Aspire Petallics Paper – Behind The Scenes Look at CTI & Their Metallic Paper

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If you’ve ever had questions about metallic paper for wedding invitations or other creative projects, chances are John Kelly has the answers. He is President of one of the more prestigious paper companies in the USA, CTI Paper, a Wisconsin based company behind the Aspire Petallics line of exquisite, metallic, pearlescent papers. You’ll hear from John in his own words as he answers our questions about:

  • How real mica minerals are used on the paper surface
  • Tips for inkjet, laser, offset, and digital printing on Aspire Petallics
  • Inspiration behind the new line of Aspire Petallics Linen paper
  • Responsible paper manufacturing & environmental concerns
& lots more! Aspire Petallics metallic paper array

This is an audio interview. So you can listen to the conversation, read the transcript, or enjoy both!

Click the following link to listen, or right click and “save as” to download and listen at another time: LCI Paper Podcast #49 – John Kelly of CTI Paper, Makers of Aspire Petallics Paper

Here is a transcript of the interview:

What is your role at CTI and how long have you been with the company?

Well good morning Josh and thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. I’m President of CTI Paper USA and I’ve been with the organization about 16 years.

Has your role changed over that time?

Somewhat; I came in to the company with a primary focus on developing the sales and distribution end of the business and growing our company, along with taking on the marketing responsibilities. That eventually evolved into a broader role overseeing the whole organization.

Great, well we have some new items to talk about today so we’ll definitely talk about the company’s growth.

Copper Ore Aspire Petallics paper

First of all, let’s just talk about metallic paper. If someone doesn’t know what that is… I get calls about different paper types and they ask me, “Oh, I see you have metallic paper. What is that?”

Well John, how would you describe it?

Well that’s a great question and there are a couple different ways to answer it.

There’s a way of applying metallics to papers by using inks, and a lot of times the inks are made with actual metal—aluminum flakes or some other metallic component—that gives this metallic appearance or look. That’s one way to create a metallic paper.

The other way to create it is similar to how we create our Aspire Petallics which is basically using mica which is a mineral, and you incorporate that into the coating being applied to the surface of the paper. That creates a metallic or in some cases they call it a pearlescent look.

So you can achieve metallics in a couple different ways in the paper industry.

The mica product is interesting. Some different applications in other industries that people might be familiar with would be if you see women’s eye shadow and you see sort of a glitter dust in the eye shadow, that may in fact be mica. Or if you look at automotive paints and you see a glittering effect or a sparkle, that may in fact be mica embedded into the paint. So those are just a couple of examples of how mica can be used in other industries but also answering your question of how it can be used to create a metallic paper.

We’ll describe the mica look on our web site when we’re talking about Aspire Petallics paper. It’s not just a look, it’s the real thing.

It is the real thing and it’s quite an interesting material and it’s got a lot of industrial applications. Frankly, I think paper is a relatively new industrial application for this mineral, but it’s really a wonderful component to use in the paper manufacturing process to create this look. It’s a very unique and I think very dynamic and sharp looking product.

Mica mineral metallic paper

Like in any industrial product, it doesn’t simply come in one size or color. You can actually get it in a variety of different colors and different particle sizes to create different effects within the papers. As an example, you can actually get silver mica. You can get gold mica. You can get a white or a pearlescent mica. Depending on the specific color, we use a different combination of mica particulate to create that color. But it’s also done in combination with the color of the base sheet so the combination of the two is really what creates the ultimate color of the product or the paper.

When did Aspire Petallics launch and what was the inspiration for creating a metallic sheet in this wide range of colors?

We actually launched it about 8 years ago. It could be 7 years ago. Frankly, the inspiration was we saw an emerging market opportunity to develop and create a line of papers that capitalized on this emerging trend for sparkle and interesting surfaces of paper that gave it a different dynamic and look. So we ended up putting a fair amount of R&D effort behind the project and developed the Aspire Petallics line to sort of serve this emerging market need. In addition, it seemed to also fit the emerging need in the wedding, crafting, scrapbooking world to enhance the invitations, the announcements in that category.

How did you know when to stop? Did your researchers and teams have to rein themselves in and say, “Woah! This is too much sparkle! This is too much pizzazz!

Well that’s a good question as well. The original Aspire Petallics was, I would say, a softer or slightly more muted metallic looking product. We wanted it to be metallic but not over the top, whereby it had a more broad market appeal both in the SoHo, wedding invitation, crafting market but equally as important, the commercial offset print market.

You really bumped things up and added a bit more pizzazz than originally.

We ended up making it, I would say, a more moderate metallic looking paper rather than totally subdued or an over the top, very heavy duty metallic looking paper. If you go too heavy in the metallic look, you then limit the applications of what you can do with the product.

What are some of the more fun or memorable projects that you’ve seen using Aspire Petallics?

