Specialty Papers

By Steve Katz | August 20, 2008

Environmental concerns are proving to be a driving force behind innovation and change for this important product.

The labeling industry, along with society in general, is clearly undergoing major changes in light of what can be referred to as the Green Revolution. Environmental concerns are having a profound effect on the manufacturing process, and this can be seen in the shift in how specific products are defined and classified. Specialty papers are a good example. The word "paper" is derived from the ancient Egyptians use of the papyrus plant in producing what historians believe was the first substrate used for writing and printing. The Chinese, thousands of years later, created paper using bast and mulberry fibers. Thus, people have come to associate the key ingredients in paper manufacturing with plants and trees. Meanwhile, today, the notion of unearthing vegetation has somewhat of a negative connotation as this process seems to violate a "green" way of thinking. That said, products are being made available to label converters which are challenging consumers to perhaps redefine the conventional thinking about just what paper is.

Webster's defines paper as "a felted sheet of usually vegetable fibers laid down on a fine screen from a water suspension." For the "Is it paper?" debate, the use of the word "usually" within the definition should be noted. Webster's also provides a secondary definition that reads "a similar sheet of other material." So with that said, it appears safe to say that a substrate composed of a material other than plant life is indeed a paper.

Label converters have always had choices and their choices are expanding in the wake innovations that are providing opportunities to produce a greener product.


Natural Source Printing (NSP), based in Orange, CA, USA, is producing a material it refers to as a "tree-free paper." The product is called Fiberstone, and its name has a lot to do with how it's made. Fiberstone is a paper that is not made from trees. In fact, it is made from one of the most accessible natural resources on earth – stone.

FiberStone paper is made from 80 percent calcium carbonate and 20 percent non-toxic resin (HDPE – high density polyethylene). The calcium carbonate comes from limestone collected as waste material from existing quarries serving the building and construction industry. It is ground into a fine powder that can be compared to chalk, and the HDPE acts as a binder for the calcium carbonate. Together, these two ingredients create a new type of tree-free substrate that is both waterproof and tear resistant.

The green characteristics of FiberStone don't stop at its tree-free nature. Its manufacture also does not involve any water consumption or bleaching chemicals, and its production uses about one third less energy than virgin paper.

Applications using FiberStone tree-free paper
"FiberStone paper is made with a clean production process which does not utilize water or emit toxic air. FiberStone is free of bleach, acid, or other chemicals. Because it doesn't require water for its manufacture, it saves more than just trees," says Mary Loyer, president of NSP. "I think that everyone's been searching for ways to be more eco-friendly, and FiberStone offers a completely new perspective."
Loyer points out that one of Fiberstone's benefits is the ability of its users to quantify and put into numbers the product's environmental impact. She refers to the Wal-Mart Sustainability Scorecard, which has become a popular tool among converters for self-evaluation. "Fiberstone is perfect for people who are all about using the numbers to show results. In regard to a product, some people might simply say 'Hey, this is all natural!' But FiberStone has the numbers to really quantify its sustainability," Loyer says.

The numbers she's referencing do make a strong case for FiberStone when it is compared to both paper made from 100 percent virgin tree pulp and paper made from 100 percent recycled tree pulp.

Let's take a look. Jim Motavalli, in his book The Paper Chase, provides some numbers for comparison: He says that in order to produce one ton of traditional wood pulp papers, an average of four tons of wood chips are used, the equivalent of about 23 large trees. For paper made from the recycled pulp, the estimate is four trees. Motavalli also reports that 3 million tons of chlorine are used annually to bleach wood pulp white. Loyer states that in order to produce that same amount (one ton) of FiberStone, zero trees are used and no bleach is used. By comparison, the difference in the amount of water usage is also quite impressive. One ton of wood pulp papers uses 16,000 gallons of water, and 9,000 gallons are used when using recycled pulp, while FiberStone uses zero gallons.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a US based nonprofit environmental advocacy group, provides additional calculations that quantify FiberStone's footprint. The organization is nonpartisan, and its work often advocates market-based solutions to environmental problems. EDF concludes that the use of FiberStone, over traditional wood pulp papers, again using that same ton for comparison, eliminates 167 pounds of solid waste that would otherwise be generated, 42 pounds of water borne waste, and 236 pounds of atmospheric emissions.

While these numbers are certainly impressive, a skeptical label converter may be wondering about FiberStone's performance. Jeff Salisbury, president of Label Impressions, Orange, CA, USA, says that his company began working with the material due to its eco-friendly properties.
"We decided to go with it because it has a compelling sustainability and carbon footprint story. But it also stands up on its own merit as a label material," he says.

