When people start thinking about a print project, paper usually isn’t the first thing they consider. However, print professionals will tell you that paper selection needs to be part of the planning. Choosing the right paper stock affects how printed images will look and how the piece performs. The wrong paper can create a negative perception among your customers, increase your costs, or even force you to do the job a second time.
For those not familiar with the industry, paper characteristics and the vernacular to describe them can be confusing. There are lots of different paper properties to consider – most of them are pretty obscure. We’ll explain some of the common items you should know about below, but be sure to ask your print providers about paper when you are describing your job. It is important to be clear about the intended use for your printed materials. They should be able to show you a selection of papers that will meet your requirements.
Paper Weight – This is probably the most familiar paper measurement – and frequently misunderstood. The number quoted in pounds is the weight of 500 sheets in the paper’s basic size from the mill – before it is trimmed to letter or legal size, for example. The tricky part is the basic size isn’t the same for all kinds of paper. For instance, 24# bond paper (like copy paper) isn’t the same as 24# cover stock. The sheet sizes are different. Also, remember to consider the weight of the entire finished piece, including the envelope, if you intend to mail it. A fraction of an ounce beyond a weight threshold can blow your postage budget.
Finish and Coatings – Paper can come in gloss, satin, or matte finishes. You can also apply coatings to all or part of a printed piece to protect from smudging or make a graphic stand out. Sometimes you’ll want different finishes on opposite sides of the piece. You wouldn’t want a gloss finish on the inside of a greeting card, for example because it’s hard to write on. The outside of the card, however, may feature bright colors or a photograph that really pops with a high gloss coating.
Folds – If you will be folding the piece, be sure the paper is thin enough to be accurately folded but not so thin that it might tear. Scoring will be necessary for thicker, stiffer paper. You’ll want to choose a paper that scores smoothly without cracking.
Paper Grain — Paper grain refers to the way paper fibers are aligned. In short grain paper the fibers are parallel to the short dimension of the page. Fibers in long grain papers are just the opposite. A clean, crisp fold is more likely if you plan your project to fold with the grain. Scoring may be recommended in cases where folding against the grain is unavoidable.
Brightness – Most people can’t tell the difference in papers with less than 2 points difference in brightness so don’t get hung up on the numbers. Printing professionals generally regard brightness ratings as more of a marketing ploy than a scientific measurement. Bright white isn’t always the best paper choice. If your project includes photos of people, select paper with a warmer tone. The faces will be reproduced in more natural colors.
Recycled Content – Contrary to popular belief, recycled paper runs just fine on presses and digital printers, and availability isn’t an issue. You should be able to find any paper you want made from recycled paper fibers. Some recycled paper is made from post-consumer material and others from pre-consumer wood byproducts. Papers for printing usually contain only a percentage of recycled content–otherwise they wouldn’t hold together. If recycled content is important to you, ask for the specifications and origins of the paper you are considering.
Paper choice can make a big difference in appearance, usefulness, and durability. Don’t forget to give these aspects some thought when you plan your next project.
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