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If you’re a graphic designer, small business owner or marketer, it literally pays to know the best paper types for printing. No matter what you’re printing or how great your design is, if you have a bad print job your investment will be wasted. How terrible it would be to spend time and money developing an incredible marketing campaign, only to have it ruined by a poor print job!
The following details why paper matters, what separates great paper from poor paper, and which paper types are best for printing for a variety of projects, so you can design winning print marketing campaigns that look as amazing on paper as they do on your screen.
Choosing the best paper type for your project starts with understanding why paper is such a crucial element. Your customers equate the quality of your marketing with the quality of your products and services, so to have a high-quality print job suggests you have a high-quality business that offers high-quality products, services, and customer support – which influences purchasing decisions.
Imagine receiving two postcards in the mail, each from competing companies yet featuring comparable offers and design. Company A’s postcard is thin and flimsy, the colors are dull and lackluster, and the inks appears scratched. Company B’s postcard is thick and sturdy, the colors are brilliant, and the ink is flawless.
Everything else being equal, which company would you buy from? Most people would choose Company B simply because they sent the superior postcard; a fundamental, yet often subconscious, psychological response to quality marketing materials.
The right paper stock for printing lends itself to a sub-discipline called sensory marketing: understanding how the senses influence perception, which in turn influences buying decisions. When you use the best paper stock for printing your projects, your designs look amazing – even fascinating, delighting customers’ sense of sight – and your marketing materials deliver pleasant tactile sensations that customers equate to quality.
“Hand” refers to how a given paper stock feels, and a paper’s hand makes a statement even before it’s printed: soft and luxurious, sleek and bright, textured or smooth, paper characteristics have psychological influence. In fact, they can even motivate purchases.
In a Harvard Business Review article titled Please Touch the Merchandise, Lawrence Williams and Joshua Ackerman reported these findings:
This reinforces the suggestion that customers respond positively to heavy, and negatively to light, flimsy marketing tools.
From these findings, we can surmise that visual enhancement combined with tactile sensations – or hand – make for the perfect paper stock for any given project.
Now, let’s examine what dictates those qualities.
Whether you need a good paper stock for postcards or want to print business cards on unique paper, the best way to choose a great paper stock for your print projects is to first understand the most desirable paper qualities and how they are achieved. These qualities dictate how a paper looks and feels as well as its suitability for a given print job. The following breaks down different paper stock characteristics and what they mean to your final printed materials.
Most paper is made by mixing wood fibers in hot water to create pulp. Other materials can be used, such as recycled paper and other plant-based fibers, but wood is the most common.
Additives, such as dyes and fillers, might be mixed in with the pulp to improve paper properties. Once mixed, the pulp is cleaned and bleached, then spread out over a mesh screen to allow the water to drain. This is usually done on a Fourdrinier machine, which features a moving belt. Once the pulp has dried, the result is a sheet of paper – but the process isn’t finished yet.
Next, the sheet passes through a dandy roll, which can add patterns or watermarks; then, it is pressed between rollers to remove additional water before moving through heated rollers that complete the drying process. Once dried, the paper is rolled onto reels.
How a given paper is made determines the characters it features, which in turn determines how it is best used.
That’s a general overview of the papermaking process; each paper manufacturer has its own processes and nuances that make its papers unique. In addition to mass paper production, many people handmake paper and consider it an artform. You can learn more about handmade papers from The Guild of Papermakers and , The International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists (IAPMA).
Formation refers to the distribution of wood fibers and added fillers, and it has the greatest impact on print quality. Uniform fiber distribution is important, and the best papers feature a mix that’s 75 percent hardwood fibers, 25 percent softwood fibers.
Another consideration is the amount of recycled content: some papers are partly made from post-consumer waste; others are comprised of 100 percent post-consumer waste – the ultimate in eco-friendly printing.
Brightness refers to the amount of blue light reflected by a given paper stock. It’s measured on the TAPPI brightness scale, scored from 0 to 100, with 100 being the brightest paper.
