How to Choose the Right Paper for the Job


No matter how unique your upcoming print job might be, the odds are good that it shares one thing in common with virtually all other commercial printing collateral – it will use paper. Whatever the project, your choice of papers plays a big role in both the overall cost of the job, as well as the look and feel of the finished product. Today we're going to give you three steps to ensure you're choosing wisely.

Understand paper ratings

Paper stocks are distinguished by two main factors: weight and brightness. A paper’s weight is expressed in pounds, calculated by weighing a stack of 500 sheets of the paper at its basic sheet size. For example, a ream of common photocopier paper from your office is rated at around 22#.

Paper’s brightness is measured on a the Tappi scale in the USA, where papers are rated from 0 to 100 based on how much light is reflected from specially-calibrated bulb. While a paper’s weight is responsible for the feel of the paper in your hand, its durability and what some call “professional” appearance, the paper’s brightness will impact readability, contrast and the “trueness” of colors.

Other terms used to describe paper can include:

  • Calendering – this is how smooth a paper appears.
  • Opacity – this can affect the perceived quality of a finished document, and determines whether text from the front might “show through” on the back of the page.
  • Coating – this refers to a number of additives that are literally printed over the top of the paper sheet during the finishing process to achieve various qualities. Generally coatings are used to achieve smooth, silky finishes that provide a more vibrant, glossy appearance by keeping ink on the surface of the sheet rather than allowing it to absorb into the paper.

Plan ahead and make an informed choice

As with all projects, getting the best result from your print work requires proper planning, so consider the finished project before committing to a paper stock at the start. If you think last year’s brochure is a bit flimsy, you’ll want a heaver weight stock for this year. Similarly, if this year’s fliers are a larger size than last year’s, you might choose to use a lighter paper. If your company feels strongly that recycled products are the way to go, state this when you write your print proposal – recycled sheets aren’t necessarily darker, flimsier, or more expensive anymore.

Don’t be afraid to ask

A good commercial printing rep will guide you toward the best paper stock choices for a given job. Our top questions to keep in the back of your mind and bring up when reviewing your quotes are:

  • Can I get a sample sheet? This allows you can see how the paper looks when used for a job similar to yours.
  • Do you have a house stock book? This is a collection of paper swatches usually available at preferential rates because the printer buys these stocks in greater quantities. House stock papers are usually high-quality sheets that are easy to work with and produce great results.
  • Can we add coating to achieve the same result? Sometimes the most cost-effective way to achieve the look and feel of a brochure you want to emulate isn’t by overspending to get the fancy paper they used – it’s simply by adding a finish to the end of your printing process.

Our team of experts is ready to help you maximize the impact of your next commercial printing project through effective paper choice, contact us today to discuss your requirements.