Substrate suppliers have worked diligently to develop new paper products while also ensuring supply chain efficiency during these most challenging times. Perhaps more than ever, paper substrates have been in high demand, especially as certain end-use products have been disappearing from store shelves at a rapid pace.
Not only must substrates suppliers keep their customers well-stocked, they must account for technology advancements. New printing technologies and material developments, along with a desire to be more sustainable, have necessitated a groundswell of R&D in this space.
“Our substrates continue to evolve as technologies change,” states Angel Harvey, senior product manager – paper at Avery Dennison. “For instance, productivity is increasingly important in many direct thermal labeling applications. Eliminating the liner on direct thermal blanks allows customers to get up to 60% more labels per roll. This leads to fewer roll changes, speeding operations and improving warehouse utilization.”
Papers are evermore applicable for a wide range of end uses, including shipping, dairy, logistics, wine and spirits, beverages, groceries, health and personal care and more.
Cost is also a benefit of going with paper. “Paper labels are less expensive than film, and they work just as well unless you are in applications where there is moisture,” notes Cindy White, president and CEO of Channeled Resources Group.
According to Harvey, papers offer an ease of printing and converting. Plus, they are ideal for high-speed and high-volume applications. “We continue to see sustainability driving a lot of trends within the paper product portfolio,” she says. “The trend is moving to lower basis weight and thinner facestocks for cost and sustainability. Additionally, we are seeing an increased usage of uncoated paper in the market.”
Paper substrates offer a host of other benefits, as well. “Basic papers are our lowest priced materials in the semi-commodity category and are used in prime labeling of everyday grocery materials and simple packaging labels. Papers don’t stretch and are receptive to coatings and inks that rely upon absorption for performance – that makes them excellent for specialty applications such as inkjet top coatings,” says Jim Sheibley, executive VP of sales and marketing at Wausau Coated Products (WCP). “Unlike films, papers are available in colors, many textures, react well to heat, and hold embossing.”
Papers are not a one-size-fits-all proposition either. Substrate suppliers are continually working to tailor their products to match the needs of their customers.
“As our industry is really a small ecosystem, with few suppliers used by all laminators, our distinguishing feature is service,” explains Patricia Mulvey, marketing manager at Green Bay Packaging. “A part of that is our willingness to source and stock unique products for individual customers’ needs. These customer-specific papers may be in special colors, with unique textures, have particular performance characteristics, and other specific characteristics to address the requirements of exacting applications.”
Converters also have access to synthetic paper substrates, as well. PPG, for example, has engineered Teslin, a substrate that has a microporous polyolefin-silica composition that readily absorbs ink, toner and adhesive. As a result, Teslin labelstock locks printed information into its structure, protecting it against wear from handling, scuffing and abrasion.
“Synthetic papers were introduced to be durable like plastic but look, feel and print like traditional pulp-based paper,” comments Fabrizio Mandingorra, PPG global segment manager, labels and graphics for Teslin Substrate Products. “Synthetics are often used in demanding label applications where the label, and the information that is printed on it, needs to remain secure for the life of the item. Synthetics typically offer durability benefits like water-, chemical- and tear-resistance that conventional paper-based labels don’t, yielding higher performance and an extended life time. Leveraging the right synthetic paper can unlock additional properties that enable complex labeling applications, including program-specific security, RFID and smart functionality.”
Synthetic paper labels are used in industrial and commercial product identification for items ranging from wine bottles to hazardous materials, to traceability labels for food and pharmaceuticals, to brand authentication for high-end consumer goods. According to Mandingorra, PPG is seeing steady demand for GHS-compliant chemical containers, medical equipment and pharmaceutical labels, tamper-evident and tamper-resistant security labels for track and trace and brand protection, digital personalization, outdoor applications, wine and spirit bottles, craft beer, RFID and smart labels, transportation and automotive, nursery, and heavy equipment.
