A guide to choosing the right paper when printing

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You could be forgiven for thinking that once your design has been signed off, that is the end of the process. But for those who are having a design printed, it is worth taking a little time to consider the final item, and why/how it is to be used.

Stock weight

Paper weight is usually measured in gsm (grammes per square meter), which can seem a bit of an abstract concept. As a starting point, the paper you might buy to use in your office desktop printer is usually around 80gsm. Glossy leaflets, like the ones you sometimes find in tourist information stands are usually printed on something between 120gsm and 200gsm. Nightclub flyers might be printed on 250-300gsm. Business cards are typically somewhere between 300-450gsm.

Which weight should I choose?

There are a number of factors which affect your choice of stock weight

What are you printing?

  • Flyers can be any weight. Generally, the factors affecting your choice here will be – budget, target market, usage, lifespan and delivery method
  • Leaflets tend to vary between 120gsm and 200gsm as these weights fold well. For weights above this, the leaflet needs to be creased, which is an additional step in the production process. Leaflets which are printed on 350gsm or above tend to be quite springy, which is great if they need to stand up (eg table menus etc), but their bulk and weight makes them less suitable for hand delivery
  • Brochures, catalogues and booklets can be printed on anything between 80gsm and 300gsm. The main deciding factors in this case will be the number of pages and the chosen binding method.
    Publications of 12 pages or less could be printed on up to 300gsm. Anything above that in terms of pages or paper weight, would become too bulky and would not close satisfactorily.
    For publications over 12 pages, you could consider printing your covers on a heavier stock. This adds impact and durability.
  • Business cards are generally printed on 300-450gsm. Heavier weights for cards tend to communicate quality and luxury. Heavier card is less prone to creasing and dog-ears – important if you operate in a tough environment.

What is your budget?

Generally speaking, lighter weight stock will cost less. On short print runs, however, the majority of the print cost will be in the set-up, rather than materials, so it is worth comparing prices to make an informed decision. On longer print runs, 10,000 or more, your choice of stock will start to have greater impact on price. By dropping from 150gsm to 130gsm you could make a significant saving. It is worth discussing paper weight with your printer. Often they will use certain weight stocks more frequently, and can offer more competitive prices on those weights. This way you can sometimes get a heavier paper for less.

It is also worth bearing in mind, that some paper weights will make a product vatable.  So, a 20gsm weight increase might suddenly mean a 20% cost increase. If you are unsure, your printer will be able to advise you of the most cost effective option for your project.

Who is your target market?

When a business card or flyer is going to be the first point of contact between a prospect and your business, it is important that your card/flyer makes the best impression possible. Generally, weight equates to quality. Flimsy stock can create a “budget” impression. Conversely, if you are targeting the low cost market, a very heavy, luxury finish card might not be appropriate either.

How will your brochure or flyer be used?

Does it need to last? If your flyer is to be displayed in a high traffic area or handed out in a tougher/outdoor environment then a heavier stock may be more appropriate. On the other hand, if your flyer only needs to last an afternoon, to promote a stall or event, then a lighter weight stock will be more appropriate and will be cheaper to print.

Weight vs thickness

It is common to confuse paper weight with paper thickness. Paper thickness does generally increase with paper weight, but not all 300gsm stock will be the same thickness. The thickness of a stock will depend on the ingredients and production process. In a printing context, paper thickness is generally measured in microns.

Stock type

These are commonly uncoated, matt, silk and gloss. The finish of the stock can add to the tone and impact of the design. As a rule of thumb, the glossier the stock, the more vibrant the colours will appear. Although factors such as printer type (eg. digital or litho), method (eg. full colour process or pantone)and paper quality will all play a part in the final result.

Uncoated

Unsurprisingly, uncoated stock does not have any additional coatings applied to it. Depending on the manufacturing process and quality it can have a varyingly textured finish. Typically, letterheads and complement slips are printed on uncoated paper. Uncoated stock is also great for marketing materials with an eco, vintage or artisanal theme.
The type of uncoated stock which is used will affect the way colours are rendered. Different papers will reflect light differently, and this can cause colours to appear brighter or more muted. Pantone printing already makes allowances for these differences and produces inks specifically designed for different types of paper.
When printing on uncoated paper, the ink drying times are generally longer than using coated papers.
Uncoated stock may also be referred to as bond, craft or offset, or by brand name, such as Conqueror.

Matt

Matt stock is generally coated. Its low reflective surface makes text easier to read. It is suitable for a wide range of applications, from data sheets and user guides, through to minimalistic design marketing materials.
Ink drying times are faster than uncoated stock which can be beneficial on longer print runs.

