Inside the Digital Paper Labs at Xerox and HP
One good example is Eastern Pulp and Paper Inc., Amherst, Mass. A player in many niche markets, Eastern was eager to get in on the ground floor of the nascent paper market for HP's high-end Indigo digital printers.
Indigo started as an independent Israeli company that wasn't eager to share technical secrets with Eastern, so Eastern's scientists went ahead and figured out how the Indigo digital printer worked. That was the only way they could market a digital paper for it.
"It turned out to be digital imaging with a hybrid offset transfer," says John McMahon, manager of specialty paper at Eastern. The company's engineers came up with their own conclusions on how the Indigo's ink adhered to paper on press, and how images were transferred from the printer's blanket to the paper. That led to Eastern's independent brand.
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) does the technical certification of paper for the Indigo press in North America. "We've done extensive work beyond RIT," McMahon says, bringing in outside experts in addition to in-house staff.
Unlike some small- and mid-sized mills that push R&D down to the supplier level, Eastern maintains its own test lab. Large mills, like Georgia Pacific and International Paper, also test their paper on specific digital output devices. And though they won't admit it, some are producing paper that gets branded by familiar copier, printer, and digital press makers, says Jim Forrest, industry analyst and managing editor of the Hard Copy Supplies Journal.
"Paper has good margins," Forrest says. "They can get more money for their brand. Go to an office supply store and you can see branded paper selling for [significantly] more than a generic competitor."
Whether they go it alone or co-develop with mills, Forrest says virtually all the leading digital copier, printer, and press makers regularly send engineers to work closely with preferred mills to ensure products to fit their spec.