by Cassandra Balentine
Beyond traditional pulp and paper, specialty media options maintain a growing presence in the digital production print space. These include solutions for toner, dry toner, and HP ElectroInk machines, as well as inkjet.
Above: Neenah specializes in premium, uncoated papers with textures and colors that command attention.
Speciality media options consist of but are not limited to synthetic options designed to resist the heat put out in digital printing process. Some tout stain and tear resistance, while others are thick enough for folding cartons. Additional solutions include peel-and-stick, self-adhesive, magnetic, and even eco-friendly.
It’s difficult to pigeonhole specialty media into one category. For many, the definition of a specialty substrate is simply any substrate that is not traditional paper. “We define specialty media as unique and innovative problem-solving paper products,” adds Steph Oeser, marketing manager, Relyco.
David Field, GM, specialty paper & film division, Midland Paper, describes specialty media in the digital print space as a substrate specifically formulated, treated, and/or coated in such a way to be compatible with digital print devices in the market.
Field sees the definition expanding into products that add value for the printer and/or end user. This includes options like synthetic paper, films, self-adhesive paper, self-adhesive films, and pre-converted/pre-perforated products.
Aaron Bares, product manager, Nekoosa, adds that specialty media products help visually communicate a company’s messaging or a particular application like retail signage or reusable menus at a restaurant.
“A specialty media is a substrate that enables a printer to stand out in their market by offering a higher impact message for their client. It should act as a design element in the printed piece and add tactile appeal, intrigue, or personalized brand identity,” agrees Jason Leonard, technical sales manager, digital print, Neenah.
Julie Brannen, director of regional sales and sustainability solutions, Monadnock Paper Mills, feels specialty media either has unique performance characteristics or a high sustainability profile.
UPM Raflatac refers to specialty media in two categories, shares Kirit Naik, global director, digital printing technologies—one is based on printing capabilities and the other based on surface appearance. “Print-compatible media requires special ink-receptive coatings for given printing technologies. Conventional printing methods such as flexographic, thermal transfer, and direct thermal printing still require specific ink-receptive coatings, however as well-known printing technologies, most customers refer to it as standard material. In digital printing, surface chemistry becomes more specific for the given print technology,” he explains.
On the Market
A range of specialty media options are available. Here we highlight a few.
General Formulations (GF) offers a line of pressure-sensitive vinyl media. Its narrow format digital (NFD) offering consists of 14 different constructions. “All 14 have been certified for HP Indigo presses, receiving a three-star rating. GF’s NFD sheets are available in 19×13 and 29.5×20.5 inches, stocked and ready to ship in 200 sheet cartons. We apply a proprietary top coating to make them compatible with Heidelberg, Konica Minolta, Ricoh, and Xerox production digital presses in addition to HP Indigos,” shares Greg Kestler, narrow format digital product manager, GF.
Many of Monadnock Paper Mills’ products are offered with 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled fiber. Its Astrolite PC 100 Velvet is the only coated 100 percent recycled text and cover sheet made in the U.S. and is offered in a 9 pt. postal complaint caliper as well as 150 lb. single-ply cover stock, shares Brannen.
Midland Paper’s Specialty Paper & Film division is a national distributor of specialty media solutions for various print segments such as HP Indigo, dry toner, production inkjet, conventional offset, and wide format inkjet. Midland’s media range includes self-adhesive paper, self-adhesive films, synthetic paper, films, specialty paper, media for windows/walls/floors/doors, die cut labels, pre-converted/die cut media, and magnetized products.
Neenah specializes in premium, uncoated papers with textures and colors. Its portfolio accommodates all print technology, including specially treated papers for liquid toner equipment, such as the HP Indigo as well as its newest launch of production inkjet papers, designed for exceptional performance on production inkjet engines like the Canon VarioPRINT and Prostream.
Nekoosa offers specialty media products used across many industries and applications. The main Nekoosa product of focus is its synthetic waterproof, tearproof, and weather-resistant paper—SYNAPS XM, which is compatible with dry toner and laser copiers.
Relyco provides a variety of specialty media, including durable waterproof synthetics, sustainable weatherproof paper, durable synthetic pre-perforated die cuts, metallics, tear-resistant paper with a synthetic core, pressure seal forms, and ID cards.
UPM offers optimized specialty media for printer technologies from conventional to digital printing.
Specialty media options often present functionality and are gaining acceptance and demand.
Bares continues to find great opportunities for short-run synthetic paper and a continued shift away from traditional lamination. For example, he says SYNAPS XM is a great fit for these applications due to it being a polyester sheet that performs consistently with the high heat conditions of dry toner-based print engines.
Leonard sees increased demand for more options in the production inkjet space. “As high-speed inkjet printing has grown, the demand for this technology has pushed printers to diversify and grow their business, ultimately creating a drive for uncoated, textures and colors. We recently launched our new CLASSIC Production Inkjet line to meet this demand. “
Naik believes that as printer technologies improve, conventional media can be used. However, not all printers offer the same capabilities so optimized media is required for specific printers. ”
Kestler points out that over the years, many shops have tried to print synthetics via their offset presses with conventional ink sets only to have unpredictable results. “As more printers and in-plant shops install production digital presses, it allows them to run specialty products—including pressure-sensitive vinyl—knowing that they will have great results.”
Oeser sees an increased demand for durable materials year over year.
Specialty media is often characterized by durability, this leads to the question of where it fits in terms of sustainability, which is a feature that is in demand for media options.
As a pressure-sensitive manufacturer, GF looks to use recycled components when possible, including the use of FSC release liner base paper and base paper made with pre- and post-consumer waste. “The same goes for certain facestock and polyester liners, utilizing R-PET versus PET is a newer trend,” says Kessler.
With few exceptions, Brannen says Monadnock’s products are recyclable in the curbside mix paper waste bin. “When you need a durable material that has to meet rigorous test standards, it inherently becomes more difficult to recycle curbside,” she offers. “At the very least it is important to make sure that these products are made with responsibly sourced fiber and third-party certified.”
For Neenah, it’s all about being completely fiber based. “Our products are manufactured with certified, responsibly sourced pulp, and our digital offering includes items containing up to 100 percent post-consumer waste. In addition, all our digital papers are recyclable. Choosing paper over plastics and PVCs whenever possible is the goal of most brands. The opportunity lies with making them aware of what is both possible and available for them to select,” offers Leonard.
Bares admits this can be a tricky area to navigate as many specialty, non-paper-based products are used for key attributes like long-term durability. “I would focus closer on the application it is replacing, which is traditional lamination. Over time, most touch laminated prints like a menu, for example, would need to be reprinted and discarded multiple times before ever needing to reprint the SYNAPS XM product. You also need to consider that many printers nowadays outsource lamination work, and certian specialty media limits the need to send work out. SYNAPS XM is a #7 plastic and that means it falls under the general plastics category. One great advantage of this product is that it is up to 15 percent pre-consumer recycled content.”
Sustainability is everything UPM Raflatac does, according to Naik. “So it does not stop whether we provide conventional or specialty media. We offer more sustainable solutions, covering all components applicable in media such as adhesive, facestock, liner, or total construction. We believe in closing the loop and making the switch and it is applicable to all media we offer,” he shares.
Choosing the right media for the job at hand is essential. “There are countless applications that call for specialty products. The best path is to use the right media for your application,” shares Kestler.
With a knowledge of the customer requirements and the understanding of what is possible with the right media, the potential is limitless for digital print.
Jul2023, DPS Magazine