The cost of the paper you print on can form a large part of
your total printing costs. So it pays to choose the right
paper from the start.
Having said that, there is no one perfect paper for each project. It’s more a case that certain
characteristics of paper lend themselves more to particular print jobs than others. In general,
the print shop will be able to advise on suitable paper stocks for the project, and will have a
good idea of availability and price.
Two main types of paper
Everyday paper can be broken down into two groups -- coated and uncoated.
Coated paper is the most commonly used stock for printing quality catalogues, brochures and
anything else containing photos and bright colours. Coated paper is covered with a clay-like
layer, then polished to give varying degrees of satin and gloss finishes that make the artwork
Uncoated paper usually has a more natural earthy look to it, and is great for materials that
have an environmental message. These papers work well when combined with natural
vegetable inks, and give a less sharp, flatter finish. Uncoated paper can also be polished to
give a more refined look to paper used in photocopiers and laser printers.
Paper comes in many different colours, including an almost infinite number of shades of
white. If considering coloured paper, it is worth noting that the colour of the underlying paper
will affect the final colour of the artwork (imagine painting blue water-based paint onto
yellow paper -- what colour will result?). However, papers with subtle colours can have a
huge impact on a project, as can strongly coloured paper printed with distinctive metallic
If you only want to use white paper, it’s still worth looking at the variation in hues, with some
papers looking quite warm and others cool. Very white paper is great for ensuring that bright
and detailed images stand out, while off-white paper is very suitable for materials that
require a lot of reading, such as manuals.
Other paper characteristics
Brightness The brightness of paper is a measure of the light it reflects. Brightness and
colour are not the same thing. Brightness is important because it affects readability -- high
brightness can cause eye strain, while low brightness can produce a blurring effect.
Opacity The opacity of paper is the amount that other printed pages are visible through the
page. Opacity increases with the bulk and weight of paper, and is influenced by other factors
such as paper colour, ink colour and various coatings.
Weight The weight of paper is indicated as gsm (grams per square metre). Some common
paper weights and their uses are:
When using strong dark colours on artwork, it is important to ensure that the paper is heavy
enough to prevent “show through” of the ink to the other side of the page.
Bulk The bulk of paper denotes its thickness relative to its weight. A paper with a higher bulk
will be thicker than another paper of the same weight.
Size The size of paper describes its physical dimensions. While the print shop will select the
correct paper size in order to reduce wastage, it’s important to ensure that artwork will fit
Selecting the paper for your project isn’t usually a game-breaker. In general, choose a paper
that is suitable for the project and ensure it is within your budget.
If in doubt, your graphic designer will be providing advice, and your print shop will be able to
supply samples of paper appropriate to your project.