Making the Right Paper Choice

With so many printing papers available, specifiers can easily get overwhelmed. Many end up relying on a few favorites, usually opting for a white, gloss coated stock. Looking at it in further detail, you’ll see a bunch of paper qualities that can make all difference between a dream job and a nightmare. Once you understand what to look for, making the right paper choice is a cinch. Here’s a quick guide to help with the paper specs.

This refers to the uniformity and distribution of fibers in a sheet of paper. In a well formed sheet, ink is absorbed evenly giving you smooth solids and clear reproduction. A poorly formed sheet will show more dot gain and a mottles look when printed (think orange peel). How can you tell if a sheet has good formation? Hold it up to the light, if it looks clumpy the formation is not as uniform – obviously the higher the grade of paper the better the formation. Look at a sheet of copy paper versus a premium writing sheet (Classic Crest or Strathmore).

This term refers to the amount of light showing through a sheet, ranging from 1-100. (1 is the most transparent and 100 is the most opaque). A paper with a high opacity level will have little show through of printing on the reverse side or sheet below. This is really important if the design includes solids, bold type, and heavy coverage. Basis weight, brightness, pulp, fillers, coatings and formation all influence opacity. How can you tell? Lay a blank sheet of paper on top of a printed sheet and see how much printing shows through.

This is measured as the percentage of light reflected back off the surface of the paper. It’s not so much about color or whiteness as it is reflectivity. A blue-white sheet and balanced white sheet can have the same brightness but look very different. A paper that is 98 bright will reflect back almost all of the light. Four color tends to pop off the sheet of bright papers as they illuminate the inks. If a project is copy laden, a natural or balanced white sheet may preferable – it’s easier on the eyes. You can tell a sheets brightness by referring to the swatchbook – if you can find that ask your favorite paper rep.

Finish refers to how smooth a sheet is. For coated papers gloss finishes offer the smoothest sheet while a matte coated is the “toothiest.” There many more finishes available in the uncoated offerings, even among “smooth” finishes. So how do you know if a “super smooth” sheet is really smoother than a “smooth” sheet? Ask about the Sheffield value, the lower the number the smooth the sheet. Coated papers are around 10-30 while a premium uncoated “super smooth” sheet will be around 45-60 and vellum uncoated sheet (not translucent) will be around 200-250 in Sheffield value.

Side to Side Consistency
You may have heard of felt and wire in the paper making process. A sheet has two sides to it, the wire side comes into contact with the wires on the paper machines and the felt side does not. If your not sure of how a sheet will print from side to side, ask your printer to drawdowns.

The print quality of a paper is affected by formation, opacity, brightness and smoothness. To insure how a paper prints before you spec it, ask to see printed samples, and if you’re planning to use a special print technique make the sample shows that as well. Again, you paper rep is your best bet for samples.

While there are many reasons you might select one paper over the other, the process is purely subjective. There are beautiful papers available in many categories. The trick is in finding one that meets your budgetary needs, quality standards, and deadline while maintaining the design integrity of piece. For samples demonstrating the different paper characteristics, just click on the link to our sample studio.

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