Not all paper is created equal, and there isn’t just one type for every job. When choosing paper for your print projects, it’s more than just picking the option that best fits your budget—it’s about ensuring that the type of paper you’re using meets the exact standards of the service you’re providing.
There are a variety of elements to consider before landing on a paper type. Below we outline key points to keep in mind when choosing the best paper stock for your project.
Consulting with your printer in the planning process can spare you a few headaches in the long run. When creating your next brochure or direct mail piece, working with your printer early on can help determine a design that will make the best impression with your print piece, and why a certain paper type works or doesn’t work to effectively produce your project.
2. Paper Specs
Once you land on your preliminary design, spec your paper and ask for quotes from printers. By securing these early, you’ll be aware of turnaround times that may impact your deadline or the cost of your project. The smallest of changes in the size of your print piece can make a big difference in how efficiently (and cost effectively) it can be produced.
Paper is commonly divided into two identifiers: text weight and cover weight. Text weight is thin and flexible (think: letterhead, brochures, or the interior pages of a book), and generally means you want an uncoated stock in the lighter weight variety. Stock typically ranges from 20-100 lbs. Cover weight is thicker, sturdier paper you would use for invitations, business cards, or postcards. These typically span from 60-140 lbs. Since most jobs lean towards heavier stock weight, designers often spec 80-90 lbs. text for letterhead and use light cover stocks for brochures.
Pro Tip: To keep postage costs on budget, weigh your mock-ups on the paper stock you plan to use to consider the extra weight added by ink, toner, glue, stamps, etc.
4. Color & Brightness
Since it prints the easiest, white paper is usually the go-to. In the industry, you’ll find that there’s white, white, and – yes – white. There’s blue-white, which has a high brightness and gives way for other colors to stand out. Warmer whites come with a lower brightness and are easier on the eyes for extended viewing. And then there’s balanced white, natural white, and soft white. Be aware that not every white fits every occasion: printing warmer tones on a blue-white sheet can make skin tones on healthy people look grey. Your ink shades may need to be adjusted to allow for crisper readability.
Lifespan is always something that must be considered when choosing paper. Are you generating a report that will be handled heavily within the next few weeks? Or are you creating something that will be used once and tossed away? Keeping the lifespan of your piece top-of-mind is important for choosing a paper that is up to the task. If it’s a piece intended to last, it may be worth investing in a more expensive stock.
How fast can you get it? If you’re under a tight deadline but the stock you’re interested in takes a few days longer to ship, it may be better to go with your next-best option. It’s important to look into logistics of whether it’s a made-to-order item (mill-item) or readily available stock.
Pro Tip: If a certain stock is a mill-item at one merchant, it may be readily available at another. Check with different vendors to find the option best suited for your timing and pricing needs.
7. Specialty Print Processes
If you’re looking to use specialty printing techniques such as embossing, foil stamping or letterpress scoring, it’s important to make sure your paper can withstand those processes. Certain stocks won’t hold up or turn out under these specialty techniques. Make sure you work with your printer to determine the paper grain for the best printing and finishing.
8. End Usage & Distribution
Always keep the end usage in mind. If you’re producing a piece that will be written on, you may want to keep paper finishes in mind. On the other hand, if you’re providing a handout that will get ample usage over a longer period of time, you may want to keep longevity and durability top of mind. Think about how much usage your piece will receive, and how much durability your stock needs to have to hold up for its intended use.
Now that you’ve figured out which paper to use, the next step is to determine how you want to produce it. Download our Digital vs. Offset Printing Guide for a handy quick-reference tool to help you know which is the best fit for your project.