Choosing the Best Paper Type for Printing

Choosing the Best Paper Type for Printing

If your work involves printing in any way, it’s in your best interest to know the right paper type. Even if you’ve come up with a great design, but you don’t know what a great print job entails, there’s a big possibility that your hard work might go down the drain. This sounds harsh, but you need to know the stakes so that your marketing campaign isn’t wasted by something as seemingly trivial as a poor print job!

In this article, we’ll cover everything from why choosing the right paper is critical, what differentiates good paper from lousy paper, and what types of paperwork best for various projects. When you know these things, you’ll be in the best position to design a print that looks as incredible on paper as it does on your screen. 

Why Paper Holds Paramount Significance

First, you need to understand why paper is such a critical element of the design process. The reputation of your brand hinges upon the quality of your products and services. If you invest in a high-quality print job, your customers will associate your business with superior services, customer support, and products. This will soar sales and increase brand trust and credibility. 

Imagine getting two business cards, each from rival businesses yet differing leaps and bounds in paper quality and designs. Business A has a faded and flimsy business card, the colors lack strength, and the ink seems off balance. On the other hand, Business B’s postcard is dense and full of characters, the colors are on point, and the design doesn’t overwhelm. Which one is going to leave a lasting impression on you? Of course, the second one. 

Choosing a balanced paper stock is crucial for upholding the principles of sensory marketing. The chief notion behind sensory marketing is stimulating the senses to influence perception and ultimately buying decisions. When you use the best paper stock, your marketing materials look great and lure customers into buying your products and services. 

A paper’s characteristics dictate consumer psychology. Paper brightness, texture, smoothness, and a whole host of other factors motivate purchases.

 A Harvard Business Review supported this notion. In the study, people sat in soft chairs and hard chairs of automobiles. Those who sat in soft chairs were 28% more willing to pay more for the car. This indicates that people are more prone to persuasion when they come in contact with soft things. 

Job interviewers opined that candidates took them more seriously when they held hard clipboards in their hands. Meaning, marketing stationery weight can increase a company’s credibility. 

Similarly, people who drank water from heavy vessels versus flimsy cups believed the water in the heavy container to be of higher quality than that stored in flimsy cups. 

These findings suggest that visual artistry coupled with tactile sensations make a killer combination for making any paper stock a worthy representation of a brand. 

Choosing the Best Paper Type for Printing

 Paper qualities

Whether you want to design a postcard or a business card, the best way to choose the perfect paper stock for your project is first to understand what traits make a paper stock desirable. These characteristics tell us how a paper looks and feels and why it’s suitable for a particular print job. 

 How is paper made?

Commonly, we make paper by mixing wood fibers in hot water to form a pulp. You can also use other materials, such as plant fibers and recycled paper, but wood is the most popular option. 

To improve paper properties, manufacturers blend the pulp with dyes and fillers. After this, the pulp is cleaned and bleached with chemicals and spread over a mesh screen to drain moisture. This process takes place in a Fourdrinier machine with a moving belt. Once dried, the pulp is transformed into a sheet of paper — but there’s more to come. 

Next, the sheet is processed by a dandy roll, which imprints watermarks and patterns. From here, it is passed through rollers and heated rollers to further de-moisturize and finish the drying process. Finally, the paper is converted into reels and finished by smoothing, coating, embossing, and trimming. 

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, 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.

The way a paper is made determines its features, which decides how best you can use it. 

The process we’ve mentioned is a general overview of the papermaking process. Every manufacturer has its way of doing things. The nuances they use causes a significant difference in the end product. Some people even handmade paper because they consider it to be an aesthetic tradition. 

Some notable paper manufacturers are:

Formation

Formation involves the spread out of added fillers and wood fillers and plays a pivotal role in dictating final print quality. The best papers have uniform fiber coverage in the proportion of 75% hardwood fibers and 25% softwood fibers. 

Another factor you should keep in mind is recycled content. Eco-friendly papers have 100% post-consumer waste, while others only have a fraction of post-consumer waste. 

Brightness

The amount of blue light a paper stock reflects is determined by the degree of brightness. Brightness is scored from 0 to 100, with 100 being the brightest. 

As brightness increases, so do:

  • Faithful color reproduction
  • Ink brightness
  • The contrast between printed and non-printed areas
  • Bottom-line: the brighter the paper stock, the better.
Choosing the Best Paper Type for Printing

Whiteness

In contrast, whiteness is regarded as the amount of light reflected or absorbed by a paper stock. Whiteness varies across grades and shades, with the most popular variations being:

  • Balanced white: Great for print jobs revolving around illustrations and paintings.
  • Warm White: Produces warm images because of its ability to absorb blues and greens and reflect oranges and reds—an excellent choice for photography-related print jobs. 
  • Blue White: Produces sturdy, metallic images. It is used in retail marketing and features heavily in product images and B/W photographs. 

