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Staples adopts TAPPI Brightness Standard.

As a US$ 13 billion company serving customers around the world, Staples Inc. has set the standard for providing office supplies, furniture, and business services. Now the Framingham, Massachusetts-based firm will focus on another standard: TAPPI T 452, a standard for measuring the brightness of pulp, paper, and paperboard. Staples has collaborated with the paper companies that supply its products to ensure that all cut-sheet paper Staples sells online and in stores is measured and labeled according to the TAPPI scale. The standardization move is an industry first, and is aimed at helping consumers make informed choices about paper purchases.

"The biggest benefit for our customers is that, by going to one standard, we're giving them a fair and accurate way to compare products," said Bill Golden, vice president, paper for Staples Inc. "In today's paper buying environment, there are several different brightness scales, with no disclosure about which scale is being used."

The existence of different scales can make it confusing for customers, agreed Pat Robertson, manager, technical services for Technidyne, one of several companies that markets brightness measurement equipment. "If you don't specify the exact test method used to measure a given paper, you might have totally different brightness numbers reported. I know that is currently happening in the industry. That's why it is such a huge step forward for Staples to make this specification."


Nearly 7 million tons of uncoated cut sheet paper was sold in the United States during 2003, according to InfoTrends/CAP Ventures. "Brightness is a way for the average consumer to feel comfortable in categorizing the quality of a product," said Robertson. "Consumers are smarter now, and they have more options. You go into an office supply store and you may have 30 or 40 different papers to choose from, most of which you can't even see because the wrapper doesn't expose the paper itself."

While most consumers would define brightness as "how white the paper is," brightness is actually a measurement of the blue reflectance of paper. For brightness measurement, several scales exist, and that is where the confusion begins.

Each scale, or standard, measures the brightness a slightly different way, and reports the results differently Therefore, a particular paper will receive different brightness numbers under different standards, and two papers with the same brightness numbers but from different standards may look quite different. This is like learning that the temperature outside is 22 degrees, but not knowing if that means 22 degrees Celsius (about room temperature) or 22 degrees Fahrenheit (below freezing.)

The two most prevalent standards used are the TAPPI Brightness Standard (T 452), which is commonly used in the United States; and the ISO Brightness Standard, commonly used in Europe. "The test method that Staples has selected--TAPPI Brightness--specifies the characteristics of the instrument that measures the reflectance of the paper," explained Robertson. "The basic specifications of the instrument are to have a light source that shines onto the piece of paper at 45 degrees; with receiving optics (the receptor, or photocell) that view that same spot from zero degrees, perpendicular to the sample. It was designed to replicate a natural viewing position of someone looking at a piece of paper."

In contrast, the ISO standard measures diffuse reflectance; the light source and optics are positioned differently when the paper is measured. Instruments that use different geometries cannot be expected to agree with each other. The numbers achieved under the ISO standard are different than TAPPI Brightness numbers. Because of the differences between the two procedures, there is no formula that can be used to convert results from one test into a comparable number on the other scale.

Staples chose TAPPI Brightness Standard T 452 largely due to its wide acceptance, said Golden. "It's the most prevalent, most used rating in North America; it has the most credibility and the most customer understanding," he said. "The other standards just muddy the playing field and have been misused. For us, the TAPPI standard has the most validity."


Brightness is one of the most important parameters used to judge a paper's value and suitability. Even casual users of paper can perceive differences in brightness, and will find a whiter sheet generally more appealing.

Increasing globalization in the paper industry has also made brightness more important. "For our customers, brightness, opacity, grade and price are all important; it's a mixed scale," said Sue McCreery, purchasing and paper manager for Quebecor World Midland, a full-service printing facility in Midland, Michigan, USA. "But in general, paper has become brighter. Domestically, mills have made changes to keep up with the foreign market. Foreign markets now supply much brighter sheets; they'll have the brightness levels of a #2 grade, but they're being sold and marketed at #4 pricing."

Like other consumers, printers do not generally perform their own brightness tests; they rely on papermakers to provide the brightness information. When Staples decided to adopt a common standard, the company got papermakers involved. "Our decision was the culmination of a process in which we talked to our vendors, the papermakers, gauging their desire to make changes. Brightness scale information we provide will be made across the board for all our vendors," said Golden.

All the commonly used brightness scales use lower numbers for less brightness, and higher numbers for brighter paper. "There can be a few exceptions; but generally speaking, the higher the number, the whiter it will appear," said Robertson. "For the most part, that tracks very well with human perception."

He reports that, using the TAPPI Brightness Standard, the highest brightness score is in the range of 98 or 99. "Normally speaking, with TAPPI Brightness you're not going to see anything above a 94 or 95. It can happen; but those papers start taking on a bluish or pinkish or greenish tint. The only way you can achieve a value of above about 91 is by adding fluorescent whitening agents (FWAs)." While almost all writing grades contain FWAs, not every grade uses them; food grades, for instance, are not allowed to contain FWAs.

McCreery noted that grade alone is no longer a valid way to judge a paper's brightness. "We've really outlived the numbers that were established years ago," she said. "In the past, a #3 grade used to be 80 brightness and above; we now have #4 papers with 83 brightness," she said. Customers are willing to pay for brighter paper, she added. "When there is differentiation within grades--for instance, a Premium #3 and an Economy #3--brightness is the biggest factor that differentiates between the two."


Now that Staples has adopted TAPPI T 452 as a standard for all products it sells, customers will see some changes. "We've implemented a new packaging design with a detailed chart on the back of the ream, which includes a portion that covers brightness," said Golden. In-store signage and the Staples website will also include the information.

"For us, it's a way of differentiating the shopping experience, to provide an easier, more accurate experience," Golden added.

As someone who has worked with brightness standards throughout his career, Robertson is excited about Staples' decision. "I've been hoping for the industry to start requiring a uniform brightness specification for years," he said. "The only way it's going to happen is if distributors such as Staples mandate it. It's a monumental step forward; I certainly hope other distributors follow suit."

According to Golden, it is still too early to report customer reaction, "but we've definitely gotten a reaction from the industry and the press. We're still launching the products with the revised ratings on them, so the customer component is just being implemented. We'll know soon!" he said.


* Why Staples Inc. is mandating TAPPI Brightness Standard labeling for the paper it sells.

* How the TAPPI Brightness Standard differs from other standards.

* How packaging for all paper sold at Staples will reflect this change.


* Brightness of Pulp, Paper, and Paperboard (Directional Reflectance at 457 nm), Test Method T 452 om-02. To purchase a copy of this Test Method, go to and type the following Product Code into the search field: 0104T452, or call the TAPPI Member Connection Center at 1 800 332 8686 (U.S.), 1 800 446-9431 (Canada) or +1 770 446 1400 (outside U.S. and Canada). Member Price: US $20.00. Non-Member Price: US$ 30.00.

RELATED ARTICLE: How to choose Staples[R] brand paper:


For better text and image contrast and clarity, look for a higher brightness number. The higher the number, the more light is reflected off the page. Brightness can be measured by either a US or European scale (think Fahrenheit vs. Celsius). To eliminate confusion, Staples uses the US scale. It makes sense and makes shopping for paper easier.
US vs. European brightness measurement

US (TAPPI) scale 84 92 96 97
European (ISO) scale* 88 104 108 109+

*Equivalent ISO measurement based on tests of Staples[R] brand paper.

Label from a ream of Staples paper showing the TAPPI scale for brightness. Image courtesy of Staples.

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Title Annotation:STANDARDS
Author:Bottiglieri, Jan
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Previous Article:Optimization strategies determine the financial future.
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