New converting technologies such as digital printing have necessitated advancements in paper. To meet evolving needs, paper substrate suppliers now offer a diverse range of products optimized for digital printing – most recently for inkjet in particular.
“Paper seems so mundane and has been used for millennia that we overlook its intrinsic value,” says Jim Sheibley, EVP of sales and marketing at Wausau Coated Products. “It is non-extensible (doesn’t stretch), won’t melt or distort easily, is naturally opaque, warm to the touch, carries texture, and is fully renewable when harvested from FSC, PEFC, or SFI sources.”
There are other benefits to paper, too. Paper is produced in batches of colors and textures not easily accomplished with films. Plus, the awareness for sustainability and environmental friendliness has driven demand for suitable paper options. Lay-flat and printability are also key attributes of some of the newest papers.
“Paper is available in a greater range of textures and looks than film,” says Patricia Mulvey, marketing manager at Green Bay Packaging. “In addition, there are more finishing options and a chance to create a unique label than with film – offering better embossing, hot stamping and diecutting.”
Many popular applications are taking advantage of paper’s attributes. Wet strength paper has seen strong usage in beverage labeling, and cut and stack glue-applied is being selected for larger labeling formats. Converters continue to select paper for various beer, wine and spirits products. Other common applications include logistics, retail, bakery and deli, industrial and medical.
“Paper substrates are generally more economically priced than film items,” says Joel Ulrich, Roll Product marketing manager at Spinnaker Coating. “Some converters find that paper substrates are easier to diecut and process. Plus, paper is often perceived as being more sustainable than its film counterparts.”
Sustainability is key with many suppliers, as well. Cindy White, president and CEO of Channeled Resources Group, believes paper offers inherent advantages over filmic materials. “Paper comes from renewable resources and can be recycled or used for making energy,” she says. “It is economical and easy to print without having to use a variety of top-coatings.”
“We continue to see sustainability driving a lot of trends within the paper product portfolio,” explains Kelli Jo Messer, marketing director, Paper/VI, at Avery Dennison. “The trend is moving to lower basis weight/thinner facestocks for cost and sustainability. This year, we launched our first Think Thin portfolio of papers to allow customers to easily identify these products.
“In the specialty paper segment, we are seeing the premiumization trend driving people to more tactile and unique paper substrates,” she adds.
Paper suppliers have also learned to make fibrous materials more elegant and luxurious, adding mixed fibers, including non-wood fiber, new embossing patterns, and heavier substance weights for more feel or texture. “Recent years have sent paper evolving in multiple directions,” explains Sheibley. “For the variable image track-and-trace category, light-weighting, or ‘reduce,’ has been the theme for weight and resource reduction reasons.”
There is no shortage of competition in the paper market, either, as printers jockey for the best quality at the lowest price. “One thing that is consistent in all businesses is competitive intensity,” explains Ken Liu, CEO of ND Paper. “To be successful, businesses are required to do more with less and drive higher levels of efficiency while still providing high-quality products and consistent service. The evolution of paper-based substrates is reflective of this reality. In our label business, we’ve seen a notable shift to lighter-weight grades. These new products must exhibit the same excellent runnability, throughput and print quality as incumbent substrates. The lower weight, however, provides more value at a given square footage for our customers; we see this trend continuing.”
The proliferation of digital printing has kept substrate manufacturers on their toes, as the influx of printing equipment requires the appropriate materials. Of course, new technologies present new challenges that substrate suppliers need to navigate.
“With the addition of many digital OEMs in the label market, the biggest challenge becomes continuing to develop the right paper products with the right top-coatings that print using each particular technology,” says Spinnaker’s Ulrich. “That might include UV inkjet, water-based inkjet, toner, etc.”
Despite the challenges, there is great interest in stocks that can perform well with digital inkjet printing – which is a hot topic in the label industry. “Inkjet, inkjet, inkjet is the current buzz,” exclaims Wasau Coated’s Sheibley. “They want to know, ‘Where can I find a functional economical labelstock for my inkjet machine?’ The good products are expensive, the inexpensive products don’t work well – optimization is still an unmet need. In addition, inkjet printer models and inks change frequently, often without consulting the substrate provider.”
