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Paper update

Sep 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Bonus Feature

Let's start with some good news. The allocation of certain web papers, which industry experts just six months ago predicted would last until 2006, is a thing of the past. So we can all breathe a bit more easily on that front.

The Finnish paper industry strike also is over and things will slowly but surely return to normal. Although some of these papers haven’t yet arrived in U.S. warehouses—they are still somewhere on a cozy vessel crossing the ocean—the affected mills are optimistic that there will be no back log when business is expected to peak in October.

For all other mills, it’s business as usual when it comes to availability—something that depends on the stocking commitment of the local merchants or the vicinity to the mills’ distribution centers. Mainstream printing papers generally are readily available, but as economic pressures in the print and paper industry have increased, many slow moving papers (depending on colors, textures, etc.) have been weeded out of merchants’ inventories in favor of papers that “turn” more frequently.

What does this mean for you? Most customers can expect overnight delivery for standard items and three to five days for substrates that have to be shipped from the mill’s warehouse. Paper prices: ask again later Now, here’s where a Magic 8-Ball would help. While paper prices overall already have gone up twice this year, we probably won’t see another increase until early 2006, especially on the coated side. Even commodity grades and opaques have lowered their prices a bit over the last few months.

Overall, industry pundits agree that paper prices have been fairly low in recent years due to lower demand and cheaper imports. But sooner or later, rising pulp, energy and freight costs will take their toll.

Rather than increasing prices to cover these rising costs, one mill has “adjusted” its freight policy. Customers who aren’t located near the mill’s East Coast warehouse will be assessed extra freight charges. For now, the merchants have opted to pick up the slack and keep the overall paper price for this mill stable, but how long can that last?

More digital/offset options
We all know digital printing is here to stay. The print quality and papers available for these applications have improved dramatically and will continue to do so.

A recently PrintCom Consulting (Waxhaw, NC) study estimates that around 15 percent of all print is produced by digital presses. By 2015, PrintCom forecasts digital printing will account for 30 percent of the industry’s output.

Having recently helped judge a digital printing competition, I saw some creative hybrid applications where printers combined offset and digital technologies on a single job. As printers continue to use whichever technology is appropriate for the job, we can expect digital and offset to coexist for a very long time. So look for more cross-platform papers. Also, a wide range of papers, although not specifically certified for digital printing, including metallics, certain linen and other textured papers, work just fine on digital presses. As printers are more willing to experiment with these substrates and presses, the results will be staggering.

Paper trends
Overall, budget is still the driving factor when it comes to making a paper choice. The new trend is for designers and print buyers to move away from premium and No. 1 sheets because they’re getting great quality, availability and pricing from lower grades, often offshore sheets. Here are some additional trends:

Brightness | As local manufacturers compete with offshore mills, you can expect brightness levels to increase even further. After International Paper’s announcement that it will dramatically increase the brightness of most of its sheets without increasing prices, other mills are likely to follow suit. Look for grades with brightness ranges in the mid 80s, to really move up in the world.

All this hype about brightness also calls for a unified system to assign the brightness levels. Most mills in the United States use the GE scale, while others have opted to rely on ISO or other systems. These numbers make some brightness levels look better on paper (so to speak), an improvement that might be difficult to detect when viewing an actual sheet. Increased brightness also has provided us with more blue-white shades in the marketplace. Because these papers aren’t suitable for some image reproductions, such as skin tones, the market is looking for more neutral white shades.

Heavier weights | In keeping with an overall trend for heavier weights, many designers specify 80- to 90-lb. text for letterheads and use light cover stocks for complete brochures inside and out. For buyers on tight budgets, these heavier papers can make up for a lower page count and still give a credible, dependable feel. Watch as mills increase their offerings to include heavier and double thick stocks.

Specialty papers | Several studies have shown that the average consumer is bombarded with thousands of advertising messages daily. Just look at your mailbox, add TV and the Internet to the mix and viola! Consider your own daily haul of direct mail pieces and how fast they hit the circular file. Specialty papers can help your client’s project cut through the communication clutter.

Textured | Though mills were developing ever smoother paper lines just five years ago, you can now watch the development of some stunning and unusual lines. From peach skin to leather, the number of papers that will stimulate a response through touch is ever increasing. As we have seen over the last year or two, these embossed, textured finishes are making a comeback, as well.

Metallics | Having been a strong player in the European market, metallic papers have not always been readily available in the United States. Several mills have stepped up to the plate and, in addition to recently released pearlized and metallic sheets, you can expect even more variety to come into the market place. This is good news for all of us, as this variety ensures that there is an opportunity for glamour within every budget.

Papers are getting greener
The environmental issue has come full circle. In the late 1980s, designers were the ones pushing their clients toward recycled papers, but now large corporations are flexing their muscles. With more Fortune 500 companies retaining sustainability officers, the pressure to use environmentally friendly papers is on the rise.

But there is a different spin to it these days. In addition to inquiring about the recycled content of a specific paper and the bleaching process, buyers and specifiers are taking at look at the chain of custody. Most designers and print buyers are now familiar with pre- and postconsumer waste as well as elemental chlorine-free (ECF), process chlorine-free (PCF) and totally chlorine-free (TCF) no longer baffle them. Now they are looking at the big picture.

We already have seen many more mills applying for FSC and SFI certification for their paper lines and this trend is even spilling over to the merchant side. Lindenmeyer Munroe and Lindenmeyer Central have just received chain of custody certification, so watch for other merchants to follow suit.