Silk

Silk has a moderately reflective surface and is a great all round material for flyers, leaflets and brochures. Colours appear vibrant and text is still easy to read.

Gloss

Many people associate a glossy finish with a professional print job. This may be because traditionally it has been difficult to achieve a good result when printing on glossy paper using a standard home or office desktop printer.

Finishing options

Finishing options are a great way to adda bit of extra pizaz to your flyer, leaflet or brochure without increasing the paper weight (although it might increase the overall weight of the item). These days there is a plethora of options available, and new production methods these can still be viable on shorter print runs.

Laminate

Laminates are a great way of increasing durability, even on lighter stocks. Depending on the machinery used, laminates can be applied to stock of 200gsm and over.

Gloss laminate

Gloss laminate really adds bling! It’s a great way to make your colours stand out. It also has the added bonus of being easy to wipe clean, if the material is to be used in a dirty or high traffic area.

Matt laminate

Matt laminate became popular in the late 90’s and has never really gone away. Its subtle silky texture gives colours a slightly muted tone, and can help to create a feeling of luxury.

Soft touch laminate

Soft touch laminate is a relatively new development. It feels more velvety than the standard matt laminates.

Encapsulation

Encapsulation is similar to lamination in that a layer of plastic film is applied to a (usually) card core. This is then heat-sealed to the core and around the edges. This creates a very tough and durable finish, similar to that used in loyalty cards and key fobs

Spot UV

This creates an effect which gives a high gloss finish to specific areas. It is created by applying special varnish to the desired elements of the design. The substrate is then exposed to UV light, causing it to harden into a durable, high gloss finish. It can be accurate down to a 1 point line, and is a great way to highlight branding or key images.

The Post UV process is an additional step in the standard production process and is better suited to longer print runs

Foiling

This is a process in which a very fine layer of metallic film or leaf is applied to paper or card. Previously associated with very traditional designs incorporating gold or silver, modern foils are now available in a wide range of colours and can be used to create vibrant contemporary designs.

The foil is applied using a special block which is shaped according to the area which is to be foiled. This means the process is better suited to longer print runs where the cost of producing the block can be absorbed over a larger number of units.

Die cutting

All printing from a commercial printer will be trimmed using a guillotine, however, die cutting allows stock to be cut to a particular shape. This is done by creating a cutting die, which is a thick block or sheet of plywood with sharp metal cutters embedded into it. In standard printing these are used to make the cutout shapes used for presentation folders or cardboard packaging.

In the context of flyers or business cards, some printers will have some die cutters available as standard. These can be used to create for example one or more rounded corners which can give a bespoke look for just a little extra cost.

If you want to push the boat out, you could have a bespoke c utting forme made to pick out a shape from your branding. This can really create impact. Depending on size, bespoke cutting forms cost upwards of £180 to produce, so is really only a viable option if you are planning on a longer print run. Good printers will store your cutting forme free of charge, ready for when you place your next order.

Embossing/Debossing

This is a process where a shape or pattern is pressed into the paper to create a raised (embossed) or relief effect. The raised area can also be printed or foiled, or it can be used simply on blank stock to create a smart yet understated effect.

Because the shape is being pressed into the stock from one side or the other, it is a technique more suited to single sided items.

The process requires special tools to be created, the cost of which can be better absorbed over a longer print run. Again, a good printer will store your embossing blocks free of charge.

Double or Triple ply

This technique sandwhiches layers of card together to create a very thick board – up to 920gsm! The individual layers of card may be white or any other colour. By introducing a coloured board in the combination a subtle flash of colour is created when viewing the card side-on. This differs from using white board printed with a solid colour, as the edge of printed board will still be white.

Interesting effects can be created by combining multi-ply boards with die cutting. When the outer-layers of the board are die cut, the colours of the under-layers show through the cut-away sections.

Speciality inks

New developments in printing mean there are ever more colours and effects which can be achieved in print. There are now many ranges of pantone inks including fluorescent colours, inks which show under neon lighting, pearlescent and metallic inks. Some printers also offer printing in white ink which can create an interesting effect when used on coloured stock.

Jobs requiring speciality inks cannot be batched and the speciality ink must be applied in a separate process, making this type of finish more expensive than standard printing.

Start with the finish!

In view of the many options now available in print, it is worth thinking about finishing options right at the start of your design process. There are now more ways than one to make your design stand out, and your choice of finish may well affect the type of design you create.

About us and this blog

am:pm graphics is a graphic design partnership based in Buxton, Derbyshire. We offer a range of quality, affordable graphic design solutions for print and web, helping our customers achieve a consistent professional identity across a variety of media.

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