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How a scientific approach to digital paper can help commercial printers

A scientific approach to digital paper is essential for printers

Investing in digital print means you need to be able to keep up with a fast-evolving technology and all the latest commercial developments relating to it.

The importance and “game-changing” value of digital print should not be underestimated by any printer. As John Charnock explained recently in a guest blog, digital print can play an important role in helping to maintain healthy profit margins.

More specifically, John Charnock’s blog examines the topic of digital print media (paper and stocks), a  critically-important issue for printers, and an area in which developments are becoming radical and progressive.

Why is digital print media important?

  • Manufacturers are being proactive to demonstrate points-of-difference
  • Printers pushing boundaries with litho stocks on digital technology
  • Mills and merchants investing in R&D
  • Customers demanding more – especially in Marketing Agencies
  • Environmental sustainability pressures
  • Lean manufacturing practices promoting fully tested materials

All these market forces have a direct impact on what papers and stocks are being demanded. But why?

  • Delays in completing jobs because of downtime caused by jams
  • Final quality of the finish on the page is mixed and inconsistent
  • Loss of business potential by missing new opportunities

We at Ricoh have observed that early adopters of digital print have moved away from using glossy paper stocks some time ago. In turn, that has prompted interest in other options such as silk and uncoated media.

Here is my definition for these two types of digital paper:

  • SILK – a coated stock that has a smooth surface paper that is low in gloss. It restricts toner from absorbing into the surface of the paper allowing for crisper printing, particularly for full colour graphics.
  • UNCOATED – has not been coated with clay or other surface sealants. Toner dries by absorbing into the paper, giving it a flat, dull appearance.

What we see emerging as the consequence of this trend is a rise in the number of products and providers coming on to the market, thereby increasing choice for the printer, but also increasing the level of knowledge and insight required to make the right choice. What’s even more telling is the increasing interest in new finishes such as textured stocks as printers look at the finer points of these new products in order to find a point of differentiation.

In my view, this raises a key question: how can you use such new media and also avoid profit-sapping issues such as ‘jams’ and ‘misfeeds’?

A printer needs confidence and advice to make the right choice and to invest in the right technology and processes to support it. So thinking about the physical size of the paper, they would strongly benefit from a rapid cutting service. This is because the trend from print buyers is to send printers requests for work at the last possible moment and you can bet it will not always be simple.

A potential and unintended consequence of such behaviour could be that complex requests could include odd sizes (or ones that are not in stock). To address such needs, I believe that a printer needs a commercial partner that can offer this type of service with a 24-hour turnaround and delivery.

What is the value of partnership?

The growing currency placed on ‘partnerships’ in this context is, in my view, compelling. And I believe this means that is a responsibility (that is often overlooked) of vendors being held to task with providing quality insights into new techniques to give the printer a competitive edge.

True insights matter when small margins are at work. For example, in the context of the blurred lines between the requirements of ‘long run’ versus ‘short run’ work, the question you as a printer should be asking is which media/paper has been proven to operate best in each scenario?

In an effective partnership, you should look to your adviser to share insights to help make the right choice. These insights should define the essential issues and provide the science to explain the recommendation.

A new Ricoh client that focuses on braille printing of national educational materials for people with visual impairment discussed this very topic.

This case highlights several noteworthy points:

  • Firstly, their line of work centred on having media that improved the learning capability of the students (because of the sense of ‘touch’)
  • And secondly, how the business could bring a new stock into their portfolio quickly, without going through a long internal testing process and risking productivity.

What the client ended up with was an uncoated 120 gsm grade paper in both A4 and A3 sizes that had been through the rigors of a scientific testing process at Ricoh. Working smoothly from day one, the printer benefitted from a new product, consistent supply chain and crucially, zero misfeeds.

Just like the example above, I believe that a printer should always ask the following questions:

  • How do you avoid paper jams?
  • Do you base media choice on science or in-house testing or both?
  • Have you calculated the lost time in pound notes due to misfeeds and jams on digital?
  • What reassurances have you been given to limit/eradicate misfeeds?
  • When did you last undertake a check on the media you use?
  • When did you last ask you manufacturer about media stocks and testing?
  • Have you asked your customers to look at new media possibilities before you adopt them?

From a Ricoh perspective our goal is to open your world to new developments that we’re introducing to the market, such as our flagship Pro C9110 colour cut sheet device on which we have tested and approved many advanced media stocks including uncoated ranges, textured finishes, metallic effects and packaging boards.

To give complete confidence, we list them all on our Media Setting Tool that automatically sets the machine to make it very easy for the operators to get the best quality out first, without jams and misfeeds.

Digital printing is a disruptive technology. However, it provides a powerful platform for transformation, opening new and greater opportunities for printers to enhance their productivity and potentially their profitability. But digital printing poses its own set of technical, commercial and business model challenges. Printers looking to strengthen their digital printing operations should look to do so with the support and expertise of a commercial partner that can help identify the challenges and the opportunities ahead.

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