I recently (in March of this year) left a job for a company who claimed to develop, manufacture and support their own line of fine-art inkjet paper. I believed them when I took the position, and soon learned the reality of the situation... if you call using a heat-gun to take off a manufacturer's label and then replacing it with your own, "manufacturing", well, I guess you can say you manufacture paper. If not, well, you see where I'm going.
The thing that was kind of funny was that some of these papers they carried were pretty damn sweet. It's just that you don't have to buy them from there, and you don't have to pay top dollar. Here's a link to my blog post with some of the papers we "manufactured":http://teddillard.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/awesome-private-label-media/
...there are some of my favorites listed there. For some reason the formatting doesn't work when I cut and paste here, sorry!
But, for those who are laboring under the misconception that a small company can make their own formula of paper that can compete with the Big Boys, let me fill you in on a few things. They can't.
As far as I know, even Epson themselves, for example, doesn't make their own paper. Most inkjet paper is manufactured in a few plants, much on the same model as consumer electronics. Some is manufactured to specifications of the customer (...that is, like Epson) but they need to be pretty big companies ordering huge amounts to be competitive. A small Mon-and-Pop? No chance that is going to happen.
What some companies do, and very honestly, I might add, is to "Private Label" a paper. They buy from companies like IJ Technologies, put their labels on the paper and sell them as their own. The difference is, the companies that I've seen that do that are pretty up front and honest about it, and also provide added value in building a good array of profiles, give you some awesome support, and also cherry-pick stock. (Let's face it, not every stock is going to be what you want, and if you share a supplier's idea of what makes a great Fine-Art paper, then you've taken a lot of guesswork out of trying new stuff.) That's cool. It's honest. Not to mention, a lot of them sell at a pretty good discount. This place I was at typically bought rolls of stock, steamed the labels off, relabeled them and marked them up 50%. You'd be buying a $200 roll of stock for $300, and thinking it was something it was not.
Besides re-labeling, here are some of the things I was told to do, as a routine part of my job.
Profiling is a huge issue, and a huge joke. To build a proper profile, anyone who's read much on this forum knows you've got to either build a profile for your special, individual printer, or do it the way Epson et al does it... take about a dozen printers, profile them several times, then average the data to build a good profile. Do you think a small company can spend that kind of effort? This one certainly couldn't. We'd build one profile on outdated equipment and software, run what was considered a "test" (I considered it a "joke") and call it a profile.
One thing that was pathetically common was to simply re-name profiles for new printers. If you had a profile for, say, an Epson 9600, you could try re-naming it for the 9900, sending it out there and seeing if you get complaints. I'm embarrassed to say I was told to do that dozens of times, and did it. It's the only way a company that owns only 3 printers can claim, and appear to support, every new printer on the market. I at least tried to get them to approach clients with current printers and use them to build new profiles on selected stock... but that was only one stock, and sampled from only one printer. Far from the correct way of doing things.
A lot of the paper, because it's made in relatively small batches, had some serious consistency problems. I've even seen that with a few bigger suppliers... it's hard to keep a consistent line running unless you have huge production. I was told to simply lie, and gloss over flaws in batches. In some instances I actually was told to re-label batches so a customer wouldn't know we shipped him the same stuff.
My favorite was how an entire pallet of stock was found to be defective. They were reimbursed for the stock - a huge amount of money - and it sat in the "warehouse" (a garage under the building) for about a year. I was then told to pull it out, clear the dust off it, make a label with a new name, and put it back on the shelves. Sweet, huh?
If you're going to buy paper from a company like this, then count on building your own profiles, or paying for them to be built by a reputable service. Again, if it was bargain basement stuff, then fine... but this particular place is selling for top-dollar. Count on getting no support that you can trust, and count on not being able to count on the consistency of what you get.
The most awesome part is how the owner claimed to be an expert in Color Management and Fine Art Inkjet printing, and to be selling and manufacturing the "finest products available". He also claimed that some of the biggest and best names in the business started the company with him... If it smells like BS, it probably is.
This may seem inappropriate, or kiss-and-tell, or whatever, but here's the thing. When I started working in digital imaging, in around 1998, I made a commitment to be honest, and do my best to give the straight story on products. I was a photographer trying to pay the rent for 25 years, and I wasn't going to sell other guys like me crap. I built a pretty good reputation doing that, and I think my judgement is pretty well respected. You may not agree with me, but you can't say I'm trying to lie to you. After working at this company for two years, I feel like that got flushed down the toilet. The worst part is the people who get taken by stuff like this are either those who don't know better, or people who simply are too trusting.
I took the job because I trusted the guy to be telling me the truth. By the time I understood the depth of the BS, I was in over my head. It's the only job I've ever walked out on. Enough of my talk-therapy.
Bottom line? Know what you're buying, and there's a lot of cool paper out there from honest companies... but there's a lot of snake-oil out there too. By buying from the manufacturer, or from a reseller who sells private label stock, you can get some great stuff at some good prices... but buyer beware.