by Cassandra Balentine
Inkjet technology is versatile, covering needs like marking and coding through to direct mail, labels and packaging, and high-end, grand format signage.
Production print environments are familiar with inkjet technology, as it is traditionally popular for applications where “business quality” was acceptable. However, continued advancements in speed, inks, substrate compatibility, coating and priming solutions, and printheads make the technology increasingly suited for high-end commercial products.
Part of the continued growth and improved quality offered by production inkjet is developments in media. This includes inline and offline priming options, coated and treated substrates, and print engine and printhead advancements designed to improve inkjet compatible with stocked offset media options.
New Trends Driving Demand
The move to personalization, shorter runs, and improved quality leads to increased demand for digitally printed applications. Inkjet grows as a contender for a range of applications.
Marketers are increasingly tasked with showing a return on their marketing spend, so the use of personalization to create highly targeted campaigns generates increased interest, according to Aggie Nodari, account manager, Northeast merchants, Domtar.
“This level of personalization often includes heavy ink coverage and photographic visuals, so a treated sheet should be utilized to deliver the best output,” he notes.
A push for sheetfed inkjet devices is changing the market. “Sheetfed inkjet equipment offers printers the ability to print more applications leading to greater opportunities to diversify their customer base. They also allow print providers to offer more personalization at lower quantities to current customers,” shares Nodari.
With more sheetfed inkjet machines utilized in the commercial print segment, Domtar, for example, added to its treated sheet offering to meet demand. “We now carry sheets in our LynxJET in weights 50lb, 60lb, 70lb, 7pt, and 9pt; and HuskyJET in 50lb, 60lb, and 70lb—all in today’s most popular digital sheet sizes,” says Nodari.
“Paper mills continue to launch new treated papers optimized for inkjet presses as commodity offset stocks cannot match the quality on high-coverage applications. Paper mills are also developing inkjet optimized stocks for new applications where an inkjet press was previously not an option due to media limitations,” shares Larry Cunningham, manager, digital marketing and product management, Evergreen Packaging.
He adds that as print service providers (PSPs) require shorter runs and increasly produce variable data output, they seek new applications for inkjet investments. “Therefore paper mills are working to develop new papers designed for these new inkjet applications to offer greater flexibility and performance for PSPs.”
Karin King, commercial printing brand manager, International Paper, sees an uptick in the demand for heavy weight papers—in the range of 110 to 130lb—as well as specialty media.
She says heightened interest for specialty media is a result of the lifestyle changes created by COVID-19. “The need for sanitary communication solutions has increased the need to be able to print on materials that are not typical. Think of things like synthetic-based materials for labels, ID cards, and rewards cards.”
The demand for heavyweight paper also grows as migration from toner presses occurs. “As these presses age out, they are replaced by high-speed production inkjet presses that can handle these heavier weights,” adds King.
Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Continental Grafix, also sees demand for media that prints on a wider variety of devices.
“The goal is to have one product that can be printed on a variety of devices in the shop. Not only does this ease inventory as it decreases the amount of SKUs, but it also streamlines production and installation, as the respective parties are dealing with fewer products.”
Jay Kroll, product manager, General Formulations, agrees, noting the development of adhesives that can be used in a wider range of applications—adhesives that are suitable for floors, walls, windows, plastics, and metal. “The big driver for one-size-fits-all adhesive systems is to reduce the amount of material a shop needs to keep on hand, which also has the side effect of simplifying quoting and print production for the shop. Printers are turning to high-tack solutions, whether permanent or removable,” he shares.
To Treat or Not to Treat
For many production printers, the ultimate goal is for inkjet presses to print on untreated, commodity offset stock.
Inkjet continues to expand its ability to print on all types of media. “Early on, it seemed to be the responsibility of the mill to create a sheet that would work with each inkjet device,” says King. “While that’s still preferred for the best quality, in a lot of instances OEMs have started adding on-press treatments that make it easy for any sheet to have consistent quality without any special formula in the paper.”
Nodari points out that most major OEMs have hybrid ink sets that allow them to print on traditional uncoated/untreated stocks. “However, it all depends on the OEM. Each ink set behaves differently,” he adds.
“Today, across most commercial inkjet presses, you can print on treated or on untreated sheets. This is true in both uncoated and coated papers,” explains Cunningham. The question is whether the print output meets the expectations of the customer. “The level of color gamut, color density, production speed, and ink consumption, are maximized with a ‘treated’ product. However, treated products tend to cost more. There is also the option of a press treatment in the form of primers or binding agents, however they have limitations as print coverage increases in both cost and efficacy.”
