By Cassandra Balentine
Media plays an important—and sometimes overlooked—role to a print provider. As digital print technologies continue to mature, new and improved substrate compatibilities enable better applications and extraordinary opportunities.
“Digital printing is no longer just about low-cost production, it’s about finding creative solutions for all types of print collateral, exclusive high-end projects, and specialty packaging,” says Greg Maze, senior brand manager, digital and wide format, Neenah Paper Inc.
With a little creativity and specialty substrate options offered by leading media manufacturers, print providers can improve on existing applications such as menus and save the dates, and add new revenue streams like labels, packaging, and point of purchase (POP) items.
Enhancing the Business
Digital print solutions offer variable data, shorter runs, and reduced lead times. However, as these capabilities become old hat, print service providers (PSPs) look for new ways to add value to their service offerings. The answer can be as easy as expanding media and substrate selections.
Today’s digital printing equipment capabilities give print providers the opportunity to augment their services by showing customers examples of what can be done with specialty papers, expanding their offerings of colors, textures, finishes, and weights, as well as digital packaging solutions. “If you’re in the selling seat as a print provider, you’re always looking for ways to differentiate yourself,” says Maze.
By stocking more than standard papers, more sellable options are possible, including synthetic papers that don’t tear, pre die-cut packages, cling, Kraft Board, embedded ID cards, magnets, and labels.
Jeff Luehring, business team leader, Appvion, suggests that expanded service offerings should be aimed at meeting both threshold needs and delighters. “Assuming the print provider is a digital print provider, meeting threshold needs includes making short runs, personalization/versioning, and short lead times. As for delighters—those things that wow the customer—print providers should understand their customer’s product offering, usage, and buying behavior and look for holes that can be filled with better service,” he explains.
Print providers are trying to differentiate themselves from the guy down the street and even online competition. “Materials play a key role in this, especially when specialty substrates are considered. These substrates can enhance their business by enabling them to leverage their digital equipment investment and bring a large variety of work in house that they previously may have passed over or outsourced,” offers Joseph Schember, specialty digital product manager, Mohawk.
Different substrates can enhance a print provider’s business if the substrates meet customer needs that are not being fulfilled by someone else. “These could include new forms of advertising, marketing, or physical functionality. Digital print providers should understand their customer’s product offering or usage. Digital print providers should also ask their substrate providers to articulate the features and benefits of their products, especially if there is something unique about the product,” says Luehring.
To be competitive, PSPs offer a comprehensive service to their clients and meet all of their printed communication needs. “The successful PSP will typically have one or more digital print engine capable of utilizing a variety of specialty paper, anything from a synthetic media for a durable, long lasting printed piece, to an ID card or letter for membership or store value marketing,” says Julia Kuziomko, director, inbound marketing, Relyco Sales, Inc. She says that today’s digital print engines, combined with diverse printing materials, are a game changer for the PSP because it takes their business beyond the borders of traditional printing. “Using something other than plain paper increases opportunity in their existing customers and attracts new prospects. The relatively low per-click cost of the digital engine keeps the cost down and profit up.”
Specialty media allows digital print providers to offer unique and profitable products that others may not offer, says Jim Cirigliano, marketing manager, Magnum Magnetics. He explains that becoming familiar with different substrates and how to work with them provides the flexibility to win and keep specialty jobs when they come up, rather than having to outsource or pass on the jobs outright because the capability isn’t offered.
Laura Hayes, marketing coordinator, Convertible Solutions, says that with specialty media selections, print providers can explore new substrates to offer intricate, pre-converted mailing pieces, thicker finished cards, and six-page brochures without the hassle of outside vendors, the burden of long runs, and with near immediate delivery capabilities.
In addition to expanded product offerings, substrate selections can improve the efficiency of existing applications.
Mellissa Campbell, marketing manager, Masterpiece Graphix, says customers rely on PSPs to offer different materials and options to achieve a better product, turnaround, and cost. For example, if a customer is printing signs on cardstock and then laminating the signs, the PSP can offer to print the signs on synthetics, eliminating the need for lamination and providing a cleaner look and better longevity.
Greg Kestler, director of technical media, GPA, suggests that production digital output devices have greater capabilities today than ever before with the biggest being the ability to print on synthetic materials. “With greater flexibility in the types of different substrates available to PSPs, they are able to offer a variety of products and services.”
