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Whiter vs. brighter

Dec 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Paper Update

Prompted by domestic competition and pressure from foreign imports, North American mills are improving brightness, opacity and whiteness specifications for coated and uncoated papers. Many grades that qualify as Premium No. 1, No. 1, No. 2, etc., brands now offer higher brightness levels, but without a corresponding price increase. For years, target brightness levels and classifications remained the same. But several developments are changing that:

  • More foreign papers are entering the North American market.
  • More North American mills are using Fluorescent Whitening Agents (FWAs).
  • Emerging technology.
Coated grades changed first
Coated grades were the first to change their brightness ratings. Over the past two years, mills have dropped some Premium No. 1 grades into No. 1 Coated classifications, and No. 1 Coated grades down into No. 2 Coated classifications. As it became apparent that the old coated standards were becoming obsolete, Grade Finders contacted all of the major North American paper mills for updated information. In 2004, Grade Finders incorporated these new standards into its “2004/2005 Competitive Grade Finder,” as well as the “2005/2006 Paper Buyers’ Encyclopedia.”

Sparked by International Paper’s (IP’s) Vision-Innovation-Paper (VIP Technologies), uncoated grades are undergoing a similar transformation. Domtar, Weyerhaeuser and other mills are following IP’s lead and producing papers with higher brightness. In cooperation with these and other mills producing uncoated papers, Grade Finders has revised its uncoated classification structure. The new standards and subsequent shift in brands can be found in the “2005/06 Competitive Grade Finder—North American Edition.”

Sample updated clasifications:
Uncoated Offset & Cover
Classification Name Previous New
Premium High White Offset 94-98 Deleted
Premium No. 1 Offset 90-93 94+
No. 1 Offset 87-89 91-93.9
No. 2 Offset 83.5-86.5 87-90.9
No. 3 Offset 80-83 82-86.9
No. 4 Offset 78-79 75-81.9
No.5 Offset 75-77.5 74.9-

Are you using the current standards?
Whether you are a commercial or in-plant printer, government agency, college or university, school district, advertising agency or publisher, you will be significantly affected by these changes. If paper specifiers aren’t using the same target brightness standards, the resulting miscalculations can cause major headaches. Consider the following scenario: A printer quotes a job specifying a No. 1 Uncoated Offset. If he or she is using the previous industry standards, the sheet will have an 87-89 (TAPPI) brightness. But if the customer is using the new standards, the customer envisions a paper with a 91-93.9 (TAPPI) brightness. This could create problems for the printer if he or she delivers a costly and ultimately unacceptable project.

Also, many state and local government agencies set their bid specifications using the current edition of the “Competitive Grade Finder.” Ohio and Virginia, for example, include the following verbiage in their bid specs: “Only those papers listed in the 39th edition (2005/06) of the ‘Competitive Grade Finder,’ or as otherwise accepted by Grade Finders for publication in subsequent editions of any of its paper buyers guides, will be considered. For products not listed in the current ‘Competitive Grade Finder,’ a copy of Grade Finders’ letter of acceptability must be included with your returned bid.”

The final word
Paper controls the appearance of the final printed piece. To avoid costly miscommunications, everyone involved in the paper specifying process must understand the recent paper classification changes.

Confusing characteristics
Most countries describe paper in term of its whiteness, but in North America, brightness typically is the favored characteristic.

Whiteness is measured across the entire visible spectrum—brightness is measured only on the blue (short wavelengths) end of the visible spectrum.

In technical terms, whiteness is a single number index referencing the relative degree of whiteness. The most commonly used whiteness index, called the CIE Whiteness, was developed by the France-based Intl. Commission on Illumination.

Brightness is determined by measuring the amount of light reflected from the surface of a paper. Although the beginning brightness range for a base paper pulp is from 0 to 100 during the papermaking process, optical brightening agents are frequently added to improve a paper’s brightness. Both the Technical Assn. of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI) and the Intl. Organization for Standardization (ISO) have industry standards for measuring brightness. Typically, product manufacturers in North America reference the TAPPI scale (sometimes called GE brightness), while those outside North America usually reference the ISO measurement system.