Can’t see the forest for the trees? Need to brush up on your environmental lingo? Here’s a quick refresher course.

EPA standards | The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set standards for the minimum recycled contents in printing and writing papers. A paper “meets the executive order governing recycled content in printing/writing grades,” or is sometimes described simply as “meets EPA standards.” The minimum post-consumer waste content required for uncoated papers is 30 percent; minimum for coated papers is 10 percent. Many mills have created papers with these minimum amounts of recycled material, while others continually are aiming to produce papers with higher recycled contents.

Recycled | There are still a few misconceptions among designers and print buyers that make them reluctant to choose a recycled paper. Some believe all papers are recycled anyway, and others worry about having limited paper choices. There also is a perception that recycled papers potentially will create technical problems during the printing process. These fears are unfounded.

If you think looking for recycled papers will limit your choices and creativity, think again. Of the more than 3,500 papers featured on, more than 60 percent have some recycled content and more than 1,000 meet current EPA requirements. Today’s recycled papers run as smoothly as any virgin sheet on press. They are known to score, fold and emboss better because recycled fibers are softer and yield easily to these processes. When selecting recycled paper, these terms also are helpful:

  • Post-consumer waste (PCW): This label indicates material collected from end-users and recycled. PCW is the preferred form of recycled material because it reduces pressure on our remaining forests, saves water and energy, and diverts solid waste from our landfills. If the recycled content of a paper is not specifically labeled as PCW, you are dealing with pre-consumer waste—excess material from the manufacturing process that never made it to the consumer and is recycled back through the mill. This is why you sometimes see 100 percent recycled paper with 30 percent PCW.
  • The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): This agency certifies sustainable forestry practices and encourages the use of FSC-certified paper.
  • Tree-free fiber: These fibers include crops such as kenaf and industrial hemp, grown specifically for their fiber content. These crops tend to grow faster than trees and offer higher efficiency per acre. Tree-free fibers are derived from agricultural byproducts, such as sugar cane bagasse, and industrial byproducts such as cotton scraps.

Ask Sabine

If my paper is really that bright shouldn’t I send it to law school or something? Seriously, what’s the deal? —Dazed & confused

Sabine says:
A paper’s brightness is defined by the percentage of light it reflects. Papers with a higher brightness allow colors to stand out, while lower-brightness papers are easier on the eyes for reading or extended viewing. There is definitely some hype when it comes to paper brightness. As mills continue to create whiter and brighter sheets, it is easy to lose sight of the real issues: Does the paper run well on press, is its opacity suitable for the printed piece and does the grade really matter?

When the American Forest & Paper Assn. (Washington, DC) classified papers into grades, the classification was solely based on the brightness of a sheet. We all know that No. 2 sheets should have a brightness range from 83 percent to 84.9 percent. So why are there No. 3 sheets with brightness levels of over 90 these days? Let’s just say that brightness is no longer the only concern, and a sheet is whatever a manufacturer chooses to call it. The grade, in the end, is determined by marketing.

A brighter sheet usually is more expensive to make. Fillers and chemicals, such as fluorescent dyes and optical brighteners, are needed to create the paper’s brighter appearance. They help to give the paper a blue-white shade, but also can take a toll on the paper’s stability and runnability on press. This is what you pay for when you purchase a premium or No. 1 sheet: brightness and the assurance that the paper also offers a great runnability.

Help! I specify and recommend printing papers for an in-house design studio. Now my boss wants to know what portion of our print projects are printed on recycled paper. Should I use EPA or FTC guidelines as the standard for determining if papers are recycled? Also, should I be concerned about chlorine contained in the pulp used to produce the papers? —Greener is golden

Sabine says:
The EPA recommends paper with a minimum recycled content of 30 percent post-consumer waste (PCW) for uncoated papers and 10 percent PCW for coated papers. Obviously, the more PCW the paper contains, the “greener” your company can feel. Note that the guidelines specify “minimum” recycled content. A lot of high quality mills offer paper that meets or exceeds these standards. This is great news, as jeopardizing the quality of the design by having limited paper choices is a common concern for designers.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified papers are another option. This worldwide organization certifies sustainable forestry practices and encourages the use of FSC-certified paper. Rather than hundreds of paper choices, however, you will have a handful.

Consider PCW papers that contain tree-free fibers such as kenaf, cotton or bagasse (sugar cane) instead of virgin fiber. As for bleaching, ensure that the paper is process chlorine-free (PCF). PCF indicates that fiber is recycled and is unbleached or bleached with non-chlorine compounds. PCF papers cannot be considered totally chlorine-free because of the unknown bleaching process of its recycled content.

Elemental chlorine-free (ECF) indicates virgin or recycled fiber that is bleached with chlorine dioxide or other chlorine compounds. This process significantly reduces hazardous dioxins (compared to chlorine gas), but does not completely eliminate them.

Totally chlorine-free (TCF) typically indicates virgin fiber that is unbleached or bleached with non-chlorine compounds. In summary, papers that are PCF and comply with EPA guidelines (or higher) post-consumer content are preferable. This is a long answer, but it’s a complex subject and one that some mills’ marketing materials doesn’t clarify. Don’t be shy about ensuring you’re getting the “green” paper you want!

Got a paper question? E-mail us at

Sabine Lenz is the founder of PaperSpecs, Inc., an online paper database and “all-in-one swatchbook.” Contact her via