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Improve Production Efficiencies Through Paper

Every catalog is a brand that is enhanced by balancing a high quality, high impact look and feel with production efficiencies and cost containment concerns. Catalogers and other direct marketers can realize substantial savings by evaluating the paper grades and basis weights currently being used to deliver the desired brand image.

Paper Grade Considerations

New catalogs frequently produce inaugural issues on bright, heavier weight coated papers to grab the attention of potential customers, help the catalog to stand out among its competition and add to the tactile quality and overall aesthetics of the catalog.

As the catalog matures, costs and revenue growth can become a concern. At this point, many consider switching to a different type of paper that will maintain the catalog's quality image yet significantly reduce overall production costs. Catalogers can choose between coated freesheet, coated groundwood and supercalendared papers in a range of basis weights and finishes.

Coated freesheet papers, the highest quality coated papers available on the market, are ideal for high-end fashion, design and lifestyle catalogs, such as Calyx and Corolla, Martha by Mail and Tiffany's, which appeal to upscale audiences and contain products that are rich in color, texture and beauty. For these publishers, image quality is paramount; the finest details must be reproduced to near photographic quality.

To fulfill these requirements, coated freesheet papers offer brightness, opacity, a wide range of finishes, exceptional smoothness and superior image clarity and sharpness. Top-of-the-line coated freesheet papers are purchased at a premium, with a substantially higher cost per printed piece than other paper grades.

Coated groundwood papers are an excellent option for lightweight catalogs that are text-heavy with full ink coverage and minimal white space. Examples of catalogs on groundwood paper include Avon, Land's End and Victoria's Secret. These papers offer a high-quality look and feel by providing increased opacity at the selected weight, high paper and print gloss for vibrant printed images, excellent sheet smoothness and enhanced ink coverage.

Although there are tradeoffs in quality, the weights of groundwood are generally lighter, therefore resulting in significant postal savings. True cost savings depend upon the basis weight used but can amount to double-digit savings of 10 percent, 20 percent or 30 percent over coated freesheet.

High-end supercalendared papers — SCA and SCA+ — are an alternative for publications with lower print quality requirements. Supercalendared papers offer a smooth surface but, because they are uncoated, tend to absorb more ink, which results in increased ink consumption, dot gain and lower print gloss, factors that affect overall image quality.

Supercalendared papers are typically priced below lightweight coated groundwood papers; however, other production related costs that result from press slowdowns, paper waste or ink usage can partially offset some of the savings. Therefore, catalogers must carefully weigh the cost saving advantages of supercalendared papers with product and brand image tradeoffs.

Because different basis weights of paper consume measurably different amounts of ink and ink costs can be a significant portion of a cataloger's yearly expenses, it is important to investigate ink absorption when selecting a new paper. By using ink efficient papers that produce acceptable density and printed gloss, publishers can reap significant savings on press with lighter weight papers. While ink usage on a job-by-job basis is difficult to measure, it is becoming an increasingly important focus of paper manufacturers, printers and publishers. Before making any significant changes, catalogers should determine the effect that a modification in paper stock will have on a catalog's brand identity.

Basis Weight

If you are satisfied with your paper grade, you can consider switching to lower basis weight papers which translate into savings that can amount to millions of dollars for large-run catalogs. Since lighter basis weight papers deliver the same number of printed pages with fewer tons of paper, catalogers purchase less paper yet deliver the same number of catalogs resulting in net financial savings. In addition, a reduction in basis weight will dramatically impact the postal costs.

Lower basis weight papers generally exhibit less bulk and opacity than heavier papers, changing the look and feel of the magazine. Catalogers experiencing problems with opacity as a result of their decision to use lighter basis weight papers can rely upon layout techniques to limit image transparency and production devices to minimize show-through. By targeting appropriate SWOP ink densities, printers can match the paper's capacity to hold out ink. Printers should also use the highest tack inks that do not pick so that sharp dots are printed with minimum ink absorption.

To make lightweight papers more attractive to catalogers, paper manufacturers have increased the brightness of some coated products and have worked to improve print quality. Unique cost-saving products have also been introduced to the marketplace — for example, ultra-lightweight coated groundwood papers with basis weights of 30 pounds and lower and high-bulk products that provide the look, feel and opacity of heavier weight papers.

Management of paper weights and grades is a natural way to save on costs while maintaining and even building brand image over the long run. However, with too dramatic a change in grade or basis weight, loyal customers' perceptions of the quality of the catalog's products may be affected.

Paper grade changes and basis weight reductions can be imperceptible if the new paper selected is designed to emulate some of the qualities of heavier weight paper. Therefore, catalogers should work directly with their paper suppliers to determine appropriate paper grades for a successful transition.

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