Papers must also be optimized for digital printing – a growing trend in the label and packaging industry. Avery Dennison, for example, has been working with OEMs directly to certify its materials. “In turn, we are able to provide a broader range of raw materials that service or leverage the digital value proposition, lower MOQs and increase speed to market,” says Harvey. “Additionally, as we continue to see more converters doing inline printing, we are also seeing that our standard portfolio works without the need for specialized topcoats.”
As water-based inkjet printing grows, WCP has started producing its own inkjet-optimized papers for Epson and many other OEMs. The company’s latest development is an inkjet PS product that runs well on Epson ColorWorks machines yet sells at a price point near thermal transfer pricing, allowing color-on-demand labels to enter uses held for decades by pre-printed labels and thermal printers. WCP also offers a breadth of solutions for HP presses too.
“Wausau Coated has a growing business in UV-inkjet performance coatings; that occurs because OEMs oversell their flexibility when selling presses, then we, substrates providers, must provide robust solutions,” explains Sheibley. “We accept the responsibility to deliver papers that work consistently on UV-inkjet lines. Indigo presses are coming with ILPs, yet still the deep textures and specialties need and merit our coatings, so our offerings meet a need and deliver value to Indigo users.”
Sustainability is not just a buzzword in the label industry, and this trend has permeated the paper space. Even though cost has always been a factor, suppliers are dedicating the required resources to produce more environmentally-friendly materials.
Acucote, for example, recently launched its 60# Hemp paper, which features 25% hemp and 75% post-consumer wood (PCW). The supplier also only uses water-based emulsion adhesives and 100% solids silicone formulations, as well as providing customers with lower gauge paper raw material options for sending less waste into the landfill.
“No doubt – requirements for sustainable solutions are here to stay,” says Earl Curran, VP of business development at Acucote. “Our immediate sourcing and development goals are centered around providing functional, moderately-priced substrates. We are actively launching and seeking raw material alternatives to build more sustainable product lines. We have joined environmental and regulatory committees to ensure we are up-to-date with our customers’ needs.
Curran adds, “Today’s biggest development drivers are centered around print compatibility and sustainability. As print systems evolve special print compatible TC’s will wane. Repulpability, recyclability and compostibility will continue to drive paper facestock development and selection well into the future.”
The discussion with converters is not an uncomfortable one. “We offer advice on recycling of waste to energy options to all of our customers,” says Channeled Resources’ White. “Sustainability is our middle name, with our founder, Calvin Frost, helping clients all over the world.”
“Sustainability is the driving force behind many of our innovations at Avery Dennison,” says Harvey. “Based on both VOC and through our own sustainable goals, we are developing products and solutions that make choosing sustainability easy, we can be a force for good.”
Avery Dennison has identified four key areas of sustainability, which target responsibly sourced materials and components, reduced materials, enabling recycling, and utilizing recycled content. The company’s Eco portfolio and 30% PCW facestocks have been developed with these principles in mind.
According to Spinnaker Coating, big brand companies are pushing the agenda and have the market clout to ensure sustainable products are a key component of any new business or product development. “As we consider new projects, some aspect of sustainability must be included in the project goals,” says Joel Ulrich, roll product marketing manager. “It could include any of the four R’s of sustainability or a combination of several. The intent is to have a growing portfolio of sustainable product options available to meet the constantly changing needs of the marketplace.”
“We continuously look for ways to make our everyday products more sustainable,” says Green Bay Packaging’s Mulvey. “For example, we will soon be switching our entire portfolio of direct thermal, thermal transfer, and fluorescent papers to FSC-certified versions, along with a number of other grades. These are in addition to a wide variety of FSC-certified papers we currently carry. We also offer post-consumer waste versions of semi-gloss, laser and inkjet, and wet strength beer and wine papers, and are working to expand that list.”
The pandemic has made an indelible mark on the paper substrate industry. With society in flux and certain consumer products flying off the shelves, demand has surged for materials. The sustained requirements of paper suppliers are not likely to end soon, either.
“Our blank label business is up 30% year-over-year, with no end in sight and an expectation for continued growth next year,” says Channeled Resources’ White. “Covid has more and more people ordering online, and every shipment needs a label. We do not think this trend will go away when the pandemic ends.”