Sheibley notes that in the label industry, inkjet (encompassing aqueous and UV-cured) is growing briskly, but paper compatible with those processes are uncommon or prohibitively priced.
“We are tugging on paper suppliers to make label-specific products for us,” Sheibley adds.
Today, many substrate suppliers have focused a significant amount of their R&D work on creating suitable substrates for this market. “Digital printing has a large effect on substrate development,” emphasizes Avery Dennison’s Messer. “Avery Dennison has been working directly with OEMs to certify our materials. In turn, we are able to provide a broader range of raw materials that service or leverage the digital value proposition – lower minimum order quantities and increased speed to market. We have optimized top-coats for differing printing methods, and ink developments continue to drive digital applications on standard products.”
Digital presses have evolved, too. HP Indigo historically required a top-coat, but those specialty papers are dwindling as printers buy Indigo presses with inline priming. That isn’t the case for inkjet. “We’re seeing a need for top-coated papers for UV inkjet,” explains Green Bay Packaging’s Mulvey. “Although UV was designed to print just about any face without any special coating, press owners have discovered that some stocks work better with some treatment – a top-coating or corona treatment. And it hasn’t taken long for the press manufacturers to pick up on that and introduce inline treatment on their digital presses.”
Wausau Coated Products also leverages its business development team to connect with OEMs in order to certify new digital materials. Once certified, these products are posted in Wausau Coated’s Digital Technology Guide. “Our advice is to buy an established printer and buy only from suppliers who guide you into their offerings based upon what make and model you own,” says Sheibley. “Big, expensive mistakes have been made by packaging firms in-sourcing labels buying incompatible supplies.”
Spinnaker Coating, meanwhile, has designed its latest product offering, Cascade Premium Matte Inkjet Paper, to accommodate water-based inkjet printing. These products come with a specific top-coating designed to print well with the various dye and pigment ink systems.
New Paper Product Offerings
A host of industry suppliers offer a wide range of paper substrates to the market, optimized for different end uses. These products have been enhanced to provide a premium, tactile look and feel that will stand out on the shelf.
Avery Dennison has a plethora of new FSC-certified paper facestocks, growing its offering to more than 500 products. “The number of FSC products will continue to increase as the company works to meet its aggressive sustainability sourcing goal: to source 100% certified claim paper products by the year 2025, 70% of which must be FSC-certified,” explains Messer. “To date, 84% of all paper facestocks offered by Avery Dennison in North America are certified, and of that, 78% are FSC-certified.”
The Avery Dennison Luminous Collection features distinct papers with a subtle radiance for not-so-subtle shelf appeal. Including silver, white, black, textured and patterned options, these papers are designed to shimmer and shine.
In keeping with environmental friendliness, the TrueCut All-Temp Adhesive Technology – AT2550 – was developed to provide good room temperature and excellent cold temperature performance without sacrificing diecutting and stripping properties. The Think Thin portfolio of papers also comes in thinner constructions. Meanwhile, TTC Eco is a top-coated thermal transfer label construction with a 2.1 mil paper facestock, and 1.5 mil liner.
Green Bay Packaging has released several new papers, including the 56# wet strength silver metalized paper – 56MSW– and a 77# wet strength barrier paper called Polar White (PLRWS). Both materials are ideal for beverages. With Polar White, the barrier keeps the label from becoming translucent when wet in an ice bucket or chest. It is also useful when extra opacity is needed such as for security labels.
ND Paper provides a full line of papers for the cut and stack, and pressure sensitive label markets, from facestocks to wet strength to release liner base. In addition, the company is investigating product options for digital applications, and some print engines are successfully using its standard Oxford products today.
Spinnaker Coating has launched three new paper facestocks: 58# PrimeGlos, ScanTherm Industrial, and Cascade Premium Matte Inkjet Paper. 58# PrimeGlos is a high quality semi-gloss white paper that exhibits excellent strength and print characteristics, while ScanTherm Industrial is a direct thermal paper with a chemically resistant top-coating that provides excellent image durability in industrial environments. The higher activation temperature offers more durability than a standard direct thermal product, with additional resistance to light, heat and moisture.
