Choosing a Paper Stock – Printing Paper

Paper StockPaper is often the most costly part of a printing job and should be carefully selected to meet the needs of the finished product. Since paper is manufactured in a large assortment of weights, colors, textures, and finishes, selecting the correct type is critical to the success of printed piece. Sampling is the ideal way to determine whether or not a particular paper stock will work for you. You should also be aware of the common terms used to describe paper.

Paper Basis Weight – Based on the size of 500 sheets of paper (aka ream of paper). The basis weight of paper is the density of paper for each ream of given dimensions and sheet count. It is often times stated using the “#” symbol. For instance, “20#” means “20 lbs per basis ream of 500 sheets”. If you’re unsure, ask for a sample. Most commercial printers won’t usually have any problem sending out samples to a potential customer.

Paper Opacity – Opacity describes the degree to which paper can mask what’s behind it, or the degree to which paper can obscure a pattern or background. A sheet with high opacity will prevent printed images or text on the other side of the page, from being visible. Sheets with color are typically more opaque than white sheets. Opacity is rated on a 1 to 100 scale. Most sheets fall in the 80 to high 90 range.

Again, the more opaque a sheet of paper is:

  • The less light shows through
  • The less the printing on the back of the sheet shows through
  • The less the printing on the following page shows through.

Paper Strength – This refers to how resilient the paper stock is to tearing. Paper strength can be affected by a number of variables, including moisture content, tensile strength, coating, and thickness. A papers tensile strength is a good indicator of its ability to resist the stresses imposed by the printing press and ultimately the end user.

Paper Brightness – Brightness refers to how much light is reflected off the paper. Coated stocks reflect much more light than uncoated stocks do. The brightness of a piece of paper is typically expressed on a scale of 1 to 100 with 100 being the brightest. The multipurpose bond paper used in copy machines and desktop printers, generally have a paper brightness in the 80s. Photo papers are normally in the mid to high 90s. However, manufacturers often use terms such as Bright White or Ultrabright instead of numbers.

Paper Thickness (Caliper) – This refers to how thick a page is. Caliper is the thickness of paper when measured with a micrometer. Paper thickness is a common measurement specified and required for certain printing applications. Since a paper’s density is typically not directly known or specified, the thickness of any sheet of paper cannot be calculated by any method. Instead, it is measured and specified separately as its caliper. However, paper thickness for most typical business papers might be similar across comparable brands. If thickness is not specified for a paper in question, it must be either measured or guessed based on a comparable paper’s specification.

Paper Color – Color is one of the more important characteristics since it controls the hues and shades of the ink. Colored stock is a more expensive option than white stock due to the dyes used and because it’s less in demand. Off-white paper stock is a good option for some jobs, but the names differ from printer to printer, and the appearance will change among paper batches produced at different times.

Paper Texture – Uncoated and coated paper have different surface textures. Below are some of the common textures used by most commercial printers.

  • Wove or Smooth – A smooth uncoated surface.
  • Laid – A paper that is manufactured with textured lines on its surface. This finish is used mostly for business stationery elements, like letterhead, envelopes and business cards.
  • Linen – Similar to a laid finish, this paper has textured lines on the surface of the sheet, but they are finer and more regular than those that appear on a laid finish stock. This paper is also used frequently for business stationery.
  • Laser – A paper that is guaranteed to be compatible with laser printers.
  • Coated – A paper with a waxy finish (shiny or matte).
  • Uncoated – A paper with an untreated surface that is dull and unreflective.
  • Coated One Side (C1S) – A cover stock that has a coating on one side and is dull on the reverse side.
  • Coated Two Sides (C2S) – A cover stock that has a coating on both sides.
  • Thanks to Charlotte Web Studios for the great bullets

Check with your printer before deciding on a paper stock. They can help you in picking the best paper in terms of possible weight, opacity, texture, thickness, strength and color for your printing job.