Choosing the right paper grade for your print or packaging project can be one of the most important factors for your project’s overall durability and impact on the consumer. In fact, your choice of paper is just as vital as the design and graphics that you are putting on your product. There are a wide variety of options out there, so there are a few key things to consider when trying to determine the best paper for your project.
Whether you are working on a printed direct mail campaign or seeking the optimal packaging to ship or store your products in, it all starts with the material you use. With paper, there are several important elements that make it what it is. These features include paper weight, thickness, source, and coating, all adding up to the perfect paper grade for your project. Each of these factors will be determined by your ideal aesthetic goals and the application or purpose of your product.
The weight of the paper you use is probably something you are most aware of. As a consumer, it is likely that you have handled a variety of different print materials across the full spectrum of paper weight possibilities. From direct mail campaigns to brochures in the doctor’s office, most of us have experienced the varieties of print materials out there.
The same goes for packaging. Think about the box your medicine bottles come in or the packaging some food is stored in. There are all different kinds of weights utilized throughout, and a lot of factors play into how to choose the best one for your needs.
As a general rule, three categories of paper weight come into play for marketing materials:
- Book or bond
- Lighter-weight paper that folds and bends easily is called book paper. Book paper is great for pamphlets, but it doesn’t stand up on its own in larger sizes.
- Text-weight paper stock is generally slightly heavier and made from better-quality paper than book weights are. They are also designed to better hold small details, such as text. The difference between book- and text-weight paper is noticeable when you thumb through a new hardcover book and then do the same with a budget supermarket paperback. Text paper is best used for letterheads and envelopes.
- Cover-weight paper is thicker and more rigid than text paper. Card stock also falls in this category, but it is a heavier and stiffer form of cover stock. Business cards, brochures, catalog covers, and postcards use cover stock, since they are designed to have more rigidity and prevent easy tearing.
The feel of the paper is just one aspect of choosing the best paper weight. Another key thing to consider is the functionality. The type of marketing media or packaging you are aiming for will also determine the ideal paper weight. In the battle between lighter and heavier paper weights, there are pros and cons to each.
Paper weights are a game of give and take. Lighter-weight paper folds easier, but will not have the sturdiness or bold consumer impact you may be looking for. On the contrary, heavier paper has a stronger feel and can help prevent text from showing through on the other side. On the other hand, heavier paper can crease unevenly and so produce an unprofessional visual effect. When you’re producing a print piece with a folded edge or trying to assemble a packaging carton, finding a middle ground between light and heavy is usually the challenge.
Tips for Picking Weights
You should always talk to a printing professional to help you choose the best option for your print or packaging project, but here are some helpful tips for picking paper thickness and weight.
- Consider all design elements. Thicker paper produces better results for die-cutting, embossing and foil stamping. If you’re printing a catalog or magazine-style piece, make sure the cover and interior paper stocks are the right thickness for your project, as there can be binding issues with some combinations and configurations.
- Don’t forget the postal service. Paper that’s being mailed as a self-mailer may have to be a certain thickness to pass US postal regulations.You pay to mail paper by weight so keep paper that will be mailed the right weight for the size of the mailing piece.
- Keep overall cost and sustainability in mind. Thinner paper is usually cheaper and uses less material, making it more environmentally friendly. Thicker paper is more rugged and can typically hold up to a beating better than thinner paper.
Finish or Coating
Now that we’ve covered the weight of your paper, let’s take a look at the different finish or coating options. The finish of your paper can have a dramatic impact on the final product. While there are several finish variations, most paper can be put into one of two categories: uncoated and coated.
Uncoated or unfinished paper is your general or standard paper, such as your basic office paper. It’s not necessarily smooth to the touch, since it isn’t textured for feel and aesthetics. Unfinished stock describes your basic everyday paper perfect for the pages of a basic catalog and is a cost-effective option for advertising flyers.
Uncoated paper has a non-glare surface and is absorbent. It has nothing covering the natural fibers and easily soaks up ink. Uncoated paper can be textured, for example, a linen finish, but it can also be very smooth, like printer or copy paper. Uncoated paper is the easiest to write on. Uncoated paper is generally used for things like:
- Stationery and standard envelopes
- Inexpensive flyers
Coated paper has been covered with a special material for better protection and more vivid displays of color and detail. Generally speaking, coated paper can be matte (dull finish) or glossy (shiny finish). Each option has its own aesthetic and functionality benefits.
According to the MarketingProfs, matte paper gives formality to your print. Matte finishes also increase the readability of your text. This factor makes matte-finished paper great for printed media with a lot of text, such as brochures, the back of postcards, and catalogs. Some commercial printers offer the option of a matte finish on one side and a gloss coating on the other to accommodate media that features color imagery as well as readable text.
On the contrary, glossy finishes can really make your design “pop” and, after all, a carefully designed print piece can really grab a consumer’s attention. Colors are generally more vivid and light will reflect from your print or packaging. It is important to note that there is a full spectrum of gloss that you can choose from, from subtle satin to high-gloss finishes like magazine covers or printed photographs. Glossy papers are best for postcards, flyers, posters, and media with heavy imagery (or those that need a little color boost). Glossy finishes are also very commonly used for packaged products, like pharmaceutical cartons.
As you can see, your paper options can seem endless. No matter what kind of print or packaging project you are working on, an industry expert can help you pick the right grade and finish for your needs. At Contemporary Graphic Solutions, a division of Rondo-Pak, our team is ready to consult you on your next project. We’ve worked with the biggest brands in the world to create the optimal packaging solution or print campaign, and we are passionate about helping you do the same.