plain white papers per unit but the cost of doing hot stamping offsets any savings you would have on the material."


A big competitor of papers is films. And although the usage of films are growing, there are many ways in which papers are more effective than films. Films may be more durable to chemicals but where films fall short is heat.

O'Connell says that many of the films out there are not going to hold up to the heat requirements of a laser printer or even other types of environments.

"On PS labeling, there is certainly a growth of filmic materials," says Pajusalo, "but they grow mainly in areas where paper has never been a player because of certain product attributes, such as shampoo bottles."

"Film products offer special properties that paper typically is not well suited for, such as the clear, no-label look, and durability, and thus have been an area of growth, says Berger. "That said, paper products are more cost effective and may offer properties not readily matched by film (e.g., printability or ability to tear or destruct under prescribed conditions) and thus both product types have enjoyed success in solving specialty labeling challenges. In some cases we're finding that applications initially introduced with film labels move back to paper after a short time. This may be cost driven or to provide the consumer with a differentiation between levels within a product segment (e.g., dish soap).

Pajusalo says that there are new applications in films and films are potentially eating some of the growth or paper. But while films have become fairly popular, more common and more available, papers aren't going away just yet. "If you are fairly niche oriented in what you are offering," says O'Connell, "the business is fairly stable."

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