Printing & Design Tips: August 2003, Issue #25

All three of the following relate to paper in some way, whether as a printing substrate, a xerographic substrate, or a post office automation consideration.

Tint Backgrounds Vs. Colored Paper Stock

Let's say you want to produce a large press run brochure on a colored sheet. When you review the bids, you realize a large portion of the cost will go toward the colored paper stock. One way to save money in such a case is to print a colored screen -- or even a texture -- on a cheaper, white stock. In effect, you are simulating the more expensive, colored sheet on press. Granted, this could increase the costs associated with the printing of your piece, but in longer runs it may still save you money and is therefore worth discussing with your printer.

Many years ago, when I was an art director, a designer I worked with wanted to spec a very expensive paper called Elephant Hide for an annual report she was designing. In this case, to save money we simulated the Elephant Hide by photographing one sample sheet (provided for free by a paper mill) and reproducing this texture as a background on each page of the annual report. The designer moved the photo of the texture slightly on each page so the patterning would not be in exactly the same place throughout the book (which would have looked odd).

As with most other design elements, this could have looked horrible if done improperly. We brought the printer into the design process early and looked at whether a coated or uncoated base sheet would be appropriate. As with faux wood grain (which I think looks bad in part because it is wood grain on a slick surface), faux Elephant Hide worked best on a white, "toothy" (heavily textured) sheet. The textured sheet provided a great base for the "elephant skin" texture, and using the white stock cost significantly less than printing every annual report on Elephant Hide.

In a situation like this, I cannot overemphasize the importance of talking to your printer first to avoid a disaster. However, if done well, simulating color or texture can be an attractive and economical option.

Xerographic Printing Paper Considerations

Most printing articles about paper discuss the best papers for offset printing. What about xerographic printing? When choosing a stock, keep in mind that this technology uses heat and pressure to fuse toner to your base sheet. A gloss stock might come to mind for design reasons, but gloss sheets can cause major problems in xerography since (unlike ink) the toner doesn't penetrate the paper. This can cause glossy press sheets to stick together or toner to flake off. Matte and dull sheets are better choices, although an uncoated sheet is often the best choice. Grain direction is an important consideration as well (talk to the maker of your xerographic equipment). As with other aspects of printing, experimentation is best. Buy a ream of the sheet you intend to use and test it in your digital press. Whether this is a color laser printer or a laser copy machine (or even a printer's Docutech or Docucolor equipment), you can work with the technology or against it. And paper choice can make or break your final digital product.

Designing for Easy (Cheaper) Bulk Mailing

Here are a few quick tips to save you money in designing direct mail pieces:

Size and Aspect Ratio
Catalogs should be between 3.5" x 5" and 4.25" x 6" to qualify for the First Class postcard rate. Letters can be up to 6.125" x 11.5". Anything larger is considered a "flat." The aspect ratio (length divided by width) just be between 1.3 and 2.5 for the piece to be automated compatible and to avoid surcharges.

Paper Weight
Make sure the paper stock you use is of adequate thickness, or the post office will add a surcharge to your postage (or refuse to mail the piece entirely). Catalogs (up to 4.25" x 6") must be at least 7pt. in thickness. (For bulk mail, anything less than 7pt. is not mailable). Anything larger must be 9pt. or thicker. Check with your Post Office for specifics. With a First Class stamp, however, you can mail anything of any thickness, but keep in mind that mail thinner than 7pt. might be inadvertantly shredded by the USPS machinery. (In fact, none of these rules are arbitrary; rather they are an attempt by the USPS to receive mail that will run smoothly through their automated machinery and be accurately read by their scanners.)

Design your self-mailer with the fold at the bottom of the piece to qualify for automation rates.

[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.]