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Not all paper is created equal
The Right Paper Matters When Printing

Bill Klutz does consulting work, primarily in the areas of Management and Computer Applications/Hardware and Software.


When Clarke Bird, the editor of our PC Alamode, asked me if I would be interested in doing an article for the July issue, I said “Yes,” before I knew “The rest of the story!” What followed my “Yes” was, “Will you do an article on paper?” I must say that it took me a little by surprise.

I could think of words coming after “Paper” - Towel, Napkin, Plate, Bags, etc. I could even think of words coming before “Paper” - Scratch, News, Toilet, Copy, Photo, etc. (more on the latter two a little later). But to just “do an article on paper” seemed a little broad.

But, not being one to go back on a commitment, I thought it would be a good learning event for me. I hope you, as the reader, think so too.

General Information About Paper

What is Rag Content in Copier Paper? The rag content of paper is the percentage of scrap cloth mixed with the pulp fibers during manufacturing. Rag content in paper varies between 20% and 100%. In general, high rag content papers are not recommended for most copiers. The cloth fibers tend to separate from the paper and lodge in critical areas of the copier.

What are paper grades? Paper grades are defined by their usage, such as Book or Cover stock. They are often referred to in combination with the basis weight: for example, 20 lb. Bond or 70 lb. Book. (Another paper abbreviation for pound is #.)

What is meant by paper brightness? Paper's ability to reflect white light. Brightness values are a measure of the reflectivity of paper to light under controlled conditions, on a scale of 0 - 100; most white papers have brightness values of 75-90. Look for the value on the end of a box of paper of greater than 80 and you should be in good shape for printing most laser printing applications.

What are paper weights? Paper weight refers to how many pounds a specified stack of paper weights. The higher the weight, the thicker the sheet of paper. This is called the basis weight, and it's the weight of a ream of paper. A ream is 500 sheets. Different types of papers come in different sizes but the common denominator is the ream. A basis 80 means that 500 sheets 25" x 38" weights 80 pounds. There are exceptions to this, but most of the time this formula will work for you. (20 pound paper is the typical by-the-ream computer and copier paper. Thin and transparent; 24 pound paper is often the "better" grade of computer papers. It is opaque and normally used for stationery; 28 pound paper is "premium" paper for computers. It is a fine stationary, and is nearly completely opaque; 32 pound paper is heavy paper used as brochures or as the pages in booklets with covers. This weight of paper is usually completely opaque, and has a sturdy feel; 36/38 pound paper is thin card stock for use as booklet covers, self-mailers, postcards, etc.)

Some Paper Characteristics

Paper Finish:This is the texture or smoothness of a sheet of paper. The usual finishes (by rough to smooth) are antique, eggshell, vellum, machine finished and coated. Finishes can also be embossed into the paper through the use of rotary embossing machines. Tweed, linen, and ribbed textures are just some of the patterns used.

Paper Coatings: There are many different materials used to coat papers. Some sheets have a clay coating, some have an enamel finish and some have a high-gloss chemical "cast" coating. If a sheet is coated on one side only, it is called C1S (C one S). If a sheet is coated on two sides, it is called C2S or (C two S).

Paper Grain. Folding against the grain often causes cracking. It is important to know how the grain runs in a sheet you're planning to print on and then fold. Your best source for this information is your paper vendor or your printer.

Types of Papers

There are different types and grades of paper for different uses, which are often reflected in their names. Coated text and cover are used for the majority of four-color printing. Uncoated text and cover are also used regularly. Bond, book, offset, label, index, and news-print are some of the other grades used commercially. Paper choice can make a major difference in the appearance of your finished job. A dull or plain design can be perked up with an exciting color or texture.

Coated Papers: Best suited for higher-quality jobs, coated papers may be gloss-coated, dull-coated (usually a clay or chemical coating), machine-coated (a sheet is made smooth by a blade running over it during the manufacturing process), and cast-coated (a high-gloss coating used for the highest-quality premium papers) on one or both sides. Printing ink does not soak into a coated sheet as much as it does with an uncoated paper, so coated papers can make halftones and color images look richer. Coated papers are associated with corporate capability brochures and annual reports. Since coated papers come in several grades and prices, you should not have to shy away from using them. Today, more and more coated papers are recycled, which also lowers their costs.

Uncoated Papers: Also know as text, these papers can be excellent sheets for printing. Some uncoated papers are so smooth that it's hard to tell that they're not coated. Uncoated papers are manufactured in many textures and colors. Uncoated papers are used for halftones when the designer is trying to achieve a certain effect or look.