Generally speaking, the brighter the paper stock, the better.
Grain refers to the direction wood fibers are aligned with the paper machine. There are two types of grain: long grain and short grain.
Opacity refers to the amount of light that can be transmitted through a given paper stock. High opacity lets little light through, while low opacity lets more light through.
Opacity is an important consideration because it enhances brightness, surface and formation. It’s a great choice for projects that require full-color and heavy ink, which is why it’s often used for marketing materials. Though it costs more per pound that normal offset papers, stocks with high opacity reduce total paper and mailing expenses.
Ever wondered exactly what paper “weight” means? It refers to the weight of 500 sheets of a given paper stock in its basic size. For example, the basic size for cover stock is 20-inch by 26-inch and the basic size for text stock is 25-inch by 38-inch.
Paper thickness is exactly how it sounds – how thick the paper is, as measured by a caliper. Paper thickness is often express as “points,” where every point equals .001 inch. So, if you ask “how thick is 10 point text paper,” you can multiply .001 by 10 to get .010 inch.
Thick paper stocks lend a sense of quality to your marketing materials, and thickness also plays an important role in direct-mail marketing pieces that need to be fed through post office sorting machines.
The more prestigious the piece, the thicker the paper. This doesn't mean your folded brochures should be like cardboard, but adding thickness to your paper can lend credibility and esteem.
Surface refers to the smoothness of a given paper stock, dictated by how level the fibers are. Smooth, level paper stocks reproduce colors in sharp, vivid detail.
One way to determine surface quality is to shine a light through a sheet of paper. If it’s uniform without a lot of mottling, the paper is likely rather smooth. Another way is to test ink absorption: smooth papers absorb inks better than unsmooth papers.
Your choice of coating can affect the smoothness of your paper, which is measured by the Sheffield scale – the lower the number, the smoother the paper.
If you’re concerned about shipping costs, you can opt for lighter paper weight, thinner paper stocks, and less opaqueness; but understand you’ll sacrifice print quality to save money at the post office, which might translate to lost sales at the mailbox.
There are many great paper stocks available, but not every type of paper is best for every project. One paper stock might be perfect for printing catalogs but not so great for printing greeting cards. In addition, you should be cognizant of your brand attributes when selecting paper stocks for corporate identity.
The combination of a paper’s properties dictate how it should be used; so, for example, if you’re printing a brochure you might choose a gloss text paper, since it offers the bright sheen of a glossy coating and the foldability of a text-based thickness. For easy writing, it's best to go with an uncoated or velvet paper stock.
Great paper stocks feel strong and stable, vicariously lending these same attributes to your products and services.
Paper stocks with a gloss finish are well-suited for grabbing attention with a flashy delivery, since the gloss helps colorful designs pop off the page.
Matte stocks are good for lending a subtle appeal, suggesting elegance and exclusivity. Special coatings such as aqueous and UV further enhance printed promotions by adding a layer of brilliance and protection. If you're a green company, look for eco-friendly recycled paper stocks. This can also be very important to your customers.
It's a good idea to know what kind of paper you'll be printing on before you design your projects, so you can tailor your design to match the paper and finish. Sleek, smooth paper might benefit a sleek design; while a soft matte might be great for an elegant theme. Ask your printer for free paper stock samples before you settle on one so you can literally get a feel for what it feels like in your hands.
Of course, you probably want to know the answers to questions such as “what kind of paper are brochures printed on?” and “what is a good paper weight for a flyer?” Use the information provided above with the paper/project matches listed below to identify the best paper stock for printing your next project.
Note that UV and AQ coatings can be added to many printed materials; both offer protection for your printed pieces and make colors appear more vibrant.
No matter what type of paper stock you choose, it’s important to have your materials printed by a premium printing company. PsPrint, for example, uses state-of-the-art offset and digital printing presses and vivid, eco-friendly, soy-based inks to make your colors pop off the page. The last thing you want to do is ruin your beautiful design with subpar printing, so combine the right paper with premium printing at discount prices to bring your designs to life!