A treated sheet such as Evergreen Packaging’s TruSpec Inkjet Coated Book is optimized for superior ink holdout and designed to deliver exceptional print quality specifically for inkjet presses. “A treated sheet is designed for inkjet inks to maximize printing system performance for the application. The coating on a treated paper will do a better job of enabling inkjet inks to adhere to the paper compared to an untreated commodity stock designed for offset printing,” offers Cunningham.
The goal is to maximize print output with the lowest cost material inputs. “Ink producers look to eliminate the need for paper pretreatments by engineering more effective ink sets. Paper makers look to reduce the cost of treating product in the manufacturing process,” explains Cunningham. “Both are important. We further believe that the two processes can be complementary, in that ‘all boats rise, in a rising tide.’ As ink sets narrow the gap between treated and untreated print output, that same ink set—coupled with a treated paper—raises the current quality ceiling with inkjet printing. This opens up new applications and markets that inkjet was not able to previously penetrate.”
Evergreen Packaging’s collaboration with HP is an excellent example. “In partnership with HP and utilizing HP’s ColorPro Technology, we developed a line of treated #3 coated products, primarily for book publishing and commercial printing. Simultaneously, HP continues ink development to enhance print output and reduce the need for treated papers at the lower end of print expectation. But together, they open up the top end of exceptional print quality,” says Cunningham.
Coated papers specifically designed for high-speed inkjet printers are available.
Determining the type of media that is best suited for a job means evaluating each job individually. “Inkjet treated papers such as Accent with ImageLok Technology are specifically formulated to make colors pop off the page and blacks appear bold and crisp,” offers King. “However, if you are printing a piece that is primarily B&W or features minimal imagery, an untreated sheet may work just fine. And while it is true that the OEMs may be developing on press solutions for untreated papers, there are a lot of presses already in the market that will continue to benefit from a treated sheet,” she adds.
Cunningham comments that untreated commodity paper is not designed to absorb water-based inkjet inks and therefore it will not produce the best possible print quality on an inkjet press. “Treated papers specifically designed for high-speed inkjet printers can handle high coverage applications when compared to an untreated commodity sheet that may struggle with heavy ink loads,” he notes.
Nodari points out that coated solutions drive cost because they require a coating station, which could be offline, unless an optimized inline coated solution is implemented. “We don’t have a lot of domestic options for inkjet coated stocks, so this imposes an overseas freight burden. The price gap between a traditional coated stock versus an inkjet coated stock could be two-and-a-half more expensive. This was a concern a few years back, but most of the major OEMs can print on traditional coated stocks with the combination of hybrid ink sets and a complex dryer system. This seems to be the most optimum method for achieving good image quality and ink adhesion.”
Toner-Based Substrate Considerations
Toner/eletrophotographic (EP)—including liquid EP like HP Indigo—is a mature digital print market that plays an important role in the overall print industry. Advancements continue in this segment, especially in terms of media options.
One timely trend involves the need for COVID-19 messaging. “Some of the latest media trends involve the need for products that help businesses communicate messages on how to do business with them through the pandemic. We have seen an increase in requests for products and applications that are not traditionally run on these presses, like pressure-sensitive vinyls, for example. We also experienced many people looking for products that can be cleaned and sanitized thoroughly such as our SYNAPS XM—perfect for menus in restaurants,” shares Aaron Bares, product manager, Nekoosa. “Many of these trends are coming from people adapting to the current state of the market and looking at other applications or products that they may not have needed to consider prior to the COVID-19 pandemic shifting the way we live, work, and socialize.”
Greg Kestler, product manager, General Formulations, also sees a significant trend for application-driven products, expanding beyond the traditional low-peel and permanent adhesive options to things like high-tack permanent vinyl, floor graphics and laminates, or repositionable wall graphics. This is driven by market demand for more options, differentiation, and a way to keep a press running.
Print providers benefit from looking past traditional applications. For example, products like Nekoosa’s ThermaTac pressure-sensitive vinyl can be used for temporary window signage and run on existing equipment, points out Bares.
Check out our Digital Substrate Media Guide for more media options suited to toner/EP-based digital print platforms.
The capabilities of inkjet are leveraged in many industries. Print providers utilize the technology to produce everything from direct mail and transactional print to high-end catalogs, labels, packaging, and signage. Media is an essential component for meeting a customer’s quality expectations. For more, visit us online at dpsmagazine.com where a webinar on the topic is archived. A Target Chart of media options is also available on the following page. dps
May2021, DPS Magazine