While TAPPI and ISO standards help ensure consistency in the brightness measurements indicated on product packaging or marketing materials, these standards use different methods of measuring reflectance within the blue spectrum. Therefore, these two standards cannot be used interchangeably. The whiteness/brightness debate
International Paper (IP) recently launched Vision-Innovation-Paper (VIP Technologies), a patent-pending process said to result in whiter papers. IP asserts that since whiteness measures the total color spectrum, it is the best descriptor. The paper company maintains that GE brightness was originally designed to quantify pulp bleaching and, lacking other instrumentation, was adopted to measure paper brightness. According to an IP press release, “Globally, brightness is no longer a primary measure for paper. It has been replaced by CIE whiteness, which is more relevant as it measures paper much like your eye sees.” IP reports its technology will increases the brightness of its standard papers from 84 on the GE scale to 92, “but more importantly, the whiteness will be dramatically increased to CIE levels of 135 and 145 with an unprecedented uniformity of color in commodity papers."

Source: Xerox Paper Resource Centre and IP

How paper grading standards evolved
In the 1960s, Bill Subers was selling supplies for Remington Rand (now Unisys). Subers realized his customers had few resources for defining paper grades, but he lacked the tools to move forward until a subsequent sales stint with IBM. The intensive computer instruction Subers received at IBM filled the void. In 1967, he founded Grade Finders and published the first “Competitive Grade Finder.”

By its third edition, Grade Finders hit some major stumbling blocks. The S.D. Warren Paper Co. insisted its grades were superior to the other mills listed alongside it. S.D. Warren threatened to sue unless Grade Finders removed the mill from the “Competitive Grade Finder.”

Papers were graded on price
Subers contacted several people in the industry who confirmed that S.D. Warren’s complaint had some merit—its grades were excellent. But the real problem was that the grading standard was based on price rather than any measurable characteristics. For example, if a grade was listed at $38 per hundred weight, it qualified as a No.1 Offset; if was priced at $35 per hundred weight, it was a No. 2 Offset, and so on.

Grade Finders couldn’t afford to become embroiled in a lawsuit, so the company reluctantly dropped S.D. Warren’s grades from its directory. A few years later, another major mill, Consolidated Paper, also insisted on being delisted.

But then, in a surprising turn of events, S.D. Warren reversed its original request. Later, Consolidated Paper also returned. Other mills were becoming more cooperative. Eventually, Grade Finders learned that many states were using the Competitive Grade Finder to set bid specifications and would not accept unlisted papers. Colleges, universities, municipalities and other print buyers also found it advantageous to accept only those grades listed in Grade Finders’ publications. Over the next decade, Grade Finders continued to gain support and improve its publications. People began referring to Grade Finders’ books as the “Paper Buyer’s Bible.”

‘Brightness and opacity make better sheets’
Grade Finders continued to follow the industry standard of grading paper by price, but Subers sought a better paper classification system. He approached the federal government and various paper associations, but none could define a measurable characteristic.

In 1978, a young IP marketing manager suggested an alternative to judging a paper by its price. “It’s brightness and opacity that make the better sheets,” the exec declared. “It is the process of making paper brighter and more opaque that increases the cost to the mills of a No. 1 sheet over a No. 2, or No. 3, etc. Brightness and opacity are the real measurements of grades of paper and that’s what you should be using.”

Grade Finders protested that the mills would not supply their exact brightness and opacity specifications. The IP employee countered with a crucial insight. “The mills won’t give you the exact brightness for a No. 1, No. 2, etc., because they target a range of brightness for the various categories,” he explained. “They put a range for each category. For example, on a No. 1 Uncoated Offset, they will target an 85-87 range; on No. 2, 83-84; and so on.”

Now Grade Finders had the answer to the measurement question. But suppose the company established its own industry-wide standards and the mills refused to cooperate? Finally, Grade Finders sent the mills a questionnaire on the target brightness and opacity ranges for various grades.

The returns were more than encouraging. While the mills weren’t in complete agreement on specifications for each category, there were sufficient similarities for Grade Finders to establish “Grade Finders, Inc. Target Ranges” for paper classifications. These standards were adopted throughout the industry.

Grade Finders has continued to improve and evolve its products over the years. The company recently published the second edition of its European “Competitive Grade Finder,” sponsored by ArjoWiggins, The Lecta Group and PaperlinX.


Mark J. Subers is the president of Grade Finders Inc. Contact him at