Printing and Design Tips: January 2020, Issue #222

Choosing Paper for Printing Books and Boxes

Paper has two sides. I was reminded of this recently when I received a box of chocolate-covered strawberries as a get well gift when I was discharged from the hospital. The outside of the box was gloss coated and then laminated. The inside of the box was uncoated. In the case of this gift box, the contrast in texture between the outside and inside worked well aesthetically.

Even in the fine arts this is true. I was recently working on a prototype for an art therapy class with our autistic students, and I saw that even watercolor paper, when observed under good light, has a different texture (or roughness, or tooth) on each side, and this made a difference when I used a wax crayon as a resist to block out watercolor paint.

A third option, one you may find instructive when buying printing for a perfect bound book, is that customarily paperback books have coated-one-side covers, most especially if the text stock of the book is uncoated. My assumption, and my observation, is that the uncoated inside front and back covers (one side of the "C1S" press sheet) match the uncoated feel of the interior paper, and this is aesthetically satisfying. Even if the reader never consciously thinks about this, her or his hands know the difference.

Now if you’re in a position to need to specify for the printer the kind of paper to use for a paperback book cover, here’s what I have done with my print brokering clients and before that with the books I designed as an art director. I started with a 10pt C1S cover. If I wanted a thicker paper (maybe for a larger format book or even just to give the book more of an opulent feel), I’d move up to 12pt C1S cover stock.

Then I would usually add a film laminate, liquid laminate, UV coating, or press varnish (as a flood application on the cover for protection). If I wanted to highlight something on the cover, I might "spot coat" part of the cover with a gloss coating and part of the cover with a matte coating.

Even though 10pt or 12pt is a good starting point, in your own work it’s prudent to get paper samples (you may even want to request a paper dummy of the book to see how the cover and text papers feel together). This makes the process of choosing paper a more tactile one. After all, your readers won’t care about the caliper of the paper (10pt or 12pt). They will care about how it feels. Is it thick or flimsy? Does it feel good in their hands?

In some cases you may want paper that is coated on both sides. For instance, if you are printing on both the outside covers of a book and the inside front and back cover, you will probably want a C2S or coated-two-sides sheet. Usually this is just a redundant term for coated cover stock (since coated cover stock is coated on two sides instead of one).

Personally, I’d start with 100# cover stock in this case and go up, to 120#, 130#, etc. The unprinted paper samples (usually in a paper book) will include all the available paper weights for a particular paper stock. Keep in mind that these vary. For instance, the numbers may jump from 100# to 130#, or there may only be 100# and 120# available in a particular paper stock.

If you want a really handy paper comparison tool to help you compare cover or text papers with measurements expressed in different units (note that the C1S paper was specified in points, 10pt, while the coated-two-sides cover paper was specified in pounds, 100#), you can usually find one online. This is the one I use:

If you use a paper chart of this kind, you can easily match one paper category to another (in many cases these are measured at different basic sizes--25" x 38" for text and 20" x 26" for cover, for instance). However, do keep in mind that some papers are "calendered" or rolled into thinner papers that still have the same paper weight. This can be most confusing (since a thinner and thicker paper can have the same basis weight), so your safest bet is to always request paper samples.

How to Print on Binders

An exceptional way to market your business is with a printed binder. These promotional items can be covered with turned fabric or leather, or they can be vinyl or solid plastic. Regardless, they allow users to keep important information together in one place and change things up regularly as needed (if they are ring binders, that is). What makes them useful as promotional items is their functionality. If a binder is emblazoned with your logo and tagline, and if your clients use the binders as a regular part of their life, they see your branding again and again. That’s priceless advertising for a small amount of money.

Here are some things to think about:

1. Go to a stationery store (or an online version thereof) and look at your options, specifically the materials, colors, printing options, ring sizes, paper capacity, number of interior pockets (if any), etc. Your options range from leather covered chipboard to vinyl covered chipboard to poly binders (solid plastic, ranging from very thin to thick, rigid plastic). Since this is a utilitarian product, at some point it is prudent to see the binders in person, and not just online.

2. Consider the options for printing. Until the advent of inkjet printing, when I designed 3-ring binders, I always screen printed them. The ink was think (giving an opulent feel to the piece), but the only options back then were one, two, or maybe three colors. Screen printing was a labor intensive process, so it was often expensive. But it looked wonderful.

3. Another option, for smaller press runs, was to buy binders with clear plastic pockets on the outside. These would accept printed inserts, which unlike the screen printed versions could be produced in multiple colors with halftones. Granted, this still didn’t have quite the opulent feel (in my opinion) as the screen printed ink applied directly to the vinyl binder covers.

4. As time went by, some printers I worked with who specialized in screen printing found ways to actually print 4-color halftones on plastic and vinyl. Unfortunately, due to the thickness of the screen printing ink, the halftone screen rulings for any images were coarse. (That is, they were of a low screen ruling frequency, and therefore the halftone dots were visible. Finer halftone screens were not an option since they would have plugged up with the thick ink.)

5. In recent years inkjet printing has been perfected to the extent that high resolution images and wide color gamuts can be printed cheaply on one (or thousands of) 3-ring binders without the expensive set-up charges of screen printing. Moreover, the digital art can be different for each binder.

6. In addition, UV inks have been developed that will cure instantly with exposure to UV light. These can be printed on even non-porous substrates (such as vinyl or even hard plastic binders) without losing their rub resistance.

So my suggestion is that you research any or all of the options listed above that I have employed over the last 30 years. Most if not all of these are still in use, and the newer technologies are quite amazing.

[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.]