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Printing Papers Guide

Selecting the right paper for your printing project can make all the difference when it comes to getting the quality you need and keeping your budget in check. Fortunately, there are many resources available to you to help you in your decision. Our staff is very knowledgeable about paper types, grades and pricing levels and we encourage you to discuss your quality and budget concerns with them at the outset of planning your project and request printed and unprinted samples of papers that you are considering. Contact us to request printed samples on a variety of different papers.

We developed this area of our site for those of you who would like to know more about printing papers and what you should consider when making your paper choices.Of course, there's always more to know – feel free to contact us with any questions you may have if you don't find what you are looking for here.

The Basics: Grade Comparison
There are three basic decisions necessary for specifying paper: they are grade, surface, and weight. In North America, coated papers are categorized by the AF&PA (American Forest and Paper Association) into #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5 grades, based on brightness, as the following chart indicates. AF&PA standard grade classifications (all finishes):
Brightness is reflected light. With lower brightness, overall contrast is reduced, and highlights are dulled. Brighter papers cost more, in general, since brightness is a result of adding costly additives like titanium dioxide to the stock.

Not all papers within a given grade category are equal, however. European and Asian coated papers tend to cost less than American sheets, however, they tend to contian less paper pulp content and more coating than American sheets. Differences in ink holdout, smoothness, opacity, the amount of coating, side to side consistency, and runability must be taken into account as well. It is also important to note that coated papers can have either a "blue white" or "warm white" color cast which can affect the appearance of the printed piece.

Papers come in a variety of surface types, and once again, individual stocks vary within a classification. The most common coated surfaces are cast-coated, gloss, dull, matte, silk and embossed; uncoated grades come in a wide variety of finishes such as smooth, linen, vellum, and felt. Each of these surfaces will provide different print quality and overall appearance. Each has its strengths and appropriateness for a particular job.

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The Paper Selection Checklist
We highly recommend that you look at printed samples when evaluating the following paper characteristics. Only when a dot pattern is on the paper can comparisons be made. Contact us to request printed samples of papers that you are considering.
  • Brightness — The paper's ability to reflect a volume of light.
  • Whiteness — The ability to reflect all colors of light equally.
  • Holdout — Holdout refers to a paper's ability to hold ink on the surface consistently, so that it will dry in a sharper, more clearly defined dot and produce higher ink gloss. When ink is absorbed into the sheet, it spreads, creating a phenomenon referred to as "dot gain."
  • Opacity — The ability to hold an image without its showing through the other side of the sheet. There are two types of opacity: "apparent opacity" refers to the actual opacity of the unprinted paper itself; "printed opacity" is affected by holdout, in that the lessened opacity is actually caused by absorption of ink. As ink is absorbed into a sheet of paper the printed opacity of the page decreases, causing the image to show through on the back.
  • Smoothness — The even and consistent continuity of the surface.
  • Finish — Ascertain the appropriateness of the paper's finish to the desired end result. For example, a gloss finish offers the ultimate in reproduction detail, while dull and matte finishes offer easier reading for large quantities of text.
  • Runability — Each grade of paper behaves differently on press. A paper's ability to absorb ink uniformly (absorbency), printed ink gloss (holdout), dimensional stability, and surface texture are all important factors to consider when preparing your design. For example, a paper with excellent opacity will present crisp, full-color images without "showing through" on the back of the sheet, and can provide more flexibility when designing and laying out the printer's form.

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Text & Cover Weight Guide
Most grades come in a variety of weights for both cover and text. Having a dummy made before you specify weights is invaluable, since it allows you to check for opacity (put a page of type behind one of the unprinted pages) and for the overall textile "feel" of the piece. When selecting a paper weight, it is important to be aware that European and Asian sheets that typically contain less paper pulp and more surface coating than American sheets. While an American sheet and a European sheet might both be specified as 100#, for instance, the European sheet would feel less "bulky" and would likley have less opacity than the comparative American sheet.

While paper types and grades may vary, weights are generally specified in terms of "basis weight" – this refers to the total weight of a 500 sheet ream of the grade in it's standard "basis" size as represented by the charts below:

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