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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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Commercial Printing: The Art of Paper Specification

If the following specification from a printing estimate strikes fear into your heart, we need to talk:

“Stock: Body: Printer will furnish a 60# Finch Opaque, 426 ppi., pricing as of 4\11\11.”

It’s really just a printer’s short-hand way of expressing in a minimal number of words a vast amount of paper information. Think of it as poetry, or a mathematical formula.

Let’s Break It Down

Stock is the paper used for your custom printing job, whether the job is a brochure or a print book. However, the word “body” is another way of saying text, so this particular wording from an actual commercial printing bid I recently received pertains to a print book. Another line item within the estimate might refer to “stock: cover” or “stock: dust jacket.”

The words “printer will furnish” are important because they refer to the source of the raw materials for the custom printing job. It is not a given that the printer will furnish the paper. You can, in fact, supply your own paper, if you can get a better deal and ensure that the paper is delivered on time, is in good shape and runnable, and is the correct choice for the job. Personally I’d leave this to the printer whenever possible.

Paper Brand, Weight, and Opacity

The words “60# Finch Opaque” indicate a few things, including the manufacturer of the paper, its weight, and its light-stopping ability.

First of all, the weight. This is the weight of 500 sheets cut to the basic size, which for text paper is 25” x 38” and for cover stock is 20” x 26”. Again, it’s important to look for words like “body” or “text” here, because if you’re expecting a thin text paper and your job delivers on cover stock, you’ll be disappointed. Or, if you’re expecting a cover-weight sheet and the job delivers on a text-weight paper, you’ll be disappointed. (Therefore, particularly when the numbers match, such as 80# text and 80# cover, or 100# text and 100# cover, make sure the estimate reflects your expectations.)

Finch Opaque is just one product made by Finch Paper, LLC. Finch makes roll stock, cut sheets, opaque stock, digital and offset paper, to name a few. Finch also makes different colors of paper, including various shades of white plus vanilla.

It’s always smart to get samples. Online descriptions are helpful, but nothing improves your choice of paper like a sample book, a good light, and your eyes. Better yet, look at the samples under different lighting conditions: sunlight, incandescent light, and fluorescent light. Look at printed and unprinted sheets. If you want to be really prudent, have a few people look at the sheets and give you their opinions. Keep in mind that people see color differently, and men and women in particular see color differently.

“Opaque” paper stock is a good choice if you’re printed product will include heavy ink coverage or lots of photos. Opaque paper has higher light-stopping power than offset stock. (That is, it’s harder to see the ink on one side of the press sheet when you’re looking at the other side of the press sheet.) Therefore, Finch Offset and Finch Opaque are not the same. But your commercial printing vendor’s estimate might omit these specific words, so to be safe, ask about opaque vs. offset. (For coated sheets, you would just ask your printer if a particular press sheet has adequate opacity for the job you’re producing. You usually wouldn’t see the word “opaque” in a description of a coated press sheet