He adds that technology in toner as well as coatings has allowed toner platforms to expand the plastics that they can run. “Low peel, pressure-sensitive white vinyl can now run successfully on most production digital devices, allowing for short-run, POP decals as an example. Short runs allow brands to take on a neighborhood feel with versioning and using local graphics.”
Tips for Expanding Services
Before looking to media options to explore service offerings, digital PSPs should consider their customer’s needs and respect equipment limitations, but also be willing to step outside of the box and push boundaries.
First and foremost, businesses should understand their customers and their customers’ businesses. “Once you know their business models, you can talk to them about their goals and how specialty media like textured, tints, pearlescents, metallics, boards, adhesive-backed materials, and synthetics fit into their applications and solutions. Their businesses can be enhanced by understanding how they can be better solutions providers rather than only being printers,” says Ron Pergande, director of digital media, paper category, GPA.
The most important thing is to ask questions to help clarify the prospect’s needs and gaps before offering solutions. “Once you understand these needs and opportunities, you can begin offering solutions for specific applications using specialty media,” he adds.
Maze says traditional printers who have expanded into digital printing might still find themselves focusing on traditional print collateral materials. “They can look to expand and differentiate themselves by exploring new specialty areas, such as packaging and labeling, to better position themselves as a total solutions provider for their client base.”
The ability to offer unique, higher margin materials can help digital print providers win new business. “They can distinguish themselves in the market with high-end labels that make their products ‘pop’ by selecting a special label material, look, or finish,” says Dave Fox, technical sales and service manager, Avery Products Corporation.
Craig Surette, toner fusion market director, GPA, agrees, adding that today’s substrate options provide more possibilities in every product category, specifically for dry toner technology. “Printers benefit immensely from these choices, allowing them to align substrates with printed applications and their business goals, driving increased revenue and higher margins. With access to great tools and improved flexibility, they can be more confident in selecting the correct substrate.”
“Push the envelope with your customers,” encourages Kestler. “By suggesting materials from polyester and synthetic paper to felt and textured papers, or even magnetic sheets, PSPs can work with their customers to find the right combination of substrate, graphics, and finishing processes to create a truly unique and functional piece.”
Surette says that PSPs need to lead and not follow. “Copying and doing more of the same thing will not grow the business. Instead, work with your customers to build legitimate, valued solutions that generate revenue streams. Everyone talks about this, but a rare few do it.”
Kuziomko points out that many specialty media products offer a blank canvas that can become a variety of finished pieces crossing the range of vertical markets. A synthetic die-cut luggage tag, for example, can serve many purposes as a traditional luggage tag for travel and hospitality venues, but it can also serve as a manufacturing lock out tag, an identifying tag for school sporting gear for travel games, a service/inspection record tag for equipment, a personalized direct mail piece for a marketing company, or even tagging capital equipment for insurance purposes. “The trick is to help your customers see the different possibilities—once they have embraced the concept that specialty media transcends vertical markets and traditional printing, a print provider can typically leverage their services across the company into departments or areas previously untapped,” she offers.
Take advantage of media samples so that sales can promote services internally and with existing customers to gauge demand prior to moving forward with purchasing stock. “There are plenty of online business-development resources for sales training on these products too,” recommends Schember.
However, before getting too creative, it is important that the printing equipment employed is able to handle the job at hand.
Schember urges print providers to try samples and engage with local digital experts to talk about customer applications, needs, and how to run these materials. “Oftentimes, this is the simplest way to get started because some printers don’t think these products will work on their digital press or they’ve had a bad experience with inferior specialty products and are afraid to try again,” he admits.
Cirigliano also stresses the importance of investing in quality media from trusted manufacturers. “Because specialty media isn’t something you’re going to use every day, you need to ensure you’re getting a consistent, quality product to make the printing process smooth for your press operators and profitable for your business,” he adds.
Fox outlines five simple tips for print providers looking to expand their service offerings—choose materials that run well on the presses and provide consistent ink/toner adhesion and color without jamming; consider premium, high-margin materials to help win new business and expand into servicing new applications; demand true technical support to maximize uptime and resolve any potential issues with print quality, performance, or runability; take advantage of free tools and templates to save valuable prepress time and accurately align products; and promote your business using tools that are readily available to help create sales and marketing materials, which could open doors to new markets.
Challenges of New Media
Specialty media solutions typically add value through unique characteristics, and therefore many need extra care to ensure runability.
