Synthetic Paper: The Real Deal

From labels for food packaging to children's books, synthetic paper applications are finding a niche within the converting industry and beyond. According to a soon-to-be-released study from Business Communications Co. ( entitled “RP-172 Synthetic Paper Industry,” the current market for synthetic paper is estimated at 110 million lb and is expected to increase to 166 million lb by 2005.

What's driving this steadily growing “paper” market? According to industry experts, it's the growing list of applications (especially in the label market) and increased printing options that are attracting converters to a material whose price tag and lack of converting options once were anything but attractive.

But before gravitating to the still relatively small market of synthetic papers, Gary Duncan, president of Web Resources Intl., Fairport, NY ( suggests converters stay focused on the types of applications they want to achieve with synthetic papers.

“The list of applications is nearly endless,” Duncan says. “[However], the material requirements for these applications are many times quite different. As a consequence, the choice of the stock becomes important both in avoiding problems in the application and in avoiding over-specifying the material and spending much more than is necessary to meet the requirements of the application.”

Adds Robert Weber, national sales manager at Multi-Plastics, Lewis Center, OH (, “The converter needs to match the ‘grade’ of synthetic paper to the end use…and then, [just] as important, they need to match the ink to the synthetic paper. Unlike traditional papers, synthetic paper is a plastic product. Therefore, they would need an ink designed to be used on plastics. Some have claimed that ‘traditional’ inks can be used on synthetic paper. This has not been our experience. However, today's inks for synthetics have been formulated to exhibit exceptional quality without the need for expensive clay coatings.”

In addition to the application, Duncan urges converters to keep in mind the printing method to be used in converting the stock. “Most synthetic papers are designed to be printed by offset lithography, but these days, many applications require printing by digital means. The wide range of digital printing methods in existence most times requires an alternative method of surface modification to that required for offset printing.”

Paul Mitcham, national marketing manager at Yupo Corp., Chesapeake, VA (, agrees. “Converters need to consider print and surface quality and dimensional stability when choosing a synthetic paper. A synthetic that is biaxially oriented is very stable and predictable, which minimizes shrinkage, and when there is shrinkage, it is predictable.”

“Printers have adapted to printing on synthetics versus paper; ink companies have designed more technical inks; and narrow web flexo film presses have been introduced with better tension controls,” adds Weber.

As awareness grows, and converters become more educated on handling these substrates, synthetic papers will find their way into many more converting operations.

“There has been an increase in the use of synthetic papers for a wider range of applications, and more and more people look to synthetics for non-traditional applications. There is an increased awareness of synthetics' advantages — for example, water resistance and improved durability — eliminating the need for plastic laminations,” explains Mitcham.

Duncan agrees. “Handling synthetics almost always involves a learning curve and in some instances an upgrade in printing and finishing facilities,” he says. “Current materials reduce some of the pain by improvements in material stiffness, antistatic tendencies, and print receptivity versus earlier materials. As a result, in many instances the transition can be made quite easily.”

“The demand for synthetic papers will continue to increase as converters find applications where synthetic papers outperform traditional papers in regards to tear resistance and recyclablity,” adds Weber.

Mitcham expects a continuing trend of non-traditional use of synthetics as knowledge and exposure increases and more products engineered specifically for synthetics become available.

Restrictions of time and space limit the number of companies, products, and trends that we can discuss in these reports. For additional information, see PFFC's features and departments each month, consult the June Buyers Guide, and check

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