Posted by: AG | August 27, 2011

Introduction to Papers

The last article on controlling costs discussed the importance of ordering the ideal quantity. I explained how ordering too many or too few can be expensive. In this article, we’ll deal with the most tangible part of the print production process – selecting the right paper. I won’t be able to tell you what paper to use for your job, however, but I’ll give you pointers about making that decision. Your goal is selecting the right paper.

In the last sentence, I intentionally used the phrase “right paper” instead of just “paper.” Why? Because too many print buyers don’t realize there’s even a right or wrong paper. But there is. The right paper will make your printed piece look as good as possible. It will ensure that you don’t waste your budget on either inferior quality paper, which weakens the effect of your printed material, or on too high a quality paper for your needs.

The cost of the paper alone can amount to about half – 50% – of the entire job. So even a slight change in your selection can have a dramatic cost effect. And the larger the quanity of whatever it is you’re printing the greater a percentage that the paper will comprise. If you’re printing 5,000 sales sheets, for instance, paper might be only 20% of your cost; but printing a catalog, book, or magazine, can easily go over 50% depending on quanity.

That’s simply because all of the one-time costs for the job, mostly in prepress and set-up time, are the same for every project. But after the job is running smoothly on the press, paper is mostly what you’re paying for.

Now that you know that there is such a thing as “right paper,” you’ll need to learn some of the methods of becoming an informed print buyer when it comes to paper. Here are a few of ways to go about this:

If you’re the print buyer working directly with a printer, and have no middle person, like a graphic designer with you, it’s reasonable and common to have the printer bring you samples to review. These samples can be of two types.

The first would be paper sample books, which are bound together small sheets (see photos below). Every print shop will have many paper manufacturer’s samples that they work with, and which you, as the customer, can ask to see. These sample books are usually by specific types of paper, even within the same manufacturer. For instance, there are sample books for uncoated and coated; book or cover paper; colors or whites, textured and smooth. You might ask to see their sample book for white coated papers, for example, and suddenly end up with dozens to choose from – all fairly similar, yet all with a different cost.


Another way to check paper samples, used mostly by less experienced buyers, would be to look at actual sample printed sheets of some of the printer’s commonly used papers. What could be easier than looking at something similar to what you had in mind and just saying “OK”?

There’s really no problem with that so long as your piece is typical and the design is not unique. Sometimes the printer will add that this is their “normal” or “favorite” paper stock and they usually have a lot on hand, meaning that your job might get done a bit faster. It’s also more work for a printer, especially on a small job, to get prices for different papers, check availability, and place a special order. So just be aware that your paper shopping time might become a nuisance to the printer, even though it’s your prerogative.

In another article I’ll go into more detail on the actual kinds of papers out there and what you and your designer might consider.

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