It's Not Fake ... It's Synthetic
Synthetic paper has grown in popularity for its durability and environmental advantages. This waterproof, tear-resistant plastic prints like its pulp-based counterpart, yet is 100% recyclable.
To help you learn more about synthetic substrates, here are the answers to some common questions.
What is synthetic paper?
Synthetic paper is a white matte plastic that is made from a mixture of polypropylene and polyethylene. It’s either produced by die extrusion with a clay coated finish, or clay filled when being produced into a single layered substrate by calendar extrusion. Based on each process the clay coating or filler increases the dyne level which makes synthetic paper easily printable by offset, screen and UV inkjet printing processes.
Is synthetic paper available in different grades and colors?
Yes, synthetic paper comes in a variety of grades and colors for a multitude of applications. For example, it can be made with extra or less opacity for blockout window posters or transit displays, respectively. It can come in light gauge label stock or heavy gauge board thickness (from .0025 up to .035 gauge). It can be manufactured to fold, conform to different shapes or stand alone for in-store signage where the material needs to hold its shape. UV-inhibitors can be added for outdoor applications, and a top coating makes it more suitable for digital printing.
Synthetic paper can be made into narrow or wide rolls for flexo and wide-format printing, or custom sheet sizes for offset and digital printing. Custom rolls can be made up to 72˝ wide and sheets can be made in a range of sizes, from 12x18˝ up to 72x110˝. It can also be made in custom colors for speciality applications.
Why is the synthetic paper market growing?
Consumer brands want their promotions to be durable and recyclable. By using synthetic paper, they are contributing to a more sustainable environment that will use less natural resources. This is why it’s commonly referred to as “tree-free” paper.
Fueling this growth is more print advertising that needs to be durable and can last for longer periods of time (three to six months) as compared to one to two weeks with pulp-based substrates. Companies also want a substrate that can hold up under harsh environmental conditions, such as rain, humidity, wind and temperature changes. Tear-resistance is also an important factor. It can provide quick turnaround for signage without having to depend on outside sources.
What are the advantages of synthetic paper?
All synthetic papers are 100% recyclable, moisture resistant, tear resistant and UV resistant, which helps keep them out of the waste stream longer than pulp paper. Unlike PVC-vinyl and polystyrene substrates, synthetic papers do not use chlorine, stearates, heavy metals or any cancer-causing chemicals in its manufacturing process. Therefore, synthetic paper is considered more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
What types of work is it best suited for?
Synthetic paper is ideal for printing indoor and outdoor signs, posters, block-out window displays, back-lit transit displays, aisle signs and P-O-P hang signs, merchandise header cards, banners, menus, manuals, book covers, ID cards, maps, tags, labels and much more. Synthetic paper is well-suited for these applications because it’s waterproof, tear resistant and UV-resistant against sunlight. It comes in a variety of grades and gauge thicknesses.
What type of work should be avoided?
Any type of laser printing on synthetic paper should be avoided because of the high temperatures, unless the synthetic paper is made with a high-temperature polyester film.
How does synthetic paper run through wide-format digital inkjet printers?
All synthetic paper grades are easily printable by UV inkjet. However, you would need to request to have top-coated grades made for eco-solvent, solvent and latex inkjet. The papers come in roll and sheet sizes, up to 72˝ wide. Converting services make it possible to custom-tailor either the roll or sheet size to the specific printing project.
Is the proliferation of UV inkjet equipment a factor in today’s synthetic paper market?
Yes, the market for UV inkjet equipment is growing 60% faster than conventional printing equipment, such as offset, screen and flexo printing. The advantages are based on the following:
- The ability to print small runs;
- The flexibility to print words, numbers or images without changing plates;
- The ability to set up a UV inkjet printing operation without high investment costs as compared to setting up offset, screen, and flexo equipment.
Can synthetic paper be drilled or spiral bound without fusing or diecutting issues?
Because synthetic paper is made from plastic, it needs to be handled more carefully when it comes to drilling and binding. We usually recommend drilling with a tungsten steel die, in sheet lifts less than ½˝ thick. When perforating and diecutting holes for a spiral bound notebook, we recommend using sharp steel rule dies that have a 60 Rockwell hardness, which will allow it to diecut the synthetic paper without wearing down the die.
What is the look, feel and durability of synthetic paper versus paper?
Most synthetic papers offer a bright white, matte finish, with a high opacity above 93%. It has the look of white offset paper and the weather-resistant properties of plastic. Synthetic paper also has a low static surface that will prevent double feeding, making it easier to process into a finished product.
How does synthetic paper compare in price to white offset paper?
Because it is made from plastic, synthetic paper can be twice as expensive as fine offset paper. For this reason, it’s recommended for longer-term uses such as menus, seasonal P-O-P displays, banners and manuals, which may be exposed to harsh environments. Synthetic paper is used for more durable applications where its properties will allow it to last significantly longer than paper.
How does synthetic paper print compared to alternative plastic substrates?
Synthetic paper has a smooth, bright-white surface that offers a higher dyne level (42-47) than conventional plastic (38-40). With a smooth matte or a clay-coated surface, inks will print with a higher density and sharper dot gain, creating higher-resolution graphics with a more durable image than conventional plastics such as PVC vinyl and polystyrene.
Are there any challenges specific with synthetic paper regarding printing and converting?
The challenge is mainly the cost, which is higher than the cost of paper and generic plastic such as PVC vinyl and polystyrene.
How can these challenges of synthetic paper be overcome?
The challenges are easily overcome when considering the big picture. Synthetic paper provides a higher print quality and greater durability. It also has the advantage of being 100% recyclable and more environmentally friendly than PVC vinyl, which can contain heavy metal or cancer-causing chemicals.
What role does synthetic paper play in the environment?
Synthetic paper was created to replace wood-based paper because of the expanding threat of environmental damage to the world’s forests, as well as the increasing demand for more environmentally friendly plastics that will help to reduce landfill waste and chemical pollution when incinerated.
Jack Smith is the Sr. Vice President of Hop Industries Corporation. In 1993, he launched the Hop-Syn synthetic paper division of Hop Industries. Smith was instrumental in developing seven grades of Hop-Syn, from back-lit, block-out, foldable, to heavy gauge tear resistant stock for the P-O-P and packaging markets. He has extensive knowledge in printing processes including, offset, flexo, screen, laser, UV and latex inkjet, as well as fabricating processes including, cold and hot melt glue, film lamination, injection molding, top coating and pressure sensitive coating. Smith’s technical knowledge and experience were fundamental in helping to tailor the Hop-Syn synthetic paper for niche markets.