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When creating your first fantastic piece of stationery design or amazing promotional brochure, the layout, design and colours are usually the easiest part of the process. However, when it comes to actually printing your design, picking a paper on which to print it can be a somewhat daunting task. What weight of paper should you use? What texture should it have? The team at MOO.COM have just a little experience with paper(!), so we’ve put together a short guide to selecting the right paper stock for your print project, and ensuring your project looks at its best.

Paper Weight

In the world of paper stock, there are hundreds of paper types by hundreds of different paper mills. Slightly thicker paper stocks (such as cardboard) will usually have a higher grams per square meter (gsm) than thinner, more delicate paper stocks (such as tissue paper). The list below gives an indication of the common usage for certain paper weights.

35gsm to 55gsm

These are very thin papers, most likely used for newspapers. If you’re printing your project yourself, your desktop printer may be able to cope with these papers, provided you adjust your printer to print on the draft setting (which uses less ink than normal).

90gsm to 100gsm

These are everyday papers, ideal for stationery and for basic magazines and booklets. Standard office printing paper is usually this weight and is a good standard to remember when comparing paper stock.

120gsm to 170gsm

These are slightly more hard-wearing papers. You may want to use these for outdoor posters or to give a more upmarket feel to your promotional brochure.

200gsm to 300gsm

These are considerably thicker than your average office printer paper and you may struggle to get these papers in your lowly desktop printer! This robust type of paper is often used for magazine and booklets covers and can give some weight to your project.

350gsm or more

This paper is thick enough to be considered card and can stand up under its own weight. More than likely, this stock is used for wedding invitations or business cards. MOO’s Luxe business cards are printed on 600gsm, giving them a truly premium feel.

Other Paper Stock Terms

Here are some other terms usually referred to along with paper stock specification

Paper Coating

Some papers are given a waxy reflective surface in order to give it a certain effect, either in a very shiny gloss, a relatively dull matte or a semi-shiny coating referred to as satin. Other papers are available uncoated and feel more natural and organic. Although you can order paper stocks pre coated, most printers do offer coating services for your project.

Paper Opacity

This is the translucency of the paper rated on a 1 to 100 scale. Most papers are in the 80 or 90 range, meaning they can obscure printed text or images on the other side of the page. Papers with a lower opacity may also be less absorbent to printer ink but they can show more light through its surface.

Paper Strength

This refers to how resilient the paper is to tearing and can be affected by many different factors, such as paper coating, moisture content, tensile strength (the maximum stress it can take) and/or thickness (as well as the direction paper is torn against the grain). The strength of a paper is a good indication of how the paper will react to the pressure of printing and how it will appear to your intended audience, especially if you are going to use the paper for a letterpress project.

Paper Thickness

Also known as caliper, this refers to the thickness of a sheet of paper and is measured with a micrometer in points (or pt for short). It’s worth noting however that even though a paper may be quite thick, it may be quite absorbent and have a lower density than you require. Thicker papers can also be more expensive, and may even be made of multiple sheets, plied together.

Paper Colour and Brightness

Papers come in a multitude of different colours and brightness. Some papers reflect light more than others with coated stock reflecting much more than uncoated. The brightness of paper is expressed on a scale of 0 to 100 with 100 being the brightest. Photo papers with their high gloss coating are normally in the mid or high 90 ratings. However, most suppliers use names such as Bright White or Ultrabright for their paper (rather than just a number).

For more unusual projects, you may want to pick a coloured paper stock – though these are often more expensive than natural white papers because of the dyes required to create the colours and the lower demand for the paper. Picking an off-white paper stock is a good option for some projects but since the names of certain paper stocks vary between the suppliers, the appearance may change with certain projects printed at different times.

Paper Texture

As mentioned earlier, uncoated and coated papers may have different textures to them. Below are some of the most common textures you are likely to see

  • Wove or smooth
    A smooth uncoated surface, this type of paper allows for much sharper, cleaner prints.
  • Laid
    A paper manufactured with textured lines on its surface, usually used for business stationery.
  • Linen
    Similar to laid paper, this paper also has textured lines on its surface, but these are thinner and more regular than on a laid finished stock. This stock is often used for traditional business stationery such as letterheads.

Selecting Stock

It’s all very well and good knowing all the terminology behind how paper is manufactured and how it appears but how do you select a suitable paper stock for your project and ensure your project looks its best printed on it? Here are some handy tips:

Function over form

Think carefully about the functionality of your final product. Is it a brochure? Is it a business card? Will your client need hundreds of copies or just a select few? It doesn’t make much sense to order thousands of reams of strong white card when you’re only creating a flyer for a local nightclub

Calculate your costs

Remember the total cost of your project includes the cost of the stock at specific sizes including your print costs and any finishes you may have ordered.

Get your samples!

It’s always best to get as many samples of different types of paper stock as possible. Not only are they fantastic reference material but they are also incredibly handy when comparing different paper stocks. Printers and paper manufacturers often have free sample packs available, with great examples of the services and print finishes they offer.

Test, test, test

Be sure to experiment with small amounts of your selected paper stock so that it works correctly at the right size and colour. Not only does this give you a much better idea of your finished project, it’s much better than problems becoming costly for you, your chosen printer… and your client!

Engage your clients

In some cases, paper stock can be expensive to order so, if you’re working for a client, they may be wary to invest in it. In this case, it’s best to engage and advise your client in every step of the process. Not only will they feel they have a better indication of how the project is going, it develops a better relationship between you and the client (and makes the whole process considerably smoother for the both of you).

Sight, smell and touch

Since paper can be a very tactile medium, from how it feels in your hands down to even the smell (yes, smell!) of the final document, try and engage all your senses when selecting your stock and think about the message it gives to your chosen audience. A beautiful delicate piece made from a thinner paper stock will convey a completely different message to thick roughly textured card.

Go green

There can be very confusing messages regarding recycled stock and green opportunities. People get upset if paper or packaging is used incorrectly and it can reflect badly on you and your clients. So, where possible it’s best to consider minimising waste and how that waste could be used. Remember, just because a stock is not recycled, doesn’t mean it is “bad” – cotton papers can cause just as many problems as wood paper.

Finally… just ask your printer

If you have any concerns with how your final project will turn out, ask your printer for advice as early as you can. Their knowledge is essential, and ultimately, they want to create a great piece of work for you. They can also offer fantastic advice on how certain paper stocks behave in their presses, with certain printing processes or even offer recommendations on cheaper or more efficient solutions for your print.

Do you have any tips on selecting the right paper stock for your design projects? Be sure to share them in the comments!