Bond: Often used for stationery, it takes ink well from a laser printer or a pen. Part of this absorbency comes from the paper's rag content, which is the percentage of cotton fiber in a sheet of bond. Twentyfive percent or 50 percent is the usual amount added.

Book: Used, just as the name implies, for books and textbooks, these papers come in antique (rough) or smooth finishes. They also come in many weights; so that a book can be bulked up or down.

Offset papers: Similar to the coated and uncoated sheets, except that they have sizing added to resist the moisture that occurs in offset printing.

Index papers: Stiff and take writing ink well but are less expensive than cover grades. Index papers are used for cards or tabs and are used in place of the more expensive cover stocks. They come in a smooth or vellum finish.

Newsprint papers: As their name suggests, are used for newspapers. The sheets are not as white as other papers, and ink tends to soak into them. Being relatively inexpensive, newsprint is ideal for the large volumes of paper that modern newspapers need.

Computer Paper: This is the general term used to describe paper used with a computer. It can also refer to paper used with a copier or for a laser printer. Although the “fan-fold” paper was probably the most thought of when the term ”computer paper” was used, Copier Paper, or just plain bond paper, is usually the type referred to today. This is because of the move from the dot-matrix printer to the laser and inkjet printers. If so, take a look below for some valuable information that may help you in your search.

Copier Paper: Standard paper used for copies. 20# thin and somewhat transparent. Copier Paper Paper has many different properties that affect the quality of the copies you get: White Point - Contrast is a key element between the toner and the paper. The whiter the paper the better your copies will look (look for brightness above 80); Texture- The smoother the paper, the better the toner transfers to it. Smoother paper gives sharper copies and better fills. Smooth paper, however, can sometimes be difficult to feed;

Coating:Copier paper needs some type of clay or dust coating to help the paper separate and feed it. Also, most people ask the question, “Does it matter which side of the paper is copied first?” And the answer is, ”You get the best results when you copy the proper side first. Most copier paper will have some type of indicator as to which side should be copied on. The construction of the copier will determine if the paper has to be placed up or down so the correct side is copied first.

Gloss Paper: Unique coating and fibers absorb ink for spontaneous drying. Ideal for photographic images, posters and printing of graphic designs. Matte Paper - A high resolution (300-1440 dpi) bright white coated paper. Ideal for everyday printing and feature superior drying properties.

Picture Paper: Water resistant. Dries spontaneously for easy handling. This inkjet paper, in the popular 4" x 6" format, is ideal for consumer use.

Inkjet Paper: If the task is a simple printing of a document or a print out of an e-mail memo, plain copier paper will work best. If color is important, then coated paper stock is preferred. Coated paper allows colors to be sharper than regular copier paper. A high level of coating allows for a high print resolution from 600 dpi -1440 dpi. There are many different types of paper available, but only coated papers designed specifically for use with inkjet printers will help you create the highest quality output that your printer can produce.

Selecting Printing Paper

Although some of the things mentioned will be more appropriate to a “print shop” operation, the information can also be critical for a “one piece run” using desktop equipment. Therefore, choosing the appropriate paper is one of the most important parts of creating a printed piece. Design is probably the most important, because a good design on an inexpensive paper can be just as effective. Knowing what papers are best for what types of printing projects is the only way to specify the best sheet for the job. There are thousands of choices, but having some basic knowledge of paper will narrow down those choices. For example, if a particular paper is very expensive but your print run is of a low quantity, the price of paper is not much of an overall cost factor in the printing price. Conversely, if your print run is large, the paper can be a significant cost factor. So depending on design and print run, the cost of paper is measured on a sliding scale.

Selecting the right paper has to be learned over time and through gaining knowledge of the different types and uses for each. People can dotter along using the same papers over and over again job after job. People will not be concerned if your customary sheet is a good sheet. But many people, including good designers, use the same papers over and over again, due to either laziness or a general lack of knowledge. Also, the advent of inexpensive desktop color printers has made it easier to show designs on white paper (they require white or lighter shades of paper). Because of this many designers are not using the exciting colors and textures that are available to them.

Well, I could go on and on, but you need to do a little research on your own. Just wanted to give you something to think about the next time you hear the word “Paper.” And, if Clarke ever asks you about doing an article, you might want to get “The rest of the story” before saying “Yes.”


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