“It’s a toilet paper situation – we have customers waiting for as much as we can make,” states Green Bay Packaging’s Mulvey. “Many of our customers support the food, personal care and household cleaner markets. As consumers demand more of these products, the need for labels surged, and so has the need for labelstock. In addition, with shoppers’ increased use of e-commerce, the volume of shipping labels, particularly direct thermal, has risen greatly.”
Demand has responded to the ebb and flow in certain key consumer product areas. “Some of those being hand sanitizer labels, tamper evident fast-food closures, logistic labels, and various medical device applications,” states Spinnaker Coating’s Ulrich. “With the growth of these sectors, we have experienced increased demand in some of our specialty grades. For example, our SafeTE brand is used for brand protection, authenticity, and security options because of its tamper evident properties.”
The pandemic has caused some converters to divert from sustainable materials. However, that trend is expected to resume in the future.
“As our customers focus on supplying labels for basic needs, the requests for sustainable and specialty papers have dropped,” notes Mulvey. “However the long-term drivers that support of the use of these products have not gone away, therefore, we expect as things return to normal, demand for those products should return.”
Acucote has debuted a 60# Hemp Paper. Also, as a somewhat non-traditional offering, the company has launched a 1.8 mil product made from cellulose fibers.
“Demand has been quite brisk as label providers connect with products for growing markets,” says Acucote’s Curran. “Unique papers, such as our 60# Hemp, bring originality and character to their customers’ products. Compostable in both industrial and home compost environments, the cellulose fiber product is a suitable replacement for a number of petro-chemical based facestocks.”
For digitally-printed products, Acucote offers matte and gloss topcoated papers for dye, pigment, toner, HP Indigo and UV inkjet presses. All of these topcoats are flexo compatible and some can cross over into multiple digital platforms.
“At Acucote, digital customizations with low MOQs are key,” adds Curran. “We are able to topcoat most of our paper line with a digital compatible coating. With the low MOQ of a master width x 5,000’, customers can order any Acucote adhesive/liner combination with the paper facestock.”
Avery Dennison has engineered a broad portfolio of specialty papers, prime paper and VI papers, with its latest products being unveiled in the Eco portfolio. TTC Eco is a topcoated thermal transfer label construction with a 2.1 mil paper facestock, and 1.5 mil liner. These thinner components allow a 20,000′ roll of TTC Eco to have the same outer diameter and weight as a 15,000′ roll of the standard TTC product, Harvey notes.
DT Eco has been created as a “sister product” to TTC Eco. DT Eco is a thin, 2.1 mil, non-topcoated, direct thermal printable facestock, made with FSC-certified paper. That facestock is married to Avery Dennison’s S1550 PSA, a general-purpose product designed for reliable adhesion to corrugated cardboard and plastic surfaces.
Avery Dennison, which has expanded its portfolio of FSC-certified paper facestocks to more than 500 products, has also developed TrueCut All-Temp Adhesive Technology, AT2550. TrueCut All-Temp has been designed to provide good room temperature and excellent cold temperature performance without sacrificing diecutting and stripping properties.
Meanwhile, the company’s rPET recycled content liner, which contains 30% post-consumer waste from recycled PET bottles, is available on a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified semi-gloss paper facestock. Harvey adds that the company will continue to expand the portfolio of paper and film products available with this liner.
Channeled Resources Group, which concentrates on longer-run, high-volume business, has launched its new Channeled Choice inventory of premium off-cut PSA papers. Inventory changes regularly, but savings are anywhere from 5-30%, depending on the substrate, notes White.
“On our label side, we are very busy trying to keep up with the e-commerce growth,” she adds. “Our blank label business is on fire. We provide commodities like 4 x 6 materials as well as custom products such as 2 x 1 blanks.”