Print providers must have an in-depth understanding of their equipment to understand what they are capable of—from sheet size to thickness. “Testing media prior to accepting a print job helps prevent a new customer looking for a synthetic menu from becoming the nightmare print job, with media too thick to print, fold, score, or even package successfully,” suggests Kuziomko.
It is important to focus on how well a substrate will run through a press to minimize jams. “Make sure the substrate accepts the toner or liquid ink well, is scratch resistant, and the colors lay down well. If running pre die-cut label materials, make sure the die-cutting technology is such that labels do not pre-dispense in the printer so that inks can bleed off of the labels without any issues such as build up on the edges or ink not adhering to the edges,” notes Fox.
Cirigliano points out that the use of proper press settings are very important when working with new media that is thicker or heavier than a shop’s usual substrates. He says media manufacturers often offer printer profiles for specific presses that you can download to determine the optimal settings for running that material. Additionally, it is a good idea to use media that is independently tested and qualified for use on a specific press type.
“Assuming the new media offerings have passed the print provider’s market needs test, they will want to understand if the new media is compatible with their equipment. This includes thickness, basis weight, ability to accept toner, ability to stand up to the heat, and runability through post-processing equipment,” says Luehring.
Kestler suggests media distortion is a challenge for some. “Depending on the environment the printing press is in, plastics can become softer, shrink, or stretch, and registration can become an issue,” he warns.
Static is another challenge. “Digital printing utilizes static to draw the toner to the substrate or charges the sheet with both positive and negative charges to separate printed areas from non-printed areas. Just as oil and water do not mix in offset lithography printing, these charges and the use of static can create post-print nightmares when printing on plastics and specific papers. Make certain your print environment is controlled and follows the OEM’s guidelines to help resolve this issue,” suggests Kestler.
Schember believes the most important thing to remember is that not all specialty products are created equal. “Providers should make sure that the products that they are using are designed for digital printing and that the material supplier works directly with OEMs to test and certify their media on the various presses. It’s also important that the supplier has the expertise to help them print and even sell these products. You get what you pay for in this market, so cheaper products are typically missing technology either in the top coating or material itself to get great toner/ink adhesion, minimize static, withstand the heat of a fuser, feed reliably, achieve vibrant colors, or meet the durability requirements of the end user’s application.”
Media selections are abundant, and specialty media offerings are on the rise, especially with more mature toner-based print engines. Here, we highlight a few specialty substrate solutions.
Appvion offers NCR Paper Brand Superior and NCR Paper Brand Xero/Form II Carbonless Paper, which is compatible with all production electrophotographic equipment. A special grade of NCR Paper Brand Superior is designed for HP Indigo presses.
NCR Paper Brand Superior and NCR Paper Brand Xero/Form II Carbonless Paper individual ply range in basis weights from 20 to 23 lb. The paper is guaranteed to run clean and smooth on digital equipment. The stock has a heavier basis weight, consistent caliper, and provides an overall stiffer sheet for consistent performance and runability. The caliper is 4.3.
With NCR Paper Brand Carbonless, users create a range of applications including business forms, receipts, bill of landing, and invoices.
The company’s Appleton Digital Paper line enables menus, gift cards, cookbooks, labels, tags, and signage.
Avery Products Corporation offers 12×18-inch sheetfed label stock for liquid and dry toner digital presses, ideal for short run, print on demand requirements. For dry toner presses, the company offers substrates in full sheet and pre die cuts including White Matte, White Glossy, Kraft Brown, and TrueBlock. These substrates have been tested to run in Xerox iGen, Konica Minolta bizhub, and Ricoh Pro series presses.
GPA carries a wide selection of coated and uncoated text and cover weight papers, pressure-sensitive papers, synthetic pressure-sensitive media, and pre die cut, pressure-sensitive papers.
GPA offers business development managers to assist its customers in navigating the “complicated world of specialty substrates, especially synthetics, and what is best for the application in question,” says Kestler.
For HP Indigo, the company offers a variety of substrates in full sheet and pre die cuts, White Matte, White Glossy, Clear Glossy, Kraft Brown, TrueBlock, White Semi-Gloss, Durable PET, White Soft Touch, Sliver Matte, and name badge material. These substrates have been certified for use with HP Indigo presses by Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).
Convertible Solutions offers papers with impressive thicknesses, unique forms, and pieces once associated with longer runs or outside converting services. Products can be used to create business cards, postcards, brochures, photobooks, mailers, magnets, menus, table signage, and coasters.