We’ve had a lot of fun over the years working with many, many different and interesting companies for the product. I would say some of the more notable ones at least for me as an example, I took my family to Disney World about a year ago and one of the applications with our Autumn Hay is the Disney photo frames. So if you get your picture taken with Mickey Mouse in Disney World and you use one of their photographers and you go collect or have them send you one of the pictures, it will be framed in Aspire Petallics Autumn Hay cover, 98 lb. I thought that was quite interesting, just from the standpoint of tying it in to a family vacation. There was a real-world application for the product.

In addition, we’ve had some interesting successes in the casino market where we’ve been able to work with the graphic designer within several large casino chains where they develop the high roller package for their real key customers and their welcome packages and their invitations to come join them or their announcements on any sort of specials that they want to put out to their high rollers has all been done on a variety of Aspire Petallics items including Silver Ore, Gold Ore in particular. As you can imagine, the casinos are interested in a more glitzy and glamorous look and so Silver Ore and Gold Ore seem to be our popular colors for the casino markets.

Another interesting application that we’ve seen with the product is in the automotive industry. We’ve had some pretty good success in the automotive catalogs and so certain vehicles, one in particular was a GM job for Cadillac and the automotive brochure covers were all done with Aspire Petallics Beargrass cover. So that was a rather interesting, very high end, high profile collateral piece for General Motors so we’re very proud of that one.

These are great examples and it sounds like when companies want something very special, in many cases they’ll choose Aspire Petallics. I hear this over and over from customers; people that are getting married will call and say, “I want something different. I want something really special.”

And they’ll gravitate to the metallic papers so it really trickles right down to the average consumer. When they want something special, you can’t get much better than a really nice metallic sheet.

Absolutely; it is a little bit unusual. It’s a little bit different, and it does make the printed piece that much more special and it does enhance the piece fairly dramatically from what we can tell from the consumers.

Laser Printing on Metallic Paper

Speaking of printing, are there any home printing tips that you’ve found that maybe you could pass along to our creative customers who might be thinking of buying Aspire Petallics specialty paper and printing at home or perhaps taking the paper to a local printer?

Sure, absolutely. As of today we have made a very strong effort to transition all of our products to be inkjet compatible. That’s been a concerted effort over the past year or so that we’ve made. I would say today, about 90% of all items including the original Aspire Petallics colors and the new colors that we introduced are inkjet compatible. When printing these products with inkjet, if you’re going to do real heavy coverage, you’re going to want to leave a little extra time for drying because it’s a type of paper that requires the ink to absorb down into it and it just needs a little extra time to dry.

If you’re using any sort of laser or toner based print equipment, typically that dries almost instantly on this paper. You won’t really need any additional drying time. In the toner based end of the print world, there’s a heat fuser that really locks that ink and toner down onto the paper without much additional need for drying time.

If you’re taking it to a commercial printer who is going to use offset print technology, the main consideration is to use inks that dry purely through oxidation and that means that the inks need to be top drying rather than inks that absorb or dive down into the sheet and that’s the difference there.

In addition, we have developed for those customers who may be printing at a commercial digital print shop who might have an HP Indigo or a NexPress or a Konica Minolta Bizhub, we’ve got digital products in Aspire Petallic that fit all of those technologies today.

So it doesn’t really matter what your output method is or your print method, whether it’s inkjet or laser printing, offset printing, HP Indigo printing, we’ve really got a solution today to solve all of that.

Great tips and a cool announcement that I’d like to come back to in just a minute. But the original Petallics line, are they digital press ready, or only the new digitally designated colors?

Actually, there’s a couple ways to answer that.

For the HP Indigo and the NexPress, we have I think about a dozen items, 4 or 5 different colors both available in text and cover that are certified by the RIT Institute and they’re available in 18 x 12 or 12 x 18 size. It’s a very specific, separate coating. You have to apply to render the sheet suitable for those presses.

In the case of toner based technology like Ricoh, Canon, Konica Minolta, Bizhub, the standard Aspire Petallics product works perfectly fine in those toner based technologies.

I’m really excited about something you said a few minutes ago. As of now, 90% of the Aspire Petallics papers are inkjet compatible.

Correct. We have been rotating and transitioning our inventory to move all new production to an inkjet compatible surface and we’re basically through almost the entire inventory. There are a few exceptions to that. I think Juniper Berry text is not done yet and I think Spring Larch cover is not done. And not all of the linen items are done.

Inkjet printable metallic paper

We have been promoting the improved inkjet compatibility for Black Ore, Snow Willow, Spearmint, and Wine Cup. So it’s good to know in the future we’ll really be able to expand on those colors.


LCI is now carrying Aspire Petallics Linen in Autumn Hay, Beargrass, and Silver Ore. When did the linen line launch and what was the inspiration behind it?

Well that’s an interesting point and question. We had been in a meeting, I would say 3 to 4 years ago, and we started talking about how we could extend the product range and one of the things we noticed is that there were very few embossed or textured metallic paper products in the market and we started thinking about how we could potentially add a texture to Aspire. But we also didn’t want it to be a texture or an emboss that was so deep or heavy that it might interfere with offset or toner based printing. So it needed to be subtle and a very mild surface texture and so we developed this very beautiful, very elegant linen pattern that just gives it a hint of a texture and an emboss and really creates a very elegant sheet.

