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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven 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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Online Printing Companies Can Meet Your Goals When You Spec Paper with Current Swatch Books and Printed Samples

Whether you’re buying catalog printing, brochure printing, or book printing services from your digital printing company, the more specific you can be about your paper needs, the more easily your supplier can meet your expectations. Whether consciously or unconsciously, paper choices strongly affect your reader. Here’s a case study that illustrates some issues in communicating paper choices.

A print brokering client asked me recently to suggest a paper stock that would resemble a grocery bag. It was for a prospectus cover. She wanted to print process color inks on the stock to give the edgy impression of having actually printed on a grocery bag.

The first thing I did was note that there was no accurate way to proof the process color, other than to purchase a rather costly “press proof” that would involve a separate press run for one proof. I told my client that this would be true for two reasons:

  1. Process color inks are transparent, and are therefore altered by the color of the paper on which they are printed, and
  2. The proof the business printing vendor would provide would be produced on white paper, not brown kraft paper. He could not guarantee the final appearance. That said, we didn’t talk about trying a sample of the colored stock in the proofing device, which may or may not have been an option. Regardless, digital printing companies do not consider such an inkjet print to be a contract proof and therefore will not guarantee the result.

My client was ok with this. She didn’t care about the color fidelity. The photos were artistic images, more for mood than anything else.

Had she felt otherwise, I would have suggested the following:

  1. She could run a sample of the kraft paper stock through her own inkjet printer just to get an idea of the final appearance.
  2. Her custom printing vendor could print opaque white on the brown kraft sheet and then print the four-color images on the white “base.” The opaque white would ensure that the brown of the kraft paper did not alter the hues of the process colors.

Learn From My Mistake

I checked through my paper swatch books for a few options for kraft paper. Different paper mills stock different color variants that might match a grocery bag, and I found one by Fox River. I requested this stock when I distributed specifications to the printing companies that were bidding on the job, and I learned to my dismay that the paper in question had been discontinued.

Here are two things you can learn from my mistake:

  1. Ask your paper merchant or business printing customer service representative for a selection of paper swatch books from various mills. A good selection will include text and writing papers as well as uncoated and coated cover and text stocks. There should even be some swatch books that include colored papers such as the kraft stock my client wanted. To give you an extensive sampling, your paper merchant or custom printing vendor should provide about 40 or more paper swatch books.
  2. Make sure the paper books are absolutely current, and replace your collection every few years, at most. This is where I made my mistake. My books were not that old, but specialty papers like the kraft stock come and go. Mills make them for a while and then stop, and then other mills make them.

I fixed the problem in the following way. I found some printed promotional paper books in my sample collection that were more recent. The paper swatch books I mentioned above are all unprinted. They are very useful for gauging paper thickness, surface texture, whiteness, brightness, etc. But they don’t show you what ink looks like on the paper. The printed promotional paper books that paper mills use to showcase their capabilities do exactly this. It’s important to request both.

I chose two paper stocks resembling a grocery bag from these printed sample books and included their specifications in the spec sheet I sent the printing companies bidding on the job. Then I requested updated bids for my client. Problem solved.

Don’t make my mistake. Check the back of your paper swatch books and your printed paper sample books. In one of the corners on the back cover, in small type, you will see a date. Make sure it is current. A paper supply representative at any paper merchant can help you, as can any of the printing companies you work with. Whether you’re buying catalog printing, brochure printing, or book printing services, these sample books can help you better communicate your expectations to your custom printing vendors.

2 Responses to “Online Printing Companies Can Meet Your Goals When You Spec Paper with Current Swatch Books and Printed Samples”

  1. staples says:

    Highly descriptive article. I liked that.


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