One thing many of our customers rely on us for is helping them choose the right paper(s) for their job. Paper is important! The right choice can make a project shine while the wrong choice can ruin it. The main factors to consider in choosing the right paper for your project are:
- Paper weight
Below we discuss a bit about each factor. This should hopefully point you in the right direction if you are at all confused about what paper or papers to use for your print project.
Here at our shop there are 2 different classes of paper weights — 1) text weight papers and 2) cover stocks.
Text weight papers are (not surprisingly) ideally suited for printing text. Your basic 20# copy paper is a text weight paper, as are 24#, 28#, 32# papers. The paper weight/thickness increases as the # increases. These weights are also referred to as 50#, 60#, 70# and 80# text, respectively, which confuses things. To compare apples to apples, check the gsm (grams per square meter or g/m²) of the papers you are considering to make sure they are of comparable weight.
Lower weight text papers fold easily without the need to score them first. Some of the heavier text weight papers do require scoring before folding or they will crack. The need for scoring will affect pricing.
If you are printing double sided, the lighter the paper (the lower its # weight), the more likely you will be able to see the content which is on the other side of the page. This problem is called bleed-through, and it gets worse with darker images and areas with heavy ink coverage. To avoid this problem, use a heavier weight paper.
If your project is a book or booklet, it is quite common to use a text weight paper for the interior pages and a cover stock for the outside cover(s).
Cover stocks are heavier papers. They are most often used for booklet covers, postcards, business cards, invitations and other projects requiring a paper with more substance.
We stock covers starting as light as 65#, as heavy as 130#, as well as everything in between. Depending on your project you may need a heavier cover stock. For example, if your project is a postcard mailing, the machines at the post office may damage a lightweight card. We recommend using at least 80# cards for mailings. (We use 100# or 110# cover for our own postcard mailings.)
Heavier cover stocks are more sturdy and are used to create higher quality projects. If durability is important to you, go with a thicker stock.
There are three basic finishes on the papers we stock here: 1) smooth, 2) textured, and 3) coated. These finishes are available for both text weight papers as well as cover stocks.
If you tell us the pictures, images or other art in your project must look great, we are almost always going to recommend a paper with a smooth finish. When you throw texture into the mix, you can lose detail and crispness of your imagery as the ink or toner adheres inconsistently to a changing surface.
If your art will allow it, however, a textured paper (such as a linen or laid finish) may be appropriate. Or you may be able to use a high quality wove bond or cover stock. It really depends on your project. This is why we always recommend to all of our customers that they see a hardcopy proof. What you think will be a perfect paper for your art may be awful, but you really won’t know until you see it and feel it.
Matte coated papers provide a unique look and silky feel which may be suitable for your art. In our shop these are considered premium papers best suited for full color printing.
Many people think gloss coated papers are best for photos and images, but this is not always the case. Again, it depends on your art. (I think images look best on a smooth bright white cover. More on this in the next section.) Gloss coated papers also come in 2 variations — coated on 1 side or coated on both sides. Your project details will dictate which one will work best for you.
The color of the paper you choose is extremely important. Anything other than a bright white will darken your imagery.
Think about it this way… whatever color your paper is will be combined with your art. So choosing a pink paper will add pink to everything, choosing a blue paper will add blue to everything, and so on. An image that looks great on your white back-lit monitor will not look the same on colored paper or card stock. If you have pictures of people in your project, a colored paper will change their appearance considerably. Be careful!
One of the most popular paper colors here is Natural White. It gives a classic look to programs, invitations and other printed materials. But even an off-white or natural white will darken photos and other images.
Make sure your project looks perfect by reviewing a hardcopy proof before printing the entire run!
Hope this little article help you with your paper choices. Feel free to call with questions or ask them in the comments.