Paper for printing – a beginner’s guide

Printed papers - a beginner's guide

Have you ever been confused by the sheer number of paper options available for your printed literature and stationery? Even if you’re only looking for white paper, there is a myriad of types and finishes available from an enormous number of brands. The number of choices can be simply mind-boggling. So here we break it down into the core types and their associated properties.

White paper is all the same, isn’t it?

Even when you’re limited to just white paper and put brands and colours aside, the choice of options available is still staggeringly large. There are recycled, uncoated, matt, silk or gloss coated, and textured options to name just a few. Crucially, the choice you make has a tangible and profound affect on the look and feel of the final printed piece. So if you’re producing marketing collateral, that’s very important.

Uncoated paper

Let’s first take uncoated paper. As the name suggests, there is usually no specially added compound on the surface of this so, once it’s printed, the paper is free to absorb the ink deep into the microscopic fibres that make up its structure. This results in a comparatively low contrast in the printing and a slightly duller feel to the printed images. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Corporate stationery is nearly always printed on uncoated paper and still looks the part (indeed it would usually look odd and even cause usage problems on coated paper). Furthermore a full colour printed brochure for, say, a modern clothes range often looks quite funky and contemporary when printed on uncoated paper or board. (We should add, however, that some seemingly uncoated paper is really a hybrid i.e. has been treated with a special surface to ‘lift’ the ink more than uncoated paper stock would usually allow).

Coated paper

Proper coated ‘art’ paper as it’s known, in contrast to the above, is coated with a very fine clay-based compound which gives it a very flat, smooth surface and this surface is ‘calendared’ (a mechanical process) to various degrees to make it either matt, silk or gloss, depending on the preferred outcome. At the extreme end a gloss coating can become what’s known as ‘cast-coated’ which is where it is so glossy it almost resembles the mirror-like surface of shiny white plastic.

Importantly, the coating on any of the truly coated paper stocks  really enhances the punch and clarity of the printed image, particularly photographs. Colours are comparatively more saturated and contrast in the images is much higher when compared to the ‘flatter’ looking uncoated equivalent. People even talk about ‘a nice glossy brochure’ and the top-notch appearance of the finished graphics and photographs is the testament to that.

Recycled & eco-friendly paper

Recycled paper does what it says on the tin i.e. it’s made of recycled paper and ‘post-consumer waste’ and, as such, is an eco-friendly choice. It is most commonly, but not exclusively, associated with uncoated paper stocks. Being recycled, its colour can vary a tiny bit from one batch to another due to the variances caused by the sources of the recycled pulp which forms it, although this variance is not usually particularly noticeable to the naked eye unless one batch is placed side by side with another. Recycled paper can also sometimes display tiny specks of foreign matter under very close scrutiny, although some brands take this a stage further and make it an actual feature.

Other eco-friendly choices are also available, for example where the paper is only 50% recycled and the other 50% is from standard ‘virgin’ pulp derived usually from trees (or sometimes cotton). In that scenario the advantage is that the paper is eco-friendly but takes on the better characteristics and uniformity associated with non-recycled paper stocks.

Another eco option still is the use of paper pulp which is not recycled but which is sourced from sustainable sources, for example having FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) accreditation. Here the FSC effectively tracks and accounts for where the pulp originated and makes sure that it was from sustainable, eco-friendly, sources. For example, where one tree is harvested, one or more are planted in its place so that, over time, supply and demand forms a continuous renewable cycle.

Paper types & textures

Textured paper

For uncoated paper stocks in particular, there are a myriad of textures available. Common ones include ‘bond’ or  ‘wove’, where the surface has only a hint of a natural texture and ‘laid’ where the surface has a repeating pattern of parallel lines. A large percentage of corporate stationery uses one or other of those finishes. ‘Broad laid’ is similar to standard laid except, as the name suggests, the parallel bands are much wider. ‘Micro laid’ is the complete opposite. There are also ‘onion skin’ textures which have a random wavy kind of texture which is very attractive and not all that commonly seen. Other textures widely available for uncoated papers include several kinds of ‘watercolour paper’ texture (highly textured) right through to ‘super wove’ at the opposite, very smooth end of the scale.

Most of these textures are formed naturally when making the paper, however some finishes can be ‘mechanically’ added to finished flat sheets  after production, should the need arise, however they seldom look quite as convincing as the real thing.

Other papers

We have only scratched the surface in this article and there are many other types of paper. For example we haven’t even mentioned the specialist papers designed specifically for use on digital presses and we have barely mentioned the lovely crisp cotton-based papers. However, as printers and designers, we’re always happy to show you paper samples and previously printed examples and this usually brings things into sharp perspective, particularly when combined with a comparative quotation.

Help for all your printing needs

Still confused? Please don’t be — at Firstpoint Print we will always be happy to advise you on the best paper for your particular printing project and budget. We have many different brands at our disposal so can keep your paper costs to a minimum while still giving your job the ‘wow’ factor. Even if you see a particular paper stock which takes your fancy, we will always be happy to let you know if a very similar type is available from another manufacturer, at a more economical cost.

Firstpoint Print are London printers with branches both North and South of the River Thames. We have a Clerkenwell branch in EC1, a London Bridge printing branch in SE1 and a Victoria branch in SW1 so can help you with your printing requirements pretty much wherever you are in London. Of course we also supply printing to the rest of the Southeast and UK as a whole. We have lithographic, digital and large format printing services as well as an in-house graphic design team to can cater for design and artwork needs. Contact us here for further information or request a no-obligation quotation here.

Firstpoint Print always does its bit for the environment and recycles all off-cuts and waste materials whenever possible. Customers are also offered sustainable papers whenever feasible and all of Firstpoint Print’s equipment is energy-efficient. This helps drive down costs as well as helping the environment.