Choosing Paper for Printing- General Facts, Tips and Tricks
Picking the right paper for your print project is an important decision. The type of paper you choose can determine the quality of the final product. Here’s a look at a few options and insight into the results they offer.
Begin Each Project with Paper in Mind
When designing your print piece, paper choice can be an important element of the overall design- it can also impact your end product and production cost.
As you begin a project, think through the following:
- What is your final product? Is it a book, poster, flyer, business card, etc.?
- How durable do you need the piece to be? Do you want the piece to stand up to a few weeks of use or years of use?
- What feeling do you want your piece to convey? Should it be viewed as precious or utilitarian?
- What assets will the piece showcase? For example, are you printing a photo or text heavy imagery?
- What type of printing do you have access to/are you planning to use? Laser (ImagePress,) Inkjet (Epson,) Riso, etc.
Coated and Uncoated Paper
Coated paper is coated with a surface sealant. This coating covers the tiny pits between paper fibers (tooth), giving it a smooth, flat surface. When printing on coated paper, ink is restricted from absorbing into the surface of the paper. The result is sharper printing, especially for images, and a glossier appearance of the inks.
Coated stocks are available in a variety of finishes:
- Gloss – Coated paper with a high sheen, typical of what you see for a magazine.
- Dull/Satin – Coated paper with a smooth, low-gloss surface. Dull is the middle ground between glossy and matte paper.
- Matte – Coated paper with a non-glossy, flat look. There is little sheen to the paper. Matte papers are more opaque and bulkier.
Uncoated paper has not been coated with surface sealants. Therefore, uncoated paper feels rough (or toothier) compared to coated paper, and it will absorb more ink. Uncoated stocks are available in a range of textures, colors, weights, and finishes. A few examples of where you might encounter uncoated paper in day-to-day life are newspapers, paperback books, letter head, copy paper.
*Not all paper is both inkjet and laser compatible! Some papers are “digitally coated” meaning the coating is engineered to receive specific applications. Make sure the paper you choose is compatible with the type of printer you plan to use.
Paper Weight and Thickness
Paper weight refers to its thickness. It is measured in pounds (ex. 20#), grams/gsm (ex. 176 gsm) and points (ex. 10 PT). In general, the more a sheet of paper weighs, the thicker it is (within its category.)
Common basis weight categories are:
- Bond– Tends to be the lightest weight paper and includes translucent and opaque bond papers. Copy paper is commonly 20# bond.
- Writing- Tends to be slightly heavier than bond and available in different textures. Typically comes in 20# or 24# and includes a water mark, something to be aware of as that may affect print results.
- Text – Tends to be light to medium weight (40#-100#.) A commonly available weight is 70# text.
- Cover – Tends to be a heavier weight (60#-165#.) A common business card weight is 80# cover.
Fun Fact: Paper weight is based on how much a reams’ worth (250 sheets for cover, 500 sheets for bond, writing and most text sheets) of full-size stock (23x35”- 26x40”) weighs. These full-size stock sheets are called basis sheets.
Paper thickness can influence print results when it comes to registration. If you are printing double sided or multiple layers, consider that a thicker sheet will print less consistently- if you are planning to trim the final product, accounting for wiggle room is important.
When paper is made, the fibers line up in one direction, which is the grain. If you think of a piece of wood, which is easier to split with the grain, or parallel to the grain, the same is true of paper. When paper is folded with the grain, the fold is smoother.
This can be tested by lightly curling the paper to determine which direction the grain runs. Typically, paper dimensions are listed with the grain direction first for example if a package lists 8.5x11, the grain runs parallel with the 8.5 side.
Grain direction can be an important thing to consider when folding a printed piece- for example a French fold book. To get a clean fold against paper grain, scoring is recommended.
Tips and Tricks
When working on a large or detailed project, it is important to consider content, print method and materials in relation to each other. Understanding the capabilities and limitations of both the print process and paper/material you choose will prepare you for getting the best results. Print technicians are great resources for making recommendations and suggestions- don’t hesitate to ask questions as part of your planning process!
Sourcing paper samples and doing test prints are both smart ways to approach a project and mean fewer surprises when it comes to putting your final project together. And there will always be surprises!
Paper Mills and Distributors/Vendors
*Anchor Paper Express
French Paper Co.
Waste Not Paper
The Paper Mill Store