The Channeled Choice portfolio includes premium papers, VI papers and films, prime films and specialized labelstocks. “We’re thrilled that with Channeled Choice we will now be able to offer thousands of best quality pressure sensitive papers and films at a better price,” says White. “Our warehouse is receiving truckloads of new material every week. We’ve been known as a respected supplier of both A-grade offcuts and price fighter B-grade labelstock for a long time, but with this new agreement, we’re making a major stride to becoming a valuable resource of premium labelstock for the North American label market.”
Green Bay Packaging has focused its R&D efforts on more sustainable products and those for digital printing.
“We are always searching for unique products from sustainable sources, such as our Hemp paper made with hemp fiber and post-consumer waste, or our Kona paper, which is produced from used coffee bean bags and PCW,” says Mulvey. “As these products do not contain virgin wood fibers, they help preserve natural resources.
Green Bay Packaging recently added more paper recyclable adhesives to its portfolio. These products have been certified to meet the TLMI Laboratory Recycling Protocol, TLMI-LRP-2 for recyclability of paper labels on paper substrates.
“We have also made continuous efforts to ensure that our digital customers have as much selection as those using traditional presses,” adds Mulvey. “Inkjet, both water-based and UV, appear to be the platforms in greatest demand right now. We recently launched new semi-gloss papers for those technologies.”
PPG Teslin continues to lead the way in synthetic paper substrates. The product is compatible with a wide range of print processes, including digital inkjet, laser and thermal transfer for on-demand and variable data printing, with no coating or corona treatment required. PPG’s Mandingorra states that the substrate is flexible and conformable to different packaging shapes, while some synthetics have a degree of rigidity that makes them prone to corner peeling.
Plus, because Teslin is naturally heat-resistant, it has always been suitable for most digital printing methods. To ensure the substrate is compatible with a specific engine, PPG works closely with print OEMs to test its materials on new printing equipment to understand what adjustments are needed to the profile.
PPG is also consistently adding new materials to its portfolio. “We’ve added product grades of Teslin substrate to support customer needs for biodegradable, direct food contact, and security applications for program-specific, traceable materials,” explains Mandingorra. “Our security-grade offering builds on Teslin substrate’s tear-resistance and tamper-evident benefits by embedding covert and forensic security features into the material to provide easy authentication and deter counterfeiting.”
Spinnaker Coating has partnered with Neenah Performance Materials to help launch Endura inkjet durable paper. Endura inkjet durable paper is a saturated and coated paper facestock that offers the high durability and chemical resistance that would generally only be expected from a film facestock. This product offers matte finish with excellent printability via flexo and water-based inkjet platforms. For true durable applications, such as BS5609 or other chemical labeling, using pigment inks are recommended.
“Our partnership with Neenah has been great,” exclaims Ulrich. “We’ve used Neenah products for years, but the recent Endura project took things to another level. We were able to capitalize on some of their expertise to develop a differentiating product in the market. To have a paper facestock that has the performance of a film, but at a price point of a paper has already shown tremendous interest among our customer base.
UPM Raflatac, to better serve this market, has partnered with Mohawk Fine Papers to offer sustainable roll-fed PS labeling materials made with hemp and straw paper facestocks. Through this partnership, UPM Raflatac is introducing PS label products constructed from Mohawk Renewal Straw (30% straw and 70% PCW) and Mohawk Renewal Hemp (30% hemp and 70% PCW).
“The Mohawk Renewal portfolio offers printers and end users unique, sustainable products combined with high performance and fantastic shelf appeal,” says Lee Green, segment manager at UPM Raflatac.
Wausau Coated Products has launched several new paper products. With the growth of olive orchards and artisan oils, the company has engineered an Olive Oil label with resistance to staining from oil. In the uncoated papers category, intense textures and embosses have been prioritized with the Celtic Linen and Picasso brands. Non-wood papers feature agave, jute fiber and cotton, and the company has also developed a dissolvable paper – Dispersa.
“We are being responsive to corporate initiatives coming from our converters’ customers, plus implementing our own guiding principles of sustainable sourcing and working to nudge the paper industry to ever more sustainable and preferable harvesting and production methods,” says Sheibley. “The end-of-life and recyclability scenarios for packages and the labels that adorn them are rising in importance.”