Yes. It is. It does.

Aspire Petallics linen paper

For the average consumer, would you recommend laser printing or offset?

Absolutely, absolutely. And we will be transitioning that item as well to the inkjet surface, I would imagine within the next 6 to 12 months.

Can you give me some history on CTI paper?

Sure, absolutely. CTI Paper actually was the brainchild of my partner who is Brian Cowie. He was a commodities trader down in the Chicago Mercantile. He owned his own seat and trading company down in Chicago and he wanted to start a new organization and he somehow got the thought that he wanted to get into import and export business. Long story short, he ended up making some contacts into the paper industry and he built a relationship with a paper mill out of Europe. He began to distribute some of their products while he was still working at the Chicago Mercantile sort of part time. And then eventually, he gave up his trading business full time and moved into the paper industry full time. It was a fledgling startup company. Then eventually, he and his wife Colleen moved the organization to Wisconsin and shortly thereafter I joined them and we put together a little bit bigger, broader business model of how we thought we could grow the company and focus on specialty, unique, value added products to serve the consumers and the customers looking for these unique products that were not commodity.

CTI Paper logo

So is the company based in Wisconsin now and is that where you are?

Yes, we’re in Wisconsin. Actually our headquarters is located in a town called Sun Prairie, Wisconsin which is a suburb of Madison which is the capital. Our distribution and converting facility is actually about an hour and a half northeast of here in Neenah, Wisconsin which is just south of Appleton.

Is there an easy answer or a general answer that you could give to the customers who might be wondering about Aspire Petallics’ environmental characteristics?

Sure, absolutely. You know, in today’s world, environmental and green initiatives are of growing importance to the consumers and for us as a company we take the responsibility of having environmentally sound business practices very seriously. It’s part of our culture and it’s part of our DNA and wherever it’s feasible we want to have the most environmentally friendly products possible and bring these to the consumers.

In the case of Aspire Petallics, over the past year or so, we have been able to transition the entire grade line to FSC certified. FSC is an organization, Forest Stewardship Council, that promotes sustainable forestry practices so we’re basically ensuring that the trees that create the pulp that produce the paper are coming from sustainable and environmentally positive forestry practices and that’s really important to us.

In addition, for a select number of items—we’re hoping that in the future we can grow it—but for a select number of items we’re now able to offer as well 30% post consumer waste and we see certain consumers where that’s very important to them as well.

We’re also providing the Aspire Petallics line as a carbon neutral line and that really means that what we’re doing is we are offsetting the carbon footprint that is required to manufacture the product with either wind, biomass, geothermal, or some other greener or environmentally friendly fuel alternative so we’re doing that through an offset credit program. Again, that’s very important to us, to be able to provide as environmentally responsible product to the market as possible.

All of the papers are elemental chlorine free, lignin free, acid free, and of course they can be recycled, is that right?

That is correct. All of the products are recyclable and they are all elementally chlorine free, acid free, and lignin free. Lignin free is important, in particular if you’re doing any work for preservation of the material or frames or scrapbook pages or wedding invitations, etc.

Would you be comfortable describing it as archival?

Acid free, depending on the definition, can be termed archival.

Okay. Can you tell me about the launch of Black Ore? It seems to be popular for us. How popular has it been for you?

We felt very strongly that we needed a deep black or charcoal metallic color in the paper line and we really fell in love with this Black Ore. This is one of the new colors that has absolutely blown us away. It has really exceeded our expectations. It has been a lot of fun launching a product and seeing it take off. Black Ore has just been a thrill to watch.

John, is there anything that you wanted our customers to know about Petallics?

Sure! I think the one thing that your customers may find of interest, and we do get this question quite often is, Where did the word “Petallics” come from? It’s a combination word of petals and metals. If you look at the color names within Aspire Petallics, it’s really all North American indigenous metals or petals or indigenous plants is another way to put it. So as an example, Black Ore is an indigenous mineral to North America, Silver Ore, Copper Ore, etc. And then if you go to the petal side of things, Beargrass, Wine Cup, Greeneyes, these are all indigenous plants or flowers to North America. So that’s where the inspiration for the color names actually comes from.

Excellent. Anything else?

I think that’s it!

Okay. I really appreciate your time. Thanks for spending so much with me.

Well very good and I appreciate your time and your patience in hooking up here but I’m glad we got it together.

Thanks to John Kelly CTI Paper President for taking the time to answer our questions. Ready to shop for Aspire Petallics?

Aspire Petallics Card Stock & Text Paper Aspire Petallics Blank Cards Aspire Petallics Envelopes
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One Comment

  1. Nhung says:

    Great interview! I love the Petallics line -so gorgeous. And I feel great knowing that it is carbon neutral.