Choosing the Right Paper for Your Printing Project

Choosing the Right Paper for Your Printing Project


Choosing the right paper affects the success or failure of your book, direct mail piece, annual report, stationery, brochure, or package design. This summary will help you make the right decision about what kind of paper to use for your printed marketing pieces.
Defining Papers by Grade
Grade refers to a category of paper, based on the paper’s primary use. It also represents a quality rating, from premium (the best), to #1, #2, #3, etc. By category, there are five basic grades of paper: bond, offset or uncoated book, coated book, text, and cover. Within each grade are other characteristics: brightness, opacity, bulk, color, finish, and fiber content.
Defining Paper by Basis Weight
Paper is also identified by basis weight. Basis weight is the weight of 500 “standard size” sheets of paper cut into a basis size. However, standard size sheets vary in size from grade to grade. Two similar sheets of various grades may have different basis weights. In addition, coated papers are compressed, so they may weigh more, but don’t feel any thicker. Bond paper usually comes in 16# for forms, 20# for copying, and 24# for stationery. Offset ranges in weight from 50# to 70#. Coated book generally comes in 30# to 70# for web presses, and 60# to 110# for sheetfed. Text paper ranges from 60# to 100#. Cover paper usually comes in 60# to 100#, with duplex cover stocks doubling these numbers.
Eye-Popping Tip:
It is best to obtain a free swatch book from your paper representative before purchasing or specifying paper for your printer or designer. The swatch book will give you the opportunity to examine and feel the various sheets for finish, thickness, stiffness, opacity (translucence), and color.
Brightness is the amount of light that the paper reflects. Brighter paper will reflect more light through a printed photograph, resulting in photos that pop off the page. Type also will be more legible on brighter paper, but a very bright paper may cause too much eyestrain in long documents (e.g., book interiors).
Visual and Printed Opacity
Visual opacity is the light-blocking properties of the paper. Hold a sheet of paper up to the light and see how much shows through. Opacity is measured as a contrast ratio. The opacity of the majority of printing papers is 80 percent to 98 percent. It increases with bulk, coating, uneven surfaces, and the use of pigments (color), fillers, and ground wood. A sheet that is more opaque makes the text more readable and causes less eyestrain. Printed opacity is how much of the ink from one side soaks through the paper. Both of these characteristics are important considerations for two-sided and folded pieces.
Bulk describes the thickness of the paper and is defined as pages per inch, or PPI. You will need to calculate the thickness of the finished piece to design the width of the spine or binding. If you have a thin book and want a wider spine, consider using a paper with more bulk.
Papers come in an enormous array of hues. Even among white paper, there is a range from cooler, blue-grey whites to warmer, creamy whites. Remember, ink is translucent so the paper color will affect the resulting ink color. Warm paper will make colors look warmer. Color photos printed on a pure white paper will result in a closer match to your original color prints.
Finish is the texture of the paper’s surface. Paper can be as smooth as chrome or as rough as particle board. Cast-coated, premium, ultra gloss and gloss finish are the shiniest finishes, generally found on coated stock. These papers have a layer of clay and other chemicals that form a smooth veneer on top of the paper.
Coated paper does not necessarily mean gloss, since a coated paper can also have a matte finish. Uncoated papers can vary from the smoothest finish (machine finish) to a slightly toothy finish (vellum, antique, and eggshell) to the embossed finishes (felt, linen, laid, ribbed, and lined finish).
Eye-Popping Tip
If you need to write on the actual printed piece (i.e., business reply cards or forms), do not select a gloss finish because the ink from a ballpoint pen will smear when used on that surface.
The more textured a paper, the more ink will soak in, causing colors and halftones (photos) to become muted and/or muddy. Special steps are taken by the designer or pre-press department to adjust for ink holdout.
In bright lighting conditions, readability is easier on a matte finish rather than a gloss finish because there is less glare coming off the paper.
Recycled Papers
Recycled papers are virtually indistinguishable from their non-recycled counterparts, with similar performance, color, cost, and availability. Recycled paper varies on the percent of post-consumer waste (recycled fiber). Contact your paper rep for specific information on recycled paper. You will find the recycled paper symbol on any recycled paper regardless of post-consumer material content.




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