Converter proclaims a passion for paper

Mark Spaulding, Editor in Chiefand 1 more

January 29, 2014

6 Min Read
Converter proclaims a passion for paper


Ever since a Chinese court official named Ts'ai-Lun invented paper (not papyrus) back in 105 A.D., scientists, engineers, printers and end users have made improvements to this ubiquitous manufacturing material. One of the latest in that long line of innovators is Vancouver, WA-based converter Portco Packaging, Inc. (

Portco's contribution to the advancement of paper isn't so much the paper itself as its beautification via high-quality flexo printing and its application to flexible packaging. “We made a conscious effort five years ago to really focus on paper as our primary substrate,” explains Portco president Macy Wall. “We thought—from a contrarian standpoint—there was a real opportunity in paper that was not being properly served. We look back now and see that in this market, there's way too much capacity in film.”

Founded in 1929 as a twisted-paper handle maker for carryout grocery bags, Portco has produced everything over the years from Hula Hoops to swimming pool covers to extruded plastic pipes. Today, Portco has returned to its roots in paper converting, specializing in printed rollstock, tissue/towel overwraps and multiwall bagmaking for the prepared food, building products, fresh potato and nursery markets. It serves customers primarily in the Pacific Northwest, as well as in California and western Canada.

“One of the things we have to offer our customers here is quick turnaround that they can't get from suppliers in other parts of the country,” Wall says. “People don't want to wait for shipments to arrive from Minnesota or Missouri.”

Adds Portco sales manager Linda Malmstadt, “Here on the West Coast, there's also a real focus on organic food products, and a lot of organic food companies want to see their products packaged in sustainable resources like paper.”


Portco’s new gearless CI flexo press prints the full range of C&H sugar packaging, from individual 5-lb bags to wrapping for multipacks.

To meet these demands for rapid turnarounds—and for the shorter runs of numerous stockkeeping units that every converter nationwide is facing—Portco has made several changes lately. Last fall, it opened a new 50,000-sq-ft facility in Toppenish, WA (near Yakima), that focuses on bagmaking. That site houses one four-color stack press, now retrofitted with a Paper Converting Machine Co. (PCMC []) eXtreme™ dryer. Portco removed an existing sheeter from its headquarter's plant in Vancouver so that the space could be used for printing.

That emphasis is illustrated by Portco's January 2005 installation of a new Comexi ( FB2108 gearless central-impression (CI) flexo press. The 56-in., eight-color, sleeved press is teamed with a BST Pro Mark ( Genius video web-inspection system and an ink concentration controller for high-level color management, auto registration and print quality. The press also employs Tidland ( shafts and Performance Series knife holders for in-line slitting and Fife ( Polaris® DP-20 web guides.

Originally, Portco's managers looked at in-line presses for their fast-changeover capabilities, says Portco vp Bryan Williamson, but web widths were too narrow for the majority of Portco's customers. “That led us to the sleeved, gearless CI presses to run multiple impressions across the web,” he says.

“We purchased the Comexi based on a growing demand for increasing graphics and print-quality requirements along with speed-to-shelf,” says Wall. “It provides reduced setup, lower waste, consistent run-to-run quality and the ability to print finer line screens. Because there aren't many people focused on using paper as their primary substrate, we find that we know something about it now. It takes some special talents that aren't necessarily being developed today.”


An operator checks print quality using the press’s video web-inspection system.

Portco meets the quality challenge of flexo printing on paper through a variety of methods, including close working relationships with vendors. “We partner with vendors that are very savvy in the flexographic industry,” says Portco production manager Rich Castillo. “We deal with people out there who can bring what they learn to the table for us here.”

Trials held earlier this year had the aim of helping Portco move its current flexo-on-paper standard higher. Portco tested 900-line-screen anilox rolls from Pamarco ( to reach 150-line-screen printing while maintaining good ink density. “Achieving repeatability from beginning to end is a challenge that most film printers don't face because of the surface tensions and the surfaces of what they're running,” explains Castillo. “We run from seventeen-pound tissue to eighty-pound kraft paper. Ink density is everything on an open [uncoated] sheet.”

Further strengthening its commitment to quality printing, Portco installed an automated ink-mixing and dispensing system from Southeastern Process Equipment & Controls ( in February 2005. The 24-valve arrangement, using Sun Chemical ( inks, helps Portco achieve “a world of difference through standardization in color matching,” Castillo says.

F or Portco, the future of flexo-printed paper looks promising. Sales growth has been running 10 percent to 15 percent a year, and managers foresee a 25-percent increase in 2006. “As film prices continue to increase, we may see more packaging in paper,” says Williamson.

Adds Wall, “I think there's some technical work to be done. Meanwhile, there's a lot of business in paper that we haven't even touched yet. For a company our size, there's plenty of room for growth.”

More information is available:

BST Pro Mark, 800/796-9621.

Comexi North America, 413/789-3800.

Fife Corp., 800/639-3433.

Pamarco Global Graphics, 800/533-5396.

Paper Converting Machine Co., 920/494-5601.

Portco Packaging, Inc., 800/426-1794.

Southeastern Process Equipment & Controls, Inc., 704/483-1141.

Sun Chemical, Inc., 800/933-7863.

Tidland Corp., 800/426-1000.

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