Remember paper? It’s that run of the mill stuff everyone used to draw on before CAD programs were invented. Now that concepts are more often sketched out on screen, however, paper is increasingly becoming an afterthought. But when carefully chosen, this is a material that can add value to a finished design.
Hoping to convince designers that their product is worth getting excited about, paper manufacturers are investing heavily in trend forecasting to create innovative ranges. While these specialist papers may only be worth around 5 per cent of the total market share, their value lies in their high profile appeal – by turning heads, they draw attention to the manufacturer’s brand as a whole.
Where once ‘recycled’ was the only buzz-word in the industry required to shift products, the latest papers are being marketed for their aesthetic, rather than ethical, appeal. For the finished product to be a success, however, it has to be practical. The challenge for manufacturers is to create paper that is visually exciting, but can also be easily printed with a four-colour image.
Interest in handmade papers from Japan and India containing petals and leaves has sparked the current trend for ‘inclusions’, papers with particles – either natural or synthetic – added to the pulp mix in the preparation stage of the paper-making process. While the traditional papers may be beautiful, their delicate nature makes them problematic for use in professionally printed applications. Three-dimensional elements tend to peel off, taking a layer of print with them, but modern inclusions are now being produced commercially to reduce this problem.
While these papers are now produced for their aesthetic value, the idea of commercially produced inclusions originates from the rather more prosaic world of security papers, predominately used by banks and Government agencies. These contain both visible and invisible inclusions made from dyed cellulose and plastic fibres, which are added to the paper to give a document authenticity and make it more difficult to counterfeit.
Almost anything can be included in paper as long as it can create a bond with the pulp mix. As such, natural materials tend to work better than synthetic, and flowers, leaves, fruits and vegetables are all being used with success. There are certain limitations: dry, fine particles, such as some leaves or flowers, can break down – a problem referred to as ‘dusting’ – and some coloured particles containing natural dyes can ‘bleed’ (tea leaves will turn the paper brown). The finished papers tend also to be uncoated, which means their surface texture is generally rougher and they absorb ink more readily than their standard counterparts.
Since the inclusions have to be small, flat and flexible to ensure the finished paper surface can be easily printed, many inclusions are so subtle, they are virtually invisible. Sometimes simply the idea of an inclusion is enough to spark the imagination, and these papers have found a niche in promotional or marketing applications. Curtis Fine Papers, a Scottish manufacturer whose mill was converted from a William Haig distillery 170 years ago, has created the Curtis Malts range, made using real mash – a bi-product of the whisky making process of turning malt into spirit. Available in five different colours, each named after a whisky region (Highland, Lowland, Islay, Campbeltown and Speyside), the inclusions are practically invisible. Despite this, the product’s potential was not lost on Edinburgh-based design group Redpath, which used Curtis Malts papers for a range of branded merchandising to promote Tartan Day 2002 in America (see over).
German paper manufacturer Gmund has created several papers with similarly interesting inclusions, all of which are pH neutral and suitable for commercial printing, as well as being fade and age resistant. Bierpapier is made from beer drags, a waste material from the beer industry, and recycled beer mats. Available in a selection of colours named after different kinds of beer, there is Pils, a yellow ochre colour; Ale, a terracotta colour and Bock, which is black. Money is a paper made with devaluated German Mark bills that comes in two versions: Big Money with large inclusions, and Small Money with smaller particles. Cannabis, as the name suggests, is made with hemp fibres in varying quantities: Pur is 100 per cent hemp while Essenz (60 per cent hemp) and Melange (30 per cent hemp) also contain recycled pulp and post-consumer waste. The use of hemp, while a strong gimmick in its own right, also contributes to the technical performance of the paper: since hemp fibres are naturally long, the finished sheets are strong and sturdy.
Green credentials are still important, however. Italian paper manufacturer Favini has launched a range of environmentally friendly inclusions papers. Alga Carta is paper made from physically and mechanically treated seaweed from the Venice Lagoon. The manufacturer first patented their chemical-free process in the early 1990s, and its slogan ‘Saving trees for a cleaner sea’, refers to both environmental issues that the product addresses: first, reducing the use of wood pulp, and second, helping to solve the problem of the seaweed in the Lagoon. Since the launch of Alga Carta, Favini has developed other papers that make use of industrial or natural waste, such as agro-industrial processing waste from maize, sugar beet and citrus fruit.
Beyond the obvious novelty factor of these paper ranges, however, many in the industry believe that their appeal is limited. Paper distributor Robert Horne is developing the concept of a bespoke inclusions service, rather than attempting to compete in the marketplace with a standard range. ‘Many inclusion papers haven’t succeeded,’ says Robert Horne marketing manager Steve Brading. ‘They don’t tend to excite designers, because they offer a stock range and a standard product. The future lies in a more personalised approach – designers are all after non-standard substrates.’
Perhaps the future lies in a more radical interpretation of the original idea of adding materials to the base pulp mix to give the finished sheet added properties, such as tear-proofing and water-proofing. While some may argue that the word ‘paper’ no longer applies to such complex composite materials, manufacturers are investing heavily in trend forecasting research to come up with the next big thing. Micro-encapsulation – where tiny bubbles of scent are impregnated into the structure of the paper – is among the ideas currently being considered.
The newest kid on the block, however, is manufacturer Arjo Wiggins’ Curious Soft Touch, distributed by Robert Horne, a paper with liquid latex poured over one side of the pulp mix, giving the finished sheet a luxurious texture. Manchester-based graphics group Love is currently considering using Curious Soft Touch for the cover of the Youth Justice Trust Annual Report. The client, which provides support for young offenders upon discharge from prison, is looking for something that will reflect the work it does. ‘The way something looks is just one of the five senses – the way it feels is critical too,’ explains Love production manager Matt Beardsell. ‘This stuff feels really dreamy, almost like human skin, which fits the content of the report perfectly,’ he says. ‘It’s hard-hitting with a strong human angle, the subject matter is quite edgy and the material is really unusual – it makes you sit up and take notice.’