Today we asked guest author, John Crumbaugh, to discuss the evolution of inkjet paper stocks as it relates to direct mail. As Media & Ink Product Marketing Manager at Canon Solutions America, he is one of the world’s foremost experts on inkjet paper and dyes.
Inkjet production is the single most dramatic change to enter the printing marketplace since DTP and computer to plate. Inside the trade there is much excitement and talk about production inkjet and how it is changing the landscape of print. This change will only increase as more inkjet presses enter the market. That said, print is a big and very diverse market ranging from transactional to book to direct mail and commercial print. Inkjet, while very well developed and in some cases dominant in the transactional and financial print segment, is relatively new to direct mail and commercial print. Direct mail firms who have adopted inkjet over the last several years are actually on the cutting edge of print. Inkjet brings the capability of cost effectively providing mass customization and personalization at levels that were not possible before, but this has not been without challenges. New and powerful front end systems and workflows are required to handle the tremendous data streams required for the variable image printing that is possible with inkjet production presses. In addition to hardware and software, the substrate that practically all printing is done on also had to evolve.
Mills Developing New Inkjet Papers to Meet Quality & Flexibility Requirements
Production inkjet papers began as offset or digital papers that could be printed on using inkjet for an unsophisticated market where the price of production was the main driving force. As inkjet matured, the requirement for papers that could reproduce corporate colors or identity colors and light coverage became the standard for inkjet papers. Specialty divisions at the major paper mills began to make specially treated inkjet sheets that enhanced the print quality of the inkjet presses. The new industry of inkjet treated papers began to take off and with it came the overall production transactional segment. A few companies took the treatments and coatings to higher levels. Once these papers became available, the leading marketing and direct mail printers began to adopt inkjet. This is an area where huge innovation is taking place.
Today, more and more mainstream papers are being produced as inkjet, digital and offset grades, allowing jobs to move between technologies based on the best technology suited to the job. With the advent of sheetfed inkjet this commercial focus continues to grow and the paper mills are responding. Inkjet papers are now available in basis weights from 22# text up to 9-point card stock. The surfaces of the inkjet sheets are also becoming more commercially oriented. Products with smooth surfaces, shades and brightness for uncoated and multiple coated product lines are adding diversity to the inkjet offering. Inkjet papers have moved from a one-size fits all 20# and 24# bond in 96 bright white to selections in the hundreds of paper types, weights, shades, and textures.
The future only holds more innovation. Every major North American paper mill is fully engaged in development of paper stocks for the commercial/direct mail market space. The mills have realized that inkjet production has passed the tipping point and is becoming a fully accepted technology for print. More variety of paper will allow additional work to migrate from either more expensive variable toner equipment to inkjet, or from traditional offset equipment onto inkjet where customers can take advantage of personalization and mass customization. The leaders in direct mail are well-positioned to continue to take advantage of the dramatic growth of opportunity created by inkjet production print as new and innovative papers continue to be developed by the mills.
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