Printing, converting and routing

Though printing paper usage has decreased by about 20% between 2007 and 2012, France still consumes over 4 million tons each year. 80% of that paper is used by 3 different sectors: the media (25%), advertisement (31%), and offices (24%). Three other sectors use the remaining 20%: the publication of books, of directories, and paper reused in packaging. Apart from white paper to be used on households and offices (such as the very common A4 recycled paper), most paper is printed straight after it is made. Local printers and large industries are the last link of the very long paper-making chain, but they are also the first users of the finished product (60% of which is recycled paper). From the paper-mill to the final distribution, let us take a look at the last leg of the printing paper’s journey.


The paper mills partner-up with the distributors, who store the new packaged paper at their logistics platform and sell it to the printers. On top of the classical paper formats and qualities, every distributor offers a variety of special paper, depending on its location or eventual deals it has set up with local industries. Contrary to popular belief, the price of recycled paper (such as 100% recycled Cyclus paper) as it leaves the factory is lower or equivalent to the price of ‘new’ paper, and varies according to the supplier and the quantity.
Sectors such as newspapers, that require large quantities, buy their paper straight from the mill, with no intermediaries, and the paper mills directly supply the recycled paper printers with roll sets that are not (or lightly) packaged.


Though rotogravure (engraving) and flexography (relief printing) are still used, fully digital offset printing is the most widespread technique for printing on new or recycled paper. No matter the desired quantity, the size, the type of machine or the type of paper used, the process is the same: wet and laser burned photosensitive plates repel water and keep ink – through repulsion – on sensitive areas, before transmitting the ink to the paper. In ‘waterless’ Offset printing, a layer of silicon repels the ink. 


When the files have been received, the printer driver converts the master copy to CMYK data (Cyan Magenta Yellow Key, the three primary colours and the black Key plate by which the other colours are aligned), carries the different parts onto the corresponding colour plates, then superimposes, on a micrometer scale, the pigments to obtain the original picture.
Pneumatic ink pumps then deposit the ink onto the rubber printing plates, before being transferred to the ‘blankets’, which spreads the paper out evenly.
The actual printing is done colour by colour. Each set of pigments has its own plate, and the number of colours determines the printing cost. Some offset printers are able to turn the paper over and print up to 10 colours front and back.
Generally, the offset printing process can be broken down into four steps:

  • The margin (calibration step, and paper start)
  • The printing
  • Bindery
  • Final formatting

And the machinery into two types:

  • Rotary presses, such as the ones used by large printing presses (packaging, books, catalogues, posters, etc) or newspapers, ideal for large amounts. It processes the paper reel to reel, separating the individual items only at the very end of the process. it is important to note that paper reels are 8 times cheaper than pre-formatted paper.
  • Sheet fed offset presses, used by smaller printing presses, determine before hand the number of files that can be printed on a single sheet, depending on the paper’s format (for e.g.: A4 recycled), and stick together the different sections before sending them to the feeder system, followed by the printing groups. These machines are divided into three types: web-fed offset (the most efficient), sheet-fed offset (sheets are fed one by one), direct offset (the sheets do not all go through the feeder).

Today, printing on recycled paper offers the same quality as new paper. For a long time, recycled paper retained certain colours, had trouble with ink, but it is now spotless. This is certainly due to the work of recyclers (such as Paprec) and the recycled paper making industry, that have the printers work easier throughout the years.


Paper forwarding gives the product its final form. First, it is cut (with a paper cuter or a reel cutter), folded (with a paper-folder for leafs under 170g, and with a pre-folding machine for the denser types), assembled (by binding, inserting, or stapling), and submitted to a final treatment to improve its surface. (the paper is varnished or plastic-coated for protection).


To better manage the distribution process of publications, ads, or management mail, companies and publishers use specialised postal sorting companies who manage the large and small scale mailing.
As always, the fee for this kind of work varies on the amount of paper distributed, but also varies depending on the type of paper and of network targeted.
After the computerised part of the mailing management (filing of addresses, postal norms, variable management, etc), two methods of mail routing can be used:

  • Manual postage, where routers hand-prepare the postal indications, the packaging, the labelling, and the sending.
  • Mechanical routing, where all the previously cited operations are automated. This is used mainly for orders of over 1000 sheets.

These postal sorting and mailing companies can also offer other services, such as extra packaging with films, tubes, boxing, or even the cutting-to-size of documents.
The paper and cardboard recycling cycle is a step-by-step process. Discover the different steps:

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