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Specifying Gloss vs. Dull Stock

When specifying a coated paper stock for your print job, how do you choose from among the gloss, dull, and matte sheets available to you?

A good rule of thumb is to choose a gloss coated stock if your publication relies heavily on photographs for its design. The gloss coating reflects light rays directly back to the reader, causing the photos to appear sharper and of higher contrast. The colors also look richer.

However, the very characteristic of gloss coated stock that showcases black and white or color photos makes it less suitable for text. The light rays reflecting back at the reader tire the eyes. If the reader must absorb large amounts of text, a dull coated or matte coated sheet would be more appropriate. The coating on these sheets diffuses the light. The rays are scattered rather than reflected directly back at the reader. This optical property of dull and matte coated sheets reduces eye strain when one is reading large amounts of copy.

In designing a text-heavy document, specifying a matte- or dull-coated stock is preferable, but how should one choose between these two? Matte coating is less dense than dull coating. It is also slightly less shiny than dull coated paper and under close scrutiny may even appear a bit mottled. However, matte stock is usually less expensive than dull stock.

Paper for Both Photos and Text

What can you do if you need to showcase photos in your publication but also print large amounts of text? Given the information listed above concerning optimal papers for each, how can you serve both needs?

First, consider designing your publication so that the photos fall together in one signature and the large blocks of text are positioned in another signature. Then use a gloss stock for the photo-rich signature and specify an uncoated stock for the text portion.

Many of you have probably seen an annual report that uses both kinds of paper. The company prints the opening photo section on a gloss stock then switches to an uncoated, or dull or matte coated, paper for the financial section. At this point of the book, because of the large amount of text and the small point size of the text in the financials, the reader appreciates the non-gloss paper stock.

Another solution would be to use varnish to either accentuate the photo section or mute the paper in the text-heavy sections. For example, you can specify a dull paper stock for the entire publication (let's use the annual report mentioned above as an example). You can then either varnish the pages of photos at the front of the annual report (and leave the financials on the base dull sheet), or you can spot varnish just the photos themselves, leaving the surrounding paper in its natural, dull-coated state. Conversely, you can specify the entire annual report on a gloss sheet and then dull-varnish the text-heavy pages in the financial section to reduce eye-strain.

What is Cast-coated Stock?

Cast coated stock is super-shiny paper produced by pressing the paper against a polished metal drum while the coating is still wet. This paper affords superior reproduction of photographs, both in terms of color reproduction and sharp detail. It lends itself to diecutting and embossing, yet it is very expensive and the coating may crack when the paper is folded. To minimize cracking, use only sheets coated on one side, avoid printing over the fold, and fold with (rather than against) the grain. Be aware that spirit varnishes can cause cast coated sheets to yellow. Your printer should do finishing operations and diecutting off-line with the coated side up to protect the coating.

What are Specialty Papers?

These papers include NCR paper (no carbon required) for forms; parchment for certificates; translucent sheets; index and bristol for divider pages, folders, and tags; synthetic paper made of un-tearable plastic; and label stock (crack-and-peel and pressure sensitive), and the like. Each of these is used for a specific purpose. Most require specific processes (or presses). Not every printer can work with every one of these specialty papers, so discuss your goals and the printer's capabilities early in the process.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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