"FiberStone is a very interesting product. On our first few trials there were issues with opacity, adhesion, and color but NSP was able to work with us and give us detailed information on exactly what we needed to do on press to overcome these obstacles. We've printed about a dozen jobs on FiberStone including a few digital runs, shower and bath products, food labels, one embossed project, and we're currently working on wine label projects for two major wineries using Technicote's IP400 Ice Bucket adhesive. In several cases we've been asked to match printing on a FiberStone box and did so without issue," says Salisbury.

Working with FiberStone in a variety of applications has allowed Salisbury to test the limits of what it can do.

"The material seems to have few limitations. We've printed with both water based and UV inks and have seen no loss in speed or quality when printed using NSP's guidelines. NSP has supplied us with several different adhesives. The face is similar to a high quality matte litho but we've applied UV gloss and matte varnishes and both gloss and matte laminations printed without issue. Some customers ask for protective coatings but we've found that FiberStone doesn't really require protection. We've had one label soaking in fresh water for over six months and put another into salt water about two weeks ago. Both have held up with no damage to the paper and no ink bleed. The inks we used for this were water based," Salisbury says.

"As a green printer we love the sustainability and carbon footprint story but the coolest thing about this material is it's paper-like feel and film-like performance. It's the only eco-friendly material we've tried that actually performs well," he adds.

FiberStone labeling materials are available with a wide variety of adhesive and liner combinations exclusively through NSP at 866-551-4NSP.

Pure Labels

Channeled Resources Group, Chicago, IL, USA, a recycler and supplier of both traditional and non-traditional papers, has partnered with Distant Village Packaging, also based in Chicago, to form a new company called Pure Labels. This new company is producing a new paper substrate, also called Pure Labels. Designated by its makers as being "treeless," the paper's consistency is far from typical.
"We have a substrate we believe to be 100 percent pure," states Calvin Frost, CEO, Channeled Resources. "Pure means, in our opinion, that there is no involvement of any material that does not meet sustainability practices."

Cellulose is the organic compound culled from wood pulp that is mainly used to produce paper. The Pure Labels paper does not contain any cellulose. This substrate is made from different fibers from trees such as the leaves and bark, specifically the parts of the tree that would traditionally be disposed of.

"When we say 'treeless,' we are saying that Pure Labels is produced without the typical cellulosic structure. We do not use the components of the tree that would be used in traditional paper manufacturing. Pure Labels is made by using the byproducts that would traditionally be thrown out," says Frost.

Banana leaves are an example of one of the different types of fibers used to manufacture Pure Labels. The substrate is available in two choices, Wildgrass Paper and Banana Leaf.

Frost says that this new product is "incredibly sustainable," taking into account the release liner and adhesives used to create the completed labelstock. The two adhesives the company is using with Pure Labels are a recycled Dynatec adhesive and a bio-degradable product from Eco-Synthetics.

As for release liner, Pure Labels are converted solely with reclaimed liner. Reclaimed release liner is the spent liner picked up from converters or end users that would otherwise be discarded.

Frost wouldn't think to print with solvent or UV inks on Pure Labels, saying that they'll only use water or vegetable based ink. Pure Labels topcoats its product with an organic coating.

This new company has an exclusive agreement for the supply of its treeless paper, which obtains its materials from the jungles of the South Pacific. According to the company, it sources it stock from remote villages in "economically dislocated communities where villagers create the 'treeless' paper."

In addition to its environmentally friendly nature, the company also takes pride in its socially responsible business practices. "Our relationships with our sources, suppliers, and employees are not only environmentally friendly, but also non-exploitative of local communities. Our entire process is sustainable, meaning we do not deplete any resources for future use without renewing them or even creating additional resources," Frost says.

Pure Labels sells both the tree-free substrate alone, as well as printed labels.


The Fasson Roll North America division of Avery Dennison, Mentor, OH, USA, offers a wide range of products that the company classifies as specialty papers. The company prides itself on its ability to work with customers in supplying them with right specialty paper to meet their needs.

David Collins, product manager, specialty papers, outlines Avery's specialty paper products. He breaks down the products into five distinct groups of specialty papers: laminated foils, Maxflex papers featuring vacuum metalizing, fast prism line holographics, fluorescents, and dissolvable products.
Avery's laminated foils are available in both silver and gold colors with bright or dull options. "These papers have foils which are then laminated to the paper. Many of our customers are converting these papers for both prime and promotional labeling purposes. But we also see some very different end usages with these. It'll even get flipped around and used as a block out, particularly for pharmaceutical labeling," Collins explains.

