International Paper jumps into imaging business

August 16, 2000

The development of inexpensive inkjet printers opens the door for new papers that can produce quality hard-copy images at low prices, and an American company is rushing into the market.International Paper of Nashville, TN, is introducing JetPRINT imaging

The development of inexpensive inkjet printers opens the door for new papers that can produce quality hard-copy images at low prices, and an American company is rushing into the market.

International Paper of Nashville, TN, is introducing JetPRINT imaging paper that can be used with standard inkjet printers to produce sharp, long-lasting medical images for as little as 50¢ a page, ink cartridges included, the company claims.

This is a new application for the inkjet market, one that has yet to prove its value. International Paper’s new business development manager, Chih-Her Suen predicts the company will sell $2 million to $3 million worth of the paper next year.

“It can be as high as $10 million next year if the industry buys the approach,” Suen said.

International Paper sees referring physicians as a large segment of its potential market. Because of the cost of reproducing x-ray transparencies and the logistics of transporting them, referring physicians usually never see images of studies they order. Instead, they get narrated consultation reports from radiologists while the image remains in the hospital or imaging center or, more recently, is stored in a PACS.

“Previously, special equipment requirements and high costs prohibited wide use of patient record images,” Suen said. “With JetPRINT paper we expect a significant increase in the use of patient record images.”

Kodak would seem to be the biggest competition for International Paper. Ashar Najmi, Kodak’s global product line manager, doubts International Paper can actually market their paper for as little as 50¢ a page.

“Does it include inks? There is no way they can come up with a number like that,” Najmi said.

Unlike with film, the cost per page for inkjet printers cannot be a fixed cost because it varies widely depending on what is printed, Najmi said. The cost per page specified by inkjet manufacturers is approximate, based on a hypothetical image at, usually, 5% coverage.

“Medical images can have 50% to 95% coverage. Each ultrasonic, nuclear medicine, chest film, or MR will have a different maximum density,” he said.

Najmi said the cost of ink Kodak quotes its customers ranges from 25¢ to $2 and higher per page, depending on image coverage. Medical images use a lot of black, which drives up the ink coverage cost. Comparable Kodak paper at 8.5 x 11 inches costs 55¢ a sheet.

Although International Paper is selling paper it says can be used with all inkjet printers—which range in price from under $100 to around $500 for standard home or office models—Najmi said Kodak sells a system.

“It’s not enough to make the paper,” he said. “We have designed a printer, software, and ink cartridges to work very well with our paper. That’s the test of a third-party product.”

Robert Neary, national marketing manager for Fuji Imaging Systems, said his company doesn’t make its own but uses Codonics thermal process paper, which at 8.5 x 11 inches costs 49¢ a sheet. The catch is that the printer cost ranges from $13,500 to $18,500, Neary said.

“There is a growing trend to include images in the (radiologist’s) report,” Neary said, “and maybe there is some interest in printing that out in the physician’s office.”

Neary said he has talked with International Paper representatives, and plans to evaluate their product.

The other industry giant, Agfa, also sells a low-cost paper for the “referral” market, according to Ray Russell, director of hard copy systems for the Belgium-based firm. The company’s Solid Inkjet 100 allows the imaging center or hospital to print an image for about 35¢, but the printer costs from $6000 to $7000.

“The issue is that above 50¢, it would cost only 65¢ or 70¢ to print an original (transparency),” Russell said.

Russell said the whole physician referral market is “embryonic.”

“We and everybody else are looking at what the opportunities are going to be—printing it versus looking at it on the screen,” he said. “If it’s in the diagnostic arena, they would have to have (FDA) 510(k) approval. That would be almost impossible for International Paper to do, because they would have to get 510(k)s for every inkjet printer on the market.

But if a product’s stated purpose is for referral, teaching purposes, or marketing, such approvals wouldn’t be necessary, Russell said.

Russell said it might be interesting for Agfa to look into inexpensive inkjet printer paper, which would be fairly easy for the company to add to its portfolio.