What Is HP’s ColorPRO Technology Strategy?

Jim Hamilton
Apr 17, 2010

Two recent announcements shed some light on the progress that HP has made on the development of third-party produced papers that are enhanced for use on the T300 Inkjet Web Press:

  • Georgia Pacific launched a line of treated uncoated stocks using ColorPRO technology. The ColorPRO brand denotes that the papers employ an HP-developed technology that facilitates high-quality print output on HP’s T300 Inkjet Web Press. The line of papers is called Spectrum Web Inkjet and is available now in the United States. (Link to Georgia-Pacific news)
  • Appleton Coated will develop coated papers for the T300 Inkjet Web Press using HP technology under the Utopia brand. These papers will include matte and dull finishes designed for textbook, publication, direct mail, and other commercial printing applications. The substrates are currently in production trials and are expected to be available in mid-2010 in North America. (Link to Appleton news)

The Georgia Pacific release was notable in that it mentioned the ColorPRO brand. The Appleton release did not. The reason behind this is relatively simple. The Georgia Pacific stocks are uncoated. The Appleton stocks are coated. In response to a question from InfoTrends HP clarified that ColorPRO as a technology and a brand is for uncoated stocks only. Appleton’s coated stocks will employ an HP-developed technology, not ColorPRO, and therefore will not be part of the ColorPRO technology brand.

The shades in meaning are fine here and they range from the ColorLok brand that HP uses for office cut-sheet inkjet papers, to ColorPRO, which is used for uncoated stocks for the T300, to the unbranded HP technology that Appleton will employ for coated stocks. The technologies behind these formulations are similar, but are not the same. What they all have in common is that they are designed to keep the pigments in the ink close to the surface of the paper.

As you likely have heard, HP’s T300 Inkjet Web Press uses what HP calls a “bonding agent” to facilitate ink adhesion, minimize showthrough and spread, and improve color gamut on untreated coated stocks. This bonding agent is applied by the same type of inkjet heads that apply the other colors, and very importantly, they only apply the bonding agent where it is needed (i.e., where other colors will be laid down). Knowing this you might ask: “Why would you use a ColorPRO paper if the bonding agent used with the T300 Inkjet Web Press is capable of producing output that adheres to uncoated stocks?” The simple answer is that the ColorPRO stock will assure equal or better quality, particularly for higher coverage applications. Another key aspect is that use of ColorPRO stocks may also allow the user to get better results on lighter grades of paper. In other words, the user may be able to get good quality results on a lighter grade of stock than would be possible with just the bonding agent.

The advantage of using a bonding agent applied in-line with inkjet heads is that it works with virtually any uncoated stock. The advantage of printing on a ColorPRO paper is that it improves the quality level, particularly with higher coverage applications. Its disadvantage is that the ColorPRO substrates are expected to be somewhat more expensive than untreated stocks. Exactly how much more expensive won’t be clear until the paper vendors announce pricing, but the smaller the differential, the greater their chance of success. HP believes that ColorPRO papers will provide the user the flexibility to determine the right cost/quality combination for any given print job. Users will decide when to use the bonding agent on untreated uncoated papers and when to opt for the ColorPRO Papers. Those with higher quality requirements and higher coverage print applications will be the prime candidates for ColorPRO. One cost advantage from their perspective will be that though the ColorPRO stocks will be more expensive than untreated ones, T300 users will not have to apply bonding agent when using a ColorPRO paper, which will reduce the running cost somewhat.

The bonding agent, however, doesn’t work on coated stock, so those customers needing a coated stock will have to turn to Appleton, which has the exclusive North American license to use the HP technology for coated paper. We can expect similar types of announcements for other geographies.

In summary, HP T300 Inkjet Web Press customers have three options:

  • Use bonding agent on standard offset uncoated stocks — This provides the flexibility to use a wide range of untreated uncoated stocks
  • Use ColorPRO treated uncoated stocks — These stocks take advantage of patented ColorPRO technology that is optimized for quality output at high volumes, yet presents relatively few choices of substrates
  • Use an inkjet coated stock — These stocks, to be available exclusively in North America from Appleton Coated, use HP technology and are optimized for high speed printing

One last point: the Georgia-Pacific ColorPRO branded uncoated and Appleton inkjet-treated coated stocks have potential beyond HP’s T300 Inkjet Web Press. They should benefit other production color inkjet systems using aqueous pigment-based inks. While HP’s T300 uses only pigment-based inks, other vendors have offered users the choice of dye-based or pigment-based inks. They do so because the dye-based inks are generally cheaper though they aren’t as durable or as capable of the quality levels of pigment-based inks. HP says that the ColorPRO papers will deliver enhanced performance on non-HP pigment-based systems. They note that these papers will provide “comparable performance” on dye-based systems. The coated papers from Appleton will only help for systems using pigment-based inks; they won’t have a benefit for those systems using dye-based inks.

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