All of Convertible Solutions’ products are certified for HP Indigo. All products are safe for most digital presses when used within the parameters of the press, says Hayes.
Magnum Magnetics offers its DigiMag PLUS, DigiMag Duplex, and MuscleMag products. DigiMag PLUS is direct-printable magnetic media, qualified by the RIT for the HP Indigo and Kodak NexPress. Cirigliano says it also works with Konica Minolta, Xerox, and other similar machines.
DigiMag Duplex is a two-sided magnet media that prints on both sides in a single pass on presses including HP, Kodak, Konica Minolta, and Xanté. It is well suited for postcards, sports schedules, and other direct mail pieces. It can be sent through the U.S. Postal Service.
MuscleMag is a thin, high-energy printable magnet that Cirigliano says combines thin media with exceptional magnetic strength. “The media is designed to be very thin for smooth feeding and easy cutting while having stronger holding power than a refrigerator magnet,” he offers.
The MuscleMag media is well suited for vehicle signage as well as outdoor and indoor signage and graphic applications that require thin but strong magnet material. It is printable on a variety of digital presses including HP Indigo, Kodak NexPress, and Xerox iGen.
MasterPiece Graphix helps print providers put ink on a variety of substrates, from synthetic papers to exotic wood. “Printers rely on Masterpiece Graphix to help them determine what their digital press can do and provide the support to help them successfully run the materials,” says Campbell. The company’s newest swatchbook contains a sampling of synthetic paper, rigid vinyl PVC, styrene, polyester, metalized board, wood veneer, and soft touch materials for digital presses.
The company’s materials are engineered to print on dry and wet toner digital presses, including solutions from Canon, HP, Kodak, Konica Minolta, MGI, Ricoh, and Xerox. Testing is always recommended to ensure the specified material fits the application.
Mohawk has a broad offering of nearly 1,000 products available in its Specialty Digital portfolio. This portfolio offers benchmark products for both cutsheet dry toner and HP Indigo presses. The categories include Mohawk Synthetics, Mohawk Pressure Sensitive, Mohawk Dimensional, Mohawk Magnetic, and Mohawk Embedded Cards. The company also offers Mohawk Custom Solutions, which are variations of the portfolio categories where digital products are custom manufactured specific to customer needs.
Mohawk provides interactive compatibility charts for popular digital presses from Canon, HP, Kodak, Konica Minolta, MGI, Ricoh, and Xerox. The charts also provide baseline settings and tips for running products specific to each press model.
Neenah’s Digital Papers portfolio includes 49 colors including brights, pearlized, fibered, and whites; 17 unique finishes, plus folding carton board for packaging and pressure-sensitive papers. The company’s Digital Papers portfolio includes 20 popular Neenah brands, all engineered for high-performance digital printing equipment.
The company’s Neenah Explore series features printed samples, designed to inspire and educate printers and customers about what is possible with digital printing and specialty media.
Relyco offers a full line of specialty media designed for both dry toner based engines, such as Canon, Konica Minolta, OKI Data, Ricoh, and Xerox, as well as some products compatible with liquid-based toner systems such as the HP Indigo.
Relyco offers a trained staff to guide print providers on whether it is recommended to print a particular media, and can help design a custom solution.
The company understands that print providers are searching for low volume, competitively priced media to run on their digital print engines. “We partner with all the major OEM printer manufacturers who have tested and approved our products. From synthetic ‘money’ used by a swim club, training guides used by a nationwide restaurant chain, and ID cards used for a student ID, Relyco has a media solution and the expertise to help today’s print provider navigate specialty media options,” concludes Kuziomko.
Advancements in print equipment also play a major role in the continued acceptance of specialty media.
With specialty media options, print providers can offer everything from labels to eye-catching mailings.
“We’re always amazed at the creative uses print providers come up with for our products. You’re really only limited to the imagination of your customers and designers,” says Schember.
“New discoveries can be made by stretching creative thinking and pushing limits,” adds Maze. “Today’s digital production presses are capable of producing amazing results. Don’t be afraid to try specialty papers and processes to reach your client’s imaginations.”
In addition to traditional options, digital print providers benefit by understanding their customer’s print needs and goals and being well versed on the range of media options compatible with their devices. Offering creative solutions and taking advantage of the latest media selections help PSPs differentiate themselves from the competition. dps
Jul2016, DPS Magazine