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Cheever Specialty Paper & Film Wholesaler Durable Goods

What Is Specialty Paper & Why Is It Special?

By: Jeff Ell

What Is Specialty Paper & Why Is It Special?

A specialty paper primer on market size, product characteristics and attributes, & end-user applications of specialty papers. 

With so many variations of paper to choose from, we thought it would be beneficial to explain when the paper industry says “Specialty Papers” what that exactly means. They are not talking copier paper that is the biggest misconception about the category of specialty papers. Let us begin with the characteristics that define “Specialty Papers.”

Characteristics of Specialty Paper

  • Unique, Differentiated Product 
  • Small Volumes 
  • Cost Effective, Yet High Margin 
  • For a Specific Product, Few Producers, Few Customers 
  • In Aggregate, Many Producers, Many Customers 
  • Unique Combination of Features 
  • Unique Coatings 

Print quality, inkjet, barrier properties, active and intelligent Unique Additives Color, strength, performance, security Unique Sheet Structure Strength, print quality, performance, ultra-light, unique finishes

In the general paper market, what place do Specialty Papers fulfill? Product sales for Specialty Paper fall into the market segment of Introduction and Growth. Commodity paper lives in the Maturity and Decline markets. Globally, Specialty Paper had a volume of 2.3 million tons in 2012 and expected to grow 2% annually to reach 2.5 tons by 2018.


  • Who Is Producing This Paper 
  • Specialty Paper Mills 
  • Old Commodity mills but they are no longer profitable in the Commodities 
  • Many small paper converters

Opportunities in Specialty Paper

  • Existing Products – new markets/customers 
  • New Products – new customers 
  • New Products – existing customers 
  • Products new to the Market

Examples in Place and Future

  • Security and Brand Protection 
  • Barrier protection – papers with different holdouts for grease and water 
  • Medical – Wound care 
  • Biodegradable Film 
  • Bio-based Films 
  • RFID – printing of RFID on various surfaces 
  • Flexible Packaging 
  • Smart Packaging – embedded RFID components to know when to re-order a number

Paper Types

With the major base papers listed below, it becomes “specialized,” when applying a coating to the base paper product. Many times a coating of silicone on one or both sides is applied. (The purpose of this article is not to explain the details of a coating; we will tackle that at another time.) You can use many types of “coatings” and is just one of many reasons each type of coated paper ends up falling into a “Specialty Paper” category.

The end-use application of paper in a particular market dictates the type of paper and coating that might be required. Specialty papers are useful in distinct ways to enhance the function, processing or decoration of another product. A typical example is a release liner (specialty paper) used in a medical bandage that can be removed and reapplied to the skin several times without causing discomfort.

Kraft Paper

Super Calendared Kraft (SCK)





What End Users Are Looking For

The combination of a Specialty Paper with an adhesive that allows for a certain release level or slip has been a growth area for several years. This combination has led to small paper converters and Independent sales representatives working closely with customers to design these offerings. Often large mills lack the ability to help a client in quick fashion and create a new solution.

Specialty Paper takes time. Meaning the process of finding the correct combination of paper and adhesive, getting samples from the supplier, trialing these samples, negotiating order quantities takes several months’ even years.

Obtaining samples are often the most difficult part of working with vendors. The customer only needs small “hand-sheets” to test, but the manufacturer has to run a small trial roll to make the sheets. The two are usually out of sync. Often the customer will have to provide and adhere to certain volumes before the supplier will provide hand-sheets or produce a trial roll. This is where the frustration comes in – how do you know volumes when you are designing a product – you do not. You need samples, samples, and more samples.

Other items customers are looking for in a Specialty Paper are Cost Reduction, Performance, Lower basis weights, Better run ability and low-cost materials. If the manufacturer can run faster line speeds, increase the holdout, or have better sealing, this will all make up for cost savings to the customer.

Other properties that affect your paper or cost are Ovenablility, Wet Strength, Thermal Stability, and Graphics that you can manipulate to find that balance between cost and performance. There are so many excellent alternatives in the Specialty Paper market to review and research before your next project. Using the Internet for initial research provides a first step in gathering some basic information on paper products. The next step is to contact Cheever to get answers to any of your questions. 

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