4. Color and Brightness
There is white, white and white. And let no one tell you anything different. Papers are available in blue-white, balanced white, natural white, soft white -- you name it.
Blue-whites, which are very popular at the moment, have a higher-brightness and allow colors to stand out, while warmer whites, which have a lower-brightness, are more comfortable on the eyes for reading or extended viewing.
As you can imagine, not every white fits every purpose. Don't print warmer tones, such as skin tones, on a blue white sheet. It can easily make healthy-looking people look grey. This is what warmer white papers are made for.
Brightness. Yes, there is a definite hype going on when it comes to brightness. Don't get hung up on finding the brightest paper because even when two sheets are placed next to each other, you won't see a two-point difference in brightness.
Originally, AF&PA standards for paper grades determined that a No. 2 sheet had a brightness of 83-84 and a No. 3 sheet's brightness was 80-83.
So, why do we see No. 3 sheets with brightness levels of over 90 these days? Let's just say, brightness is not the only paper mill concern anymore and a sheet is whatever a manufacturer chooses to call it. In the end, the grade is determined by marketing.
A good quality, bright sheet is usually a more expensive sheet to make. Fillers and chemicals, such as fluorescent dyes and optical brighteners, are needed to create the paper's bright appearance. While they help give the paper a blue-white shade, they also take a toll on the paper's stability and runnability on press.
When it comes to a premium or No. 1 sheet, you pay for great brightness and perfect runnability. But how do you know which sheet/grade is right for you? Once you are considering a sheet, ask your supplier for a printed sample of the best sheet one grade below and compare.
Mills are known to upgrade the quality of a sheet. Even though a sheet could pass for a No. 1 grade, the mill may have no offering in a No. 2 grade yet, so they sell it as a No. 2 grade to complete their palette and annoy the competition. It's all about marketing.
Color. As for colored paper, it can enhance a one-color job and serve as a background cover, but it can also affect the appearance of the printed text and images. Blue ink on an ochre-yellow sheet will look green. Some mills have made great promotions available which show exactly what you can expect when you print C, M, Y, or K on a their colored stock.
But there are other options than offset printing on a colored stock. Create an interesting cover with blind embossing, foil stamping and/or a die-cut window that reveals a full color image on the inside of the brochure.
5. Paper Weight, End Usage and Distribution
Now that we know which finish and color we want for our print job, lets look at weight. We have writing papers for letterheads, text sheets for text pages in a brochure and cover sheets. We all know that these guidelines don't really have a big impact on your paper choice anymore.
In keeping with an overall trend for heavier weights in stocks, a lot of designers spec 80-90 lbs. text for letterheads and use light cover stocks for complete brochures inside and out. With an eye on tight budgets, these heavier papers can make up for a lower page count and still give a credible, dependable feel.
Will the piece be mailed, mass mailed or handed out personally to selected prospects?
We discussed mail-outs earlier, so watch out for overall weight and when choosing reply or post cards, make sure the paper you speck is manufactured to the caliper required.
If you design stationery, be aware that in 99 percent of all cases, letterheads will be printed by laser or ink jet printers, so make sure the paper you speck is compatible for this specific use. When it comes to embossed finishes, many mills offer laser compatible versions of their textured sheets, called Light, as in a light version of cockle, or Imaging, as in imagine that looks like laid. This paper will still show the specific texture, but in a less embossed way, which makes it suitable for use in laser/ink jet printers.
If the paper is not specified for laser use, be sure to get a few sample sheets and test it yourself. When it comes to textured sheets, toner has a tendency to easily rub off, especially when touching the imprinted copy.
For educational or reference pieces with a long life span, pick a paper that offers sturdiness and durability. Synthetic papers, for example, have proven to be a great alternative to index stock, when it comes to tabs.
If a piece is handed out personally, you are home free -- no postal regulations, no weight constraints -- well, nearly none. Will the person handing out the piece or the recipient want to make notes on the piece? In that case, watch out for coated gloss papers or varnishes. Few pens write well on them and your prospects will be frustrated.
In cases where a lot of handling occurs and you are worried about fingerprints, a coating or varnish is definitely the way to go.
If your project will be printed on both sides and especially, if heavy ink coverage is involved, the paper's opacity is crucial. Make sure the paper you choose does not allow any show-through. If in doubt, go one step heavier in weight.
If you are working on a piece that will be mailed, the weight of the finished piece is a major consideration. Watch out for postage costs and make sure the finished piece is below the USPS requirements. Look at your dummy and don't forget there will be ink added to the weight, as well.
Always stay on the lighter side. I remember a beautiful holiday card I designed for a client that was ready to be mailed and fit the 32-cent postal requirements perfectly. But then, my client decided to add a gift certificate and the postage went up to 55 cents.
There is something else you should remember: if bulk and weight are important, an uncoated sheet will work better for you. Due to the clay coating, a coated paper will weigh more than its same-sized counterpart. Even though it weighs less, the same piece printed on an uncoated sheet will be thicker because uncoated paper naturally has a higher bulk.
If your job requires stiffness, such as with a business reply card, make sure the paper is manufactured to caliper and guarantees a specific thickness and stiffness.
Papers are manufactured to either caliper or weight. A paper manufactured to weight has a slightly fluctuating caliper, as the main concern during the production process is weight. If a paper is called out in "pt," or you see a footnote in your swatch book that states that this specific weight is manufactured to caliper, you are fine.
6. Recycled Content
Some of you might be very familiar with recycled papers. The fact is that government agencies and conservation groups continually advance the issue and put pressure on corporations to "think green." So be prepared.
When it comes to recycled papers, there are still a few misconceptions among designers and print buyers. Some believe that all papers are recycled anyway, and others worry about having limited paper choices. There is also a perception that recycled papers have a potential for technical problems in the printing process. All these fears are unfounded.
If you think looking for recycled papers will limit your creativity, think again. From the 3,500 papers we feature at PaperSpecs, nearly 60 percent have some recycled content and more than 1,000 meet or exceed the current Environmental Protection Agency requirements.
The EPA standards for printing and writing papers are 30 percent post-consumer waste content for uncoated papers and 10 percent for coated papers. Many mills have created papers with the minimum requirements, while others are continually aiming to produce papers with higher recycled contents.
It is not only the post-consumer contents you should watch out for, but also the way the paper you choose is bleached.
For years, chlorine gas has been used to bleach paper, which produced cancer-causing dioxins that infiltrate our surface waters. Now most mills in the U.S. use ECF, an Elemental Chlorine Free process that reduces these toxins dramatically, but doesn't eliminate them completely.
A more environmentally friendly option is to look for paper that has not been bleached at all, or substitutes oxygen-based compounds for chlorine compounds. These papers are marked Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) when talking about virgin fibers, or Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) for recycled papers. The distinction is made because the origin of the content in recycled paper and the way it was bleached is not known and can't claim to be TCF.
Another option is to look for paper that is FSC-certified. This means that the fiber content in this paper, even though virgin, comes from plantations that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for sustainable forestry practices.
But, let's not forget about the paper's on-press performance. Today's recycled papers have come a long way, from what you might have heard about years ago, and run as smoothly on press as any virgin sheet. In addition, they are even known to score, fold and emboss better because recycled fibers are softer and allow these processes to be performed with ease.