Grain

Grain is the way wood fibers are patterned against the paper machine. There are two types of grain:

  • Long grains: In a long-grain paper, fibers move parallel to the long end of the paper, which makes it more convenient to turn pages, curbs buckling, and makes the binding more dependable and efficient. 
  • Short Grains: In short grain, fibers move perpendicular to the long end of the paper. This type is best-suited for saddle-stitched items and pocket folders.

Opacity

The amount of light that passes through a paper stock determines opacity. Paper stock with high opacity permits little light to get through, whereas low opacity allows more light to pass through. 

Opacity is a significant factor because it affects brightness, formation, and surface. If you have projects that require heavy ink and full-color, high-opacity paper stocks make a perfect choice. This is why most designers use it for marketing materials. High opacity paper is also more cost-effective because it reduces total paper and mailing costs.

Basis weight and thickness

Choosing the Best Paper Type for Printing

Paperweight refers to the 500 sheets of particular paper stock in its standard dimensions.  

Paper thickness is measured by a caliper and expressed in points. Two points equal .002 inches. So if you’re wondering how thick is a 20 point text stock, all you have to do is multiply .002 by 20, and you’ll have your answer. 

Thick paper stocks provide an aesthetic sturdiness to your marketing items. Thickness also lends durability to direct mail marketing materials requiring rigorous processing by office sorting machines. 

High-quality pieces are laws that have greater thickness. However, this doesn’t mean that your postcards need to have the density of metal pieces. It means you need to strike the right balance to lend your paper prestige and respect. 

Surface

The smoother a paper stock is, the better its surface composition. Smooth paper stocks depend upon fiber levelness and lower essential details, such as vividness and color intensity. 

One way you can figure out surface smoothness is to throw some light on paper stock. If its incidence is smooth and there’s not a lot of mottling, your paper has high smoothness. Another way is to use ink instead of light. Unsmooth stocks absorb less ink than their smooth counterparts. 

Paper coating

  • Coatings can improve paper stocks. Some widely used paper coatings include:
  • Gloss: Makes paper appear polished and produces sharp and vivid images. 
  • Matte: Produces a less pronounced glare-free sheen best-suited for heavy-handed projects. 
  • Velvet: An elegant, regal coating that has a tremendous sensory aesthetic. 
  • Linen: Has the appearance of woven linen.
  • Dull or silk: Great for superior readability. 

The choice of coating affects paper smoothness, which is measured on the Sheffield scale. The lower the score on this metric, the better the smoothness. 

The best paper stock for printing

Choosing the Best Paper Type for Printing

The best paper stocks for printing have the following characteristics:

  • High opacity to allow more excellent ink coverage
  • High brightness to increase ink vividness
  • High thickness for more excellent stability
  • Smooth surface that allows excellent ink absorption and consequently removes bumps and imperfections

If you’re working on a tight budget, you can choose a paper stock with less opacity, smoothness, and brightness, but know that this decision will come at a cost. 

Different papers and grades complement different projects. For example:

  • For books and manuals and business cards, uncoated offset paper is ideal. 
  • For marketing stationery — flyers, brochures, and postcards — high opaque paper is optimal. 
  • For corporate materials, such as letterheads, you should go with bond papers. 
  • Parchment stock is excellent for certificates. 
  • Index paper is a good option for index cards. 
  • Safety paper is commonly used for checks and coupons. 
  • Good labels feature pressure-sensitive paper. 

The best paper types for printing depend on your project.

There are a whole host of options when it comes to paper stocks. Depending upon your project, the choice will vary. One paper stock might work great for printing business cards but fail miserably in the case of brochures. It would help if you also kept brand perceptions and attitudes in mind when making your selection. 

The best paper stock combos depend upon paper usage. For example, if you’re printing a flyer, your best bet would be to choose a matte text paper because it provides a more consistent surface composition, glare-free sheen, and a foldability that parallels text-based thickness. Similarly, velvet or uncoated stock would make an excellent choice for better readability. 

Final Thoughts

Before starting a printing project, it’s best to understand how paper works so that you can accurately match paper and finish. One thing that helps is consulting a good printer. Ask your printer for free stock samples so that you can see how the paper stock feels and seems in your hands. In the end, it’s all about finding the right paper match for your project. Get that right, and there’s no reason why your project will not soar to success. 

Austin Terrill

Austin is the founder and CEO of Print Peppermint. He loves art, graphic design, printing, music, recording gear, synthesizers, and ice cream. He lives in Berlin with his wife and two children.

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