The MaxFlex line of papers is a premium finish, metallized paper that provides a highly reflective silver appearance, thus enabling a metallic look. These papers are produced using a vacuum metalizing process where chrome plated pieces of metal with an electrical charge are affixed to the paper. "It is a very smooth and bright silver sheet and it's really used extensively in prime food and beverage labeling," Collins says.

Avery's fast prism line of holographic specialty papers is an example of a product's ability to provide two purposes, working as a decorative effect as well as a security label. "For decorative purposes, these papers are really kind of fun because they allow for so many custom options. In bigger applications, we find that people are using them as a special effect, for pulling people in. As far as being used as a security device, we see a lot of these papers being used for authentication purposes, to ensure you're buying a legitimate product," Collins says. Examples of this, he says, include the small stickers placed on new sports teams baseball caps and the small holographic sticker that binds CD and DVD packages.

Collins says that Avery's fluorescent specialty papers are primarily used for utilitarian purposes, to "deliver a message in a quick and concise manner." Examples, he says, include the price stickers one might find on a loaf of bread in the supermarket. Other examples are warning labels, promotions, or what Collins calls "consumer communication." Colors available include reds, oranges, greens, chartreuse, and pink, to name a few.

The dissolvable product line of specialty papers the company offers are mostly used in the food service industry. Collins says these papers utilize a special adhesive allowing the label to wash off and disintegrate. He says they're often found on produce totes, or in situations when mass quantities of food are rotated for inspection or washing, with the label being affixed to inform the staff of what stage in process the food products have reached. Once, that information has been communicated, it's safe for the label to be washed away.

Fasson acknowledges that being "green" is fast becoming a necessary part of doing business within the labeling industry. In addition to the aforementioned specialty papers the company offers, Fasson manufactures some specialty paper products that are included in the Fasson Eco-Friendly Portfolio. These products listed in the portfolio have the distinction of being made with renewable resources or recycled content.

Fasson's Tree-Free papers are part of the portfolio. These renewable papers are a white, uncoated facestock and they're made from a combination of bamboo, bagasse (sugar cane), and cotton linters. Cotton linters are fine, silky fibers which adhere to the seeds of the cotton plant after ginning.

Other specialty paper products included in the Eco-Friendly Portfolio are the Estate Label #10, Classic Crest Recycled Solar White, and Matte Litho Recycled. These FSC certified papers are made from 30 percent post consumer waste, which means they are manufactured using fibers, previously used by consumers, that have been turned into paper.

Appleton's new offerings

Appleton, headquartered in Appleton, WI, USA, is a company that produces carbonless, thermal, security and performance packaging products. The company has developed a new specialty paper product specifically designed for retail pharmaceutical applications called Résiste Rx.

Résiste Rx is significant for being highly durable. The facestock provides chemical resistance to household cleaners and hand sanitizers, soaps and lotions, water and humidity, and heat and light. This specialty paper provides a label with a level of durability that lasts the full life cycle of a prescription, from the time the label is printed to when the patient takes the last dose.

"Résiste Rx is designed specifically for patient safety because it is highly resistant to fading or smudging," says Mike Cove, marketing manager for identification papers. "It's vital for pharmacy customers to be able to read their drug name, dosage, expiration date and refill information for the life of the prescription, even though the label could be exposed to a lot of different substances."

Appleton conducted extensive research when they designed the product, taking into account the numerous possibilities of what a pharmaceutical label may be exposed to. The research team took into account products that are found in household bathrooms and kitchens in particular, where prescription medications could have the most incidental contact with these substances.         

"When we looked at testing the Résiste Rx facestock, our criteria had to accommodate a truly broad spectrum of exposure possibilities," Cove says. "Our tests covered different types and brands of household cleaners, ammonia and bleach. We also tested it against mouthwash and hand sanitizers, isopropyl alcohol to shave lotions, as well as other chemical materials and environmental factors. When you think about it, a prescription label can come in contact with a lot of different types of materials, so we wanted to be absolutely sure our coating formulation provided superior chemical resistance performance."

