Raise your hand if you’ve been in the final phases of a design project and felt those pre-printing jitters. You know the ones that make you wonder if you selected the right type of printing and if your client will be happy with the paper choice and the price.
I’m not sure the printing jitters ever go away, but I know several self-taught graphic designers and small business owners alike have asked how to make the right calls when it comes to paper choice and printing options. Today, we’re taking on paper types and uses – and by the end of this you’ll be acting like you spent a whole semester talking about this stuff in design school.
When it comes to commercial printing (and that includes everything from the cute prints & invites you sell in your Etsy shop to corporate letterhead and business cards) there are 2 main types of paper to choose from.
Coated – Coated paper has a surface sealant that helps restrict the ink from absorbing into the surface of the paper. It still does absorb some, because that’s what ink does when its put on paper, but the coating helps to keep your text and images stay crisp and clear.
If you’re working with a file that uses gradients, a lot of photos, or fine detailed images consider using a coated paper stock.
With coated paper options you have a variety of finish options, but the most popular are:
- Gloss – has a high sheen like you’d fine on magazine pages. (this option is usually less expensive than a matte option)
- Matte – has very little sheen and and are covered in a non-glossy sealant.
Uncoated – Uncoated paper doesn’t have the surface sealant, so the ink absorbs into the paper. The ink spreads as it dries, but you’ll still have plenty of clarity, especially if your piece doesn’t include a ton of fine detailed elements, photos, or gradients.
Paper Weights & Uses
If you’ve been around a copy shop much, you’ve probably heard paper referred to by its weight (said “pounds” and noted #). There are 2 standard groups of paper when it comes to weight:
Text – text paper weight is what you’re used to putting in your personal printer at home or work. (20# stock for everyday printing and #24# for letterhead)
Cover – cover weight is is what is commonly known as card stock and is noticeably thicker than text weight paper stock.
But what you’re really wanting to know for your own business (and what to recommend for client projects) is what paper weights to use when… so lets get to it.
This handy little cheat sheet will be your best friend. Every print job will vary, but the recommendations on this guide are a great standard starting point. Print off a copy and stick it somewhere you can easily reference it at the start of new projects.
Download your Paper Types & Uses Quick Start Guide
But even though a handy reference sheet is awesome, nothing beats talking to a customer service rep or pressmen who will work on your project. I make it a point to talk with them at least once during a project so I know I’m providing files that work best for their setup and so I know that I’ll get the best outcome possible for my print job.
What project will you be printing next? I’d love to hear about the print specs and take a look at your great designs so feel free to share in the comments below.