Thursday, December 5, 2002

Critical Issues in Print Series, 2: Paper & Ink

Fight.Boredom recently sat down with local print guru Jeff Herndon, president and founder of the print brokerage firm Aurora Print Services. Jeff has over 20 years experience in the print industry and often works Cloudjammer on print projects.

Fight.Boredom: Paper and Inks. Where do we get started?

Jeff Herndon: Let's start with a recent issue I had on press. A client wanted a PMS metallic ink printed on uncoated paper. PMS only recently started making Metallic inks for uncoated papers, so we had to use a coated swatch to match colors. The front of the business card matched perfectly, but the back, which had solid ink coverage, was way too silver. See, the metallic inks use pigment and silver metal to create their distinct look. On the uncoated paper the green pigment was absorbed and the silver was left floating. We thought it might be a problem with the press, so we ran a print with coated paper – it matched perfectly. The metallic inks interact totally differently with uncoated papers than with coated. This is just an example of how paper and ink specifics can drastically affect your project. You don't always get what you expect when you experiment.

FB: Why do coated and uncoated papers behave so differently?

JH: They're made totally differently, to start with. Coated papers all tend to be made the same way: With basic inexpensive fibers, white colors, and a clay coating – Georgia white clay, incidentally. Uncoated papers have far more issues. Their colors and textures run the gamut. Each uncoated paper will use different pulp and fiber combinations and be tested for different reactions to folding, embossing, and perforation. Each paper might use a different embossing wheel to create texture. And each time you change the paper being made in a paper machine, you have to completely recalibrate the machine. These machines usually run 24-hours a day, so stopping them to reconfigure is no small order. Just look at the prices: the cheapest papers are basic white offset and coated sheets. The higher quality uncoated papers, like Monadnock, which has great paper formation and hardness, are uncoated. Of course, you benefit from using uncoated – your printed materials look better on the premium papers

FB: Can a designer really tell how their printed materials are going to look on coated or uncoated papers, though? Like in the situation you mentioned before...that was a surprise, wasn't it?

JH: All designers should compare sheets on a press inspection…to see how the different papers react to the printing. Some things you can expect, though. Uncoated papers, for instance, absorb ink as it dries. On coated sheets, the ink dries on top of the clay finish. You can test this yourself. Take a sheet of uncoated, coated, and newsprint and touch a magic marker to each. The dot will gain about 5% on the coated and maybe as much as 10% on the uncoated. On the newsprint you'll really see it spread. Some mills, like Mohawk, treat their uncoated paper to absorb less ink, so this absorption rule isn't always true. Paper issues are critical to print design. Designers need to educate themselves on paper and ink issues in order the get the best quality product.

FB: Well, we're all professionals here.

JH: Of course you are.

FB: How many Paper Mills are out there?

JH: There are probably 20 or 30 major mills in the US. Most of the paper varieties have become consolidated. International Papers own Strathmore, Beckett, and Via (formerly Hammermill). Fox River owns Howard and several others, about 20 different brands. Mohawk has six or seven papers, Classic has seven or eight. It's a lot to consider. And that's just regular papers. There are also six or seven mills making synthetic papers like UV Ultra – which makes great untearable envelopes – and UV translucents that look like vellums. You've also got specialty papers with suspended materials in them. That could be a whole other article for us.

FB: Sounds like it. What about inks?

JH: Pantone Matching System (PMS) inks are the industry standard, especially here in the South. 4-color process can come close to matching these colors, but they're never are exact. PMS are true colors, not screened composites. 4-color can't match the PMS metallics or florescents at all. The orange that Cloudjammer uses on its business card couldn't be matched at all in 4-color process, remember.

FB: It was a nasty brown, wasn't it? But there are other ink systems than PMS, aren't there?

JH: There's Toyo and a few others. PMS is the standard, though. it's practically a monopoly. Toyo has some unique and different inks that PMS doesn't have, but most printers are reluctant to reformulate the chemistry in their presses to accommodate – especially here in the South where there are fewer and younger printing companies. The presses need to be configured to use different amounts of water, alcohol, and other chemicals used in printing – it's a lot of work. Toyo and PMS are kind of like Macs and PCs: Toyo is the only company that makes Toyo inks, but PMS inks are made by lots of companies and printers like to stick by their regular ink vendors.

FB: If you're comparing the Toyo inks to Macs, I might just have a new favorite ink.

JH: If you really need a Toyo or other non-PMS color for a print job than contact the ink company, PMS or otherwise, to do an Ink pull-down for you before you ever go to press. They can match colors just like Home Depot can. It's better to spend a little money up front than a lot of money making a drastic change on press.

FB: Any closing thoughts?

JH: Uncoated papers may need heavier ink runs to get the same color intensity as their coated counterparts. Papers all have different needs. Mohawk, for instance, requires less water in the press chemistry than most other uncoated sheets. Some small presses can't handle that.

FB: Really like the Mohawk paper, eh?

JH: I really love the way Mohawk prints. But I also know the paper well – its benefits and its problems. That where the designer's education comes in.

FB: Or the print broker's?

JH: Couldn't have said it better myself. fb

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