According to Appleton, Résiste Rx can be used with or without an additional over-varnish for added protection, which does not affect imaging sensitivity. The new stock was developed to give retail pharmacies, in-store, auto-fill and mail order, a viable alternative as a growing number of pharmaceutical printers continue their transition from laser and thermal transfer printing to direct thermal printing. The shift to direct thermal is fueled by the need to improve efficiency, comply with the Federal Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations, meet FDA drug labeling requirements for bar codes and increased information.

When manufacturing products for pharmaceutical or medical purposes, the products' ability to meet federal health and safety requirements must be taken into account. Because direct thermal prints without a ribbon, pharmacists automatically are in compliance with federal requirements to destroy used ribbons. Operationally, direct thermal improves overall pharmacy productivity because there is only one consumable, the paper. Direct thermal also increases labeling efficiencies by reducing label rework due to readability issues related to ribbon wrinkling, smudging and misalignment.

"Today's pharmacy labeling requirements demand facestocks that combine outstanding image retention with robust environmental resistance," Cove adds. "Résiste Rx is a product that meets all the needs of pharmaceutical applications. Our due diligence is based on a 'right the first time' approach to an industry where the label is mission critical in terms of drug administration and consumer safety."

Appleton has also recently introduced LightSafe 300, a direct thermal labelstock featuring what the company says are unsurpassed non-yellowing characteristics. Appleton is promoting this product as the longest-lasting direct thermal paper available for warehouse and supply chain label applications. Engineered and developed by Appleton, the patent-pending LightSafe Technology is designed to enable the substrate to maintain its original clean white appearance for more than two years or longer when exposed to typical high levels of warehouse industrial lighting.

Appleton conducted UV exposure tests of LightSafe using a QUV Accelerated Weathering Tester. The QUV tester is recognized as a standard in the paint industry to test the weathering characteristics of exterior paint and stains. It holds samples in a chamber that has the ability to adjust the conditions and time cycle to simulate various exposures.

LightSafe Technology, Appleton says, is UV resistant, which is best described as resisting discoloration (yellowing) when left for extended periods of time in a well-lit warehouse with high levels of indirect sunlight and/or conventional warehouse lighting. UV resistance, as related to the LightSafe product, does not mean resistance to direct sunlight.

A converter has so many choices when choosing which line of labelstock best suits the job at hand. Factoring into the decision are several variables including the types of environmental elements the label will be exposed to, such as temperature and lighting. Of course, other factors include dollars and cents. To help customers with the decision making process, Appleton has developed a label facestock selection tool designed to make it easier for converters to perfectly match direct thermal paper performance with label requirements to deliver a more cost-effective solution.

Appleton's Label Facestock Selector lets converters select the application and other factors to help them select the right stock.
The selector tool, call the Label Facestock Selector, lists 22 label applications, including baggage tags, compliance, industrial, infrared, near-infrared, package delivery, pharmaceutical, RFID, warehouse and weigh scale. The tool calculates primary and secondary recommendations, as well as cross-references each application with specific ribbonless thermal facestock attributes. This enables users to choose the product most appropriate for the specific application based on usage duration, print speed, bar code orientation, scanning requirements and resistance characteristics.

The recently upgraded calculator is available for free from Appleton by e-mailing a request to tatp@appletonideas.com.

UPM Raflatac

UPM Raflatac, headquartered in the USA in Fletcher, NC, is a leading supplier of pressure sensitive labelstock. The company has a line of specialty paper products with the narrow web converter in mind. In particular, UPM offers prime specialty paper products such as a complete wine label range and its Pharmagloss products, as well as a sustainable product line.

Lee Green, product manager, prime labeling, talks about the advantages of using UPM's specialty papers. "UPM Raflatac's Pharmagloss range offers pliability for small-diameter labeling while paired with an excellent print surface. Adhesives range from standard permanent for small diameter labeling to non-migration and direct food contact versions. Also, UPM Raflatac offers a complete wine range with coated, uncoated and metalized papers, as well as film facestocks. Additionally, a digitally top-coated Estate face has recently been added to the range. Four sustainable-fiber versions are also available."

Green says that sustainability has become the most prominent theme in the industry and its role in regards to specialty papers is no exception. "Sustainability is the biggest trend in the industry in general. While procuring sustainable products is never easy, offering sustainability and specialty performance together can be particularly challenging," Green says, adding, "Our wine products are available as FSC certified or with 100 percent post-consumer-waste (PCW) fiber. Some are available as both FSC and 100 percent PCW. All wine products are available with PET liner, which offers strength for high-speed labeling with no fiber consumption."
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