Inside the Digital Paper Labs at Xerox and HP
Scientists compete to make certain their company's papers don't stick, curl, jam, or smear. But even the finest papers can send a print job amok if environmental conditions are ignored.
We take paper sheets for granted, never giving a second thought to the ream of paper we load into the short run digital press, laser printer, or copying machine. But the company that sold the paper is probably obsessed with every scientific detail there is to know.
That, in a nutshell, explains why digital press and related vendors are going to great lengths to develop, manufacture, and sell paper that doesn't foul up inside the machine.
Xerox and Hewlett-Packard are two such vendors going head-to-head in the market for copiers, printers, and digital presses. And they're selling a lot more than just the digital imaging devices.
Every copier, printer, and press they sell opens the door to repeat follow-on sales of paper, inks, and toners. Xerox and HP count on supplying these consumables—preferably all of a customer's consumables—to generate years of revenue that far exceed the initial price tag on a digital press or other output device.
To get the highest printing quality, digital press vendors recommend 'digital paper'; that is, paper that's been engineered specifically to be run through a digital copier, printer, or high-speed on-demand press.
For paper researchers, the devil is in the details. How stiff is the paper? How thick is each sheet? How heavy is it? It's made of wood pulp, but which trees and what chemistry does it have?
"When you get to the engineering level, there is quite a bit that's important," says Joe Kurzweil, manager for Xerox's paper laboratory, in Rochester, N.Y. "There is fiber, filler, adhesives that bind the pieces together, the 'squareness' of the cut, dust, the quality of the wrapper to keep out moisture, caliper, basis weight, and chemistry. And there are the elements that help the toner grip the paper, too. You design the media to reduce the chances of variability."