Cascade Premium Matte Inkjet Paper, which the company recently released, is a premium matte paper designed to be compatible with most desktop, roll-to-roll, and wide-format water-based inkjet printers.
UPM Raflatac recently released a new range of FSC-certified paper facestocks for the Americas market, which will bring the company closer to achieving its target of sourcing wood fiber from 100% certified sources by the year 2030. The new FSC certified products include paper wine label materials, semi-gloss, thermal transfer, direct thermal, and more.
“UPM Raflatac is continuously striving to have the most sustainable label materials portfolio in the industry,” says Tyler Matuseveich, sustainability manager, Americas, UPM Raflatac. “In offering a new range of high quality facestocks on FSC-certified papers for the Americas market, we can assure our customers we always know the origin of fiber and can trace it back to the forest it came from.”
Wausau Coated Products has developed products to meet demand in the digital printing space. According to Sheibley, the company’s natural kraft paper substrate offerings for flexo, Indigo and inkjet “are catching fire.” Wausau Coated Products has also seen success lately with its UV inkjet semi-gloss, especially as the UV inkjet machine installed base grows.
“The growth of inkjet-ready products brings something new to our offering almost every month as users in-source label production on inkjet printers and have special needs,” says Sheibley. “Fiber-based specialties that imitate other materials, such as leather or metal, have been added to our On Trend offering.”
Although paper usage is not rampant in the flexible packaging market, Wausau Coated Products offers elegant paper-faced stand-up-pouch barrier laminates, which are targeted at HP-Indigo operators.
“I’d be remiss to not stress that the HP-Indigo digital solution continues to command attention,” explains Sheibley. “Our offerings for Indigo label and packaging press users continue expanding, and Indigo-optimized stocks continue to grow in demand even though inline primers are provided with most web machines.
Paper’s Future and the Amazon Effect
In the future, a number of factors will affect the advancement of the paper industry. There are positive trends that should promote growth. Functionality, Avery Dennison notes, will increase in the labels space. This could include anything from intelligent or interactive labels to multi-purpose labels.
“I believe more paper mills will be introducing new products to our industry, as the old, traditional printing industry is slowly shrinking,” says Channeled Resources’ White. “The paper mills will be innovating to capture market share with things like higher gloss levels, lower caliper, and on-machine coatings that allow the paper to do unique things.”
“We predict that paper will gain back some share in packaging and foodservice uses and remain strong in the release liner category,” says Wausau Coated’s Sheibley. “For prime labels, we predict paper will hold niche uses well while ceding share to film elsewhere.”
However, there are challenges that the industry will face head on. “With the continuance of acquisitions and mill closures throughout the global market, supply is getting tighter by the day it seems,” states Spinnaker’s Ulrich. “Sustainability is a growing buzzword, and customers are starting to ask for more products to help satisfy their sustainability efforts, too.”
Sustainability will continue to remain a challenge, and concern across the industry will lead to more environmentally-friendly packaging.
“I believe the future of paper-based solutions is strong,” adds ND Paper’s Liu. “Given the mounting environmental impact of film-based labels and packaging, paper provides a readily-available, economical, and proven alternative for label needs.”
According to Sheibley, new technological endeavors will include paper. Track-and-trace uses will remain strong as paper is compatible for recovery and recycling with corrugated. Inkjet printing of VI labels will displace portions of thermal transfer and direct thermal while “the pie grows,” he notes.
As with most of society, Amazon will play a role in paper’s future, as well. “Paper for track-and-trace label applications is enjoying the ‘Amazon Effect’ and growing well year over year,” adds Sheibley.
“While some shippers are looking to save money on packaging by inkjet printing the ‘label’ directly on the shipping box, it hasn’t entered the mainstream yet. So, as ecommerce grows, the use of paper labels for shipping and warehousing will grow with it,” explains Green Bay Packaging’s Mulvey. “If we can keep the small, specialty mills in business, we will be able to offer unique papers that will be attractive to brands that want a distinctive look.”