Ayman Ali, senior marketing manager – B2B, Canon Middle East, explains to Venkat Raghavan, assistant editor of PrintWeek MEA.

For today’s digital print service providers (PSPs) and in-house print rooms operating with small format cut-sheet digital presses, the capability to print on lighter weight substrates is opening up a vast array of opportunities, thanks to four key market drivers which are stimulating increased demand for lightweight applications.

Growing legislation – Widening international legislation on product labelling is forcing manufacturers to provide accurate operating instructions, handbooks, health and safety warnings, content and usage descriptions, statutory information and so on, provoking rising volumes of packaging inserts. Increasingly, inserts are compulsory documents for manufacturers selling into developed markets, with demand expanding in the pharmaceutical and small household product sectors in particular.

Increased international trade – As manufacturers seek to export their products to more geographical markets, multi-language versions of instructions and health and safety information are also often an additional legal requirement. Products that are made available across many countries must include multi-language texts, but the content must remain readable. As a result, the dimensions of these packaging inserts have been growing over time to accommodate the increased volume of text. These larger inserts tend to require a substantially lighter stock as they are folded multiple times so that they can be included inside even the smallest of packages.

Demand for physical books – There is sustained demand for printed reference books, especially for the legal and scientific communities, as they are regarded as practical, accessible and affordable for most users, as well as being perceived to be more reliable than online info. Digital technology enables dynamic book production to ensure content remains up-to-date. For books with high paginations, lighter stocks are of benefit to the reader and help to reduce shipping costs for the publisher/retailer.

Desire to reduce transportation costs – Manufacturers are always looking to cut costs all along the supply chain, with transportation being a key focus. Lightweight substrates can contribute to reduced product shipping costs by reducing overall package weight. When large quantities of product have to be transported over long distances, weight savings can add up to a significant cost benefits. The same cost driver is impacting the direct marketing sector, where lightweight substrates offer significant cost savings for direct mail, bills and statements sent by post.

The production challenges: The challenge for PSPs historically has been the difficulty of printing lightweight media efficiently and productively using cut-sheet presses. This has limited media flexibility and, with it, PSPs’ scope to access these growth application opportunities. The legislative and market drivers described here are stimulating interest from print buyers in substrates as light as 45gsm, but such light substrates require extremely sensitive handling on press and in finishing processes to reduce the risk of tearing. With this challenge in mind, there has been considerable focus from technology developers such as Canon on introducing innovations that enhance PSPs’ ability to embrace cut-sheet work involving ultra-light media.
Contemporary digital cut-sheet technology is being redesigned to reduce the physical stresses on the paper, addressing this legacy problem. Canon’s VarioPrint 6000 TITAN series of monochrome cut-sheet presses are the first in their category to be optimised for lightweight media in several ways. The presses feature Océ Gemini Instant Duplex technology, which uses twin print heads to print simultaneously on both sides of the media without the need to stop and turn the sheet, substantially reducing the stress on the paper compared with fusing each side separately. In addition, Océ CopyPress technology ‘presses’ toner into the substrate at a low fusing temperature, further lessening the physical stresses on the substrate, while also helps to maintain a flat surface for optimal print and finishing quality and delivering a matte, offset-like image. The TITAN series is available with a Light Weight Media (LWM) option with LWM Air Guide Technology which is specifically designed to enable printing on substrates as light as 45gsm. As a result, light weight media can be printed more reliably as this process of feeding the paper through the press handles the paper with care. These new innovations in mono digital print also enable precision printing. Packaging inserts in particular, may require very small text reproduction with high readability in order to be of benefit to the user. The Océ Gemini Instant Duplex technology delivers near-perfect front-to-back registration so that text can be read more easily. The new VarioPrint 6000 TITAN from Canon also features existing ScreenPoint technology, which detects and optimises the image type for each individual page.

A growth opportunity for mono printers: With the majority of lightweight applications still being printed black and white for reasons of practicality and economy, these expanding applications point to an interesting growth path for PSPs and in-house print departments with the right digital mono capabilities. PSPs and in-house print rooms can take advantage of these new opportunities and enhance their service offering with more specialist media handling capabilities. As a result, they may gain access to lucrative new markets in legal and product documentation, technical publishing, packaging inserts and direct mail.
Ultimately, digital print offers an ideal solution compared with its analogue forerunners, delivering efficient production and predictable costs regardless of run length, and potentially opening up new opportunities for the introduction of customised content.  
For PSPs considering how to invest to take advantage of these avenues for growth in lightweight applications, the key attributes for any new technology must be: consistent output quality; media versatility; high reliability and press uptime to fulfil time-sensitive contracts; optimal productivity and efficiency paired with sensitive media handling; all of course balanced with low total cost of ownership (TCO), also taking into account factors such as energy consumption.
Digital print technologies, such as the Océ VarioPrint 6000 TITAN series presses, that are designed for the broadest range of monochrome printed media open up many possibilities for PSPs. Consolidating all mono production through a single high productivity device, that has the ability to handle a full range of substrates, increases both production efficiencies and growth opportunities. Now’s the time for PSPs and in-house print rooms to consider investing in optimised digital print technology to enable them to take advantage of new markets and lead the way with lightweight.