A lot of the advances will be achieved through close cooperation between paper makers and ink producers as well as with other suppliers in the printing chain, such as press manufacturers, plate and blanket makers and providers of fount solutions.
The paper sector has been going through a lean phase of inventiveness. When Sappi, the South African-owned company which is a leading fine paper manufacturer in Europe, recently launched a new paper called Tempo in the sheetfed segment, it claimed that it was the first significant innovation in wood-free coated paper for at least 10 years.
Possibly the last big breakthrough in the whole European paper sector was the introduction around the turn of the century of a type of newsprint paper which enabled a substantially higher standard of color reproduction with the coldset process.
Over the last few years there has been a growing awareness in the paper industry of the need for more innovation, particularly by pooling R&D resources with other players in the printing market.
The major driving force behind this search for novel types of paper is a realization that the whole printing sector needs to become much more competitive not only in terms of quality but also in relation to costs in order to curb the rapid expansion of the electronic media, particularly the internet.
“We are living in a very fast moving world where every job has to be completed faster than the one before,” said Karl-Heinz Benatzky, a senior executive at German publishers Benatzky Druck und Medien. “We are in constant competition with other media, and to secure its role print needs to keep pace with these.”
As a result, a lot of the impetus behind current innovations in paper is the necessity to match the speed and convenience of the electronic media.
“We are now facing a big test,” said Erik Ohls, director for technical marketing at UPM-Kymmene, the leading Finnish paper maker. “A lot of information which used to be available only in newspapers and magazines is now being provided to people electronically. I personally believe there will be much more collaboration between print suppliers in improving the performance and quality of printed products, in cutting their costs and in raising environmental sustainability because of the necessity to deal with the competition from the electronic media.”
Mr. Ohls reckons that demographic changes could work in favor of the print media because of the increased proportion of elderly people.
“This is an expanding part of the population which has grown up with paper and now has time to do a lot of reading of magazines,” he explained. “But their eyesight will not be so good as it was. So papers will have to be designed for reading and not so much to attract advertising. That will mean less glossy paper which can be difficult to read, and more silk paper which is easier to read.”
UPM is a member of PrintCity Alliance, the German-based organization which brings together the expertise of companies in different parts of the graphics industry, such as paper makers, ink producers, press manufacturers and packaging converters.
PrintCity has a project team for Value Added Printing of Newspapers (VAPoN), which has just completed a study on the product enhancements required in newspaper printing and publishing. The team includes UPM, Sun Chemical, the press manufacturer MAN Roland, the blanket producer MacDermid, and MEGTEC, a hot-air drying equipment maker.
Among the necessary improvements pinpointed by the study were better readability, more and better run-of-press (ROP), as opposed to pre-printed, color for premium advertising and better grades of paper.
If newspaper publishers are to be able to print more advertising currently pre-printed and more editorial sections and inserts on their own presses, they will have to bring their own print quality closer to the standards of commercial printers, according to the VAPoN report.
They will have to apply new types of paper and inks, whose suitability tends at the moment to be judged by the nature of ink drying systems.
“While 4-color coldset on newsprint is now almost standard, it can no longer satisfy all of the evolving production demands,” the study said. “It will be increasingly complemented by other paper grades and ink systems that better respond to value-added opportunities and demands.”
Among the low-cost options suggested by the study are greater use of matte coated paper and the possible adoption of the new technology of coldset overprint coating, in which the printed page is coated with a thin varnish film to prevent set-off and ink migrating onto readers’ hands.
Sun Chemical and MAN Roland, together with Kodak’s plate making business and ContiTech, a blanket producer, have been involved with M-real, another Finnish-based paper maker, in a joint project to deal with ‘ghosting’ and the ‘vanishing dot’ phenomena in heatset web offset printing.
Currently the problem is usually resolved by washing the blanket, which results in press downtime and causes maculation or spotting.
In studies undertaken with a number of major German printers, the working party found that ghosting and vanishing dots are caused by depositions on the blanket which gradually eat into the dots during the printing process.
Various configurations of paper, ink, fount, blanket and plate were tested before one was discovered which has seemed to eliminate ghosting altogether and significantly improved dot gain with minimal time needed for washing of the blanket.
“The way we dealt with this problem as a group was to try first to understand what was causing it,” said Bertrand Lousteau, European marketing director for publications at Sun Chemical. “We were aware that it was not an ink, paper, blanket or fount problem but something that involvedall these variables.”
Sun Chemical is participating in a number of other collaborative projects aimed at finding solutions to a range of complications in printing which tend to embrace both papers and inks. One of these is flouting or curling of paper during heatset printing, on which another cooperative group has been established.
“The difficulty is linked to the structure of the paper, to thedryingtemperature and the way the ink dries,” Mr. Lousteau said. “The solution is unlikely to require any radical measures but on the other hand it is likely to require more than fine tuning. But Like with other projects, it does show that we need to reach beyond the boundaries of our own particular products by working with others in the printing chain.”
In its drive to be more innovative, Sappi, which has 2.6 million tons of annual fine paper making capacity in Europe, has been working on its own R&D plans as well collaborating with academia and other companies in printing.
It sees the launch of its new Tempo silk grade paper as a major step forward in paper technology, which it has achieved without any cooperation with outside companies.
“We have kept everything to ourselves in the development of this product,” said Math Jennekens’, R&D director at Sappi Fine Paper Europe, which was responsible for the research and development behind the new paper. “We decided about five years ago to embark on strategy of innovation in which the objective would be the achievement of real breakthroughs.”
The R&D program behind Tempo was initiated by a survey of the needs of printers, which showed that they had five priorities – shorter ink drying time, greater rub resistance, less fold cracking, more opacity and less dust on rubber blankets. Sappi believes that Tempo fulfills four of these, the exception being making a difference to fold cracking.
Ink on Tempo sets and dries quickly, has improved rub resistance and requires no protective overcoating or set-off powder. The high level of absorbency of the oil in the ink means that much of the ink is immobilized before it passes to conversion units like stacking and folding. The paper itself also has a high level of smoothness and low abrasiveness.
The important innovation in the paper is its coating, about which Sappi is revealing few details until a pending patent has been granted.
“The coating considerably enhances the interaction between the ink and the paper so that the setting and drying is speeded up,” said Mr. Jennekens. “The oil component of the ink is absorbed by the paper while the pigment and resin remains on the surface. But it is not just a matter of absorption, otherwise it would not provide high quality printed images as well.”
Sappi believes that the major benefit of Tempo is that the time between the printing and conversion into a finished printed product has been reduced to only 30 minutes.
“It helps the printer to maintain the work flow between the printing press and the collation, folding and stapling of the printed pages,” said Mr. Jennekens. “It provides a flow which is almost like a continuous process and can considerably increase the productivity of the printer.
“The paper can work with most inks,” he added. “We reckoned that if it worked only with specific inks it would have less value as a proposition for sheetfed printers.”
At a time when the whole European print sector is having to reduce costs particularly in those segments in direct competition with the electronic media, printers are giving precedence to innovations which both save money and help them expand their businesses.
“We must ensure that we continue to improve technologies in a way which brings even more value to the printer and also publishers,” said Mr. Lousteau. “This is the big challenge we confront today.”