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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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The Printing Industry Exchange (PIE) staff are experienced individuals within the printing industry that are dedicated to helping and maintaining a high standard of ethics in this business. We are a privately owned company with principals in the business having a combined total of 103 years experience in the printing industry.

PIE's staff is here to help the print buyer find competitive pricing and the right printer to do their job, and also to help the printing companies increase their revenues by providing numerous leads they can quote on and potentially get new business.

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Commercial Printing: Tree-Free Synthetic Paper

A number of years ago I saw a printed advertisement suspended from the bottom of a fish tank. I thought it was pretty impressive, since I would have expected printed paper left underwater to have become unreadable at best or at worst to have assumed the consistency of wet paste. I made a mental note.

Later on, I learned about synthetic papers such as Yupo. There are others as well.

Beyond its curiosity effect, I thought that presenting a little information on this paper might be useful to you, since there are a number of projects that might benefit from a custom printing paper that doesn’t come apart when wet and that’s almost impossible to tear.

What Is Synthetic Paper?

Basically, synthetic paper is a tree-free commercial printing sheet that is based on petroleum rather than wood pulp. You could say it’s a plastic film. Then again, it looks just like an opaque white printing sheet, and you can not only print on it but also successfully score, fold, emboss, or perform most other post-press operations on it.

Benefits of Synthetic Paper

  1. There are environmental benefits. First off, it’s tree-free. This appeals to environmentalists. And it’s 100 percent recyclable as well.
  2. It’s waterproof (and even submersible).
  3. It’s extremely durable and scuff resistant.
  4. As noted above, it can be printed and finished just like wood pulp or cotton fiber paper.

When Would You Use Synthetic Paper?

Here are a few scenarios that would be perfect for synthetic custom printing paper:

  1. Let’s say you need to create a map that hikers will use in the rainforests of Peru. The maps will need to be crisply printed and durable, they will need to be folded in map-fold sequence, and they will need to withstand heavy use in torrential rain. For this, synthetic paper would be ideal.
  2. Or let’s say you need to create labels for wine bottles that will go from the refrigerator to the dinner table in a restaurant. Water condensation due to extreme temperature changes might make a waterproof paper an attractive choice for custom label printing.
  3. Or maybe you want to produce a childproof menu or placemat, something that can be wiped off repeatedly without any degradation in quality. Synthetic paper would be ideal.

The Good News and the Bad News

The Good News

  1. The good news is that this durable, waterproof, tear-resistant, custom printing substrate can be printed via offset lithography, flexography, and inkjet technology.
  2. Since synthetic commercial printing paper is extremely resistant to chemicals and oils, it can be used for chemical labels and such, as well as food labels.
  3. Most synthetic paper includes no toxic materials (no BHA, no lead, and no mercury or chromium). Therefore, it does not release toxic substances when incinerated.

The Bad News

  1. The bad news is that you can’t use synthetic paper in a laser printer due to the high heat. This goes for photocopiers as well, due to the extreme heat required for fusing toner to paper. (Keep in mind, though, that you can use synthetic paper in inkjet equipment, which does not depend on heat for its operation.)
  2. This isn’t really bad news; it’s just a heads-up. Synthetic paper requires specialized ink formulations, attention to the details of using a new substrate when cutting and folding the paper, and consideration of drying time, use of anti-setoff powder, etc. In other words, using synthetic papers demands a learning curve for optimal results by any commercial printing vendor.

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