by Ann Lentz

December 21, 2021

As you have no doubt heard and probably experienced firsthand, the global supply chain for a wide variety of goods is clogged, unpredictable and slow.

You can include the supply of commercial printing papers (sheetfed – coated and uncoated, rolls, text and cover, cut size, envelopes and digital papers) in that mess. If your organization relies on professional print runs of annual reports, brochures, catalogs, calendars and manuals, it’s not too early to contact your print supplier and have a backup plan if the paper supply chain is unable to fill the order. And expect to pay more, as mills have had six or seven price increases over the last 12 to 18 months. Prices are up about 20% this year alone.

Dix & Eaton manages the print production process for a number of our clients, and we have been coordinating printing projects for decades. In years past, if necessary, we could get paper one to three weeks in advance of a press run. One print representative told me recently, “It used to be only a truck ride away – the paper was easily available.” Now, your print projects should be planned three to four months in advance, and even that does not guarantee the paper will be available where and when you need it. Even close relationships and “rush” charges cannot overcome the supply chain challenges.

The entire paper supply chain has been disrupted since the onset of COVID-19: raw materials are hard to come by, especially if they are coming from other parts of the world; many paper mills are operating at roughly 60% capacity because they are waiting for pulp or dealing with workforce shortages; and there are not enough trucks and truck drivers on the road.

This August 2021 video, by paper merchant Millcraft’s chief operating officer, Greg Lovensheimer, does an excellent job summarizing paper’s supply chain challenges that are still facing the industry today. Lovensheimer states that some types of commercial printing papers are at their lowest inventory levels in over 30 years, at a time when demand is picking up due to the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Conditions may level off by mid-2022, but until then, “the industry is balanced on the razor’s edge,” Lovensheimer says.

Our print partners are working harder than ever to serve our clients, and we appreciate their support during these trying times. If you’re planning a print project in the first half of 2022, be sure to reach out to your printer as soon as possible.

Contact me if you need help planning, finding a printing resource, and managing expectations.