At its press conference on Wednesday, May 18, at On Demand, Mohawk Digital Papers announced the industry’s first premium uncoated (and soon to be coated) paper for HP Indigo presses that does not require Sapphire treatment. The paper, called Supertone i-Tone, was developed in conjunction with the Nalco Company, an industrial chemical company, and is manufactured at the mill and does not require an offline treatment. The paper also works with dry toner presses.

While the promise of non-Sapphire-treated paper has been in the offing for some time, this one actually works. Mohawk Superfine i-Tone was tested extensively at the Printing Applications Laboratory at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). The uncoated papers achieved 99.5% toner adhesion and the flaking tests were minimal at 1mm or less. Even after 250 sheets, only one sheet was required to clean the blanket memory.

“We Were Blown Away”

“Frankly, we knew this was a good paper, but we were blown away by the results,” said Chris Harrold, director of business development for Mohawk, who supplied members of the press with multiple samples printed on an HP Indigo 3000. “The uncoated paper’s toner adhesion exceeds requirements by 17-18 points. In our coated paper, we have 100% toner adhesion.”

The introduction of an alternative to Sapphire coating eliminates a long-time challenge for the digital printing industry. Sapphire-treated papers, while having good printing characteristics, have an extremely short shelf life.

“We’ve seen paper that was five months, 26 days old, fail,” said Harrold. “It really has been weakest link.”

Zero to One Sheet Blanket Memory

The RIT tests have been duplicated at live installations. Harrold cited the experience of one HP Indigo install, where press operators have been achieving clean blankets after zero to one sheet. By contrast, Sapphire-treated papers have averaged 3-4 sheets.

“This really addresses a cost-of-ownership issue,” Harrold said.

Certainly does. In an industry that thrives on extremely short runs, this can add up. On a 100-sheet job, for example, that’s a savings of 3-4% on paper. On a 25-sheet job, it’s a savings of 12%.

Despite its benefits, the new Superfine i-Tone papers will cost approximately 25% less than treated papers. The reason? Lugging the paper from Mohawk’s Albany, NY, mill, to the treatment facility in Houston, TX, where it is treated in an offline process, then rewrapped and shipped back to the mill for distribution, is expensive. Applying the treatment as part of the manufacturing process eliminates the extra steps and shows up (or, rather, doesn’t show up) in the price tag.

Mohawk’s uncoated Superfine i-Tone will be available in June. Its coated Superfine i-Tone will be available at the end of June.

Enhanced Color Copy Line

In other Mohawk news, Mohawk Color Copy line, launched in September, 2003, and also uses a digital imaging surface chemistry to enhance toner performance, is seeing some extensions. Its 96 bright product is being increased to 98 brightness and the company is introducing 100# cover.

Purchase of International Paper’s Fine Papers

Mohawk is also excited about its purchase of IP’s Fine Papers division, which doubles the size of the company. Essentially, it takes Mohawk from being a regional player to a national — and even global — one. The well-respected Strathmore, BriteHue, Via, Beckett, and Strathmore Artist Papers brands now join Mohawk’s line, expanding Mohawk’s portfolio at both ends of the spectrum — the very high end and the retail, consumer end.

Because the additions are complementary, not competitive, Mohawk does not expect there to be any major shake-ups…beyond, perhaps, giving the division more attention and visibility. “The Fine Papers division went from 1% of IP’s sales to 50% of our sales,” said Laura Shore, vice president of marketing communications for Mohawk. “It’s great for the Fine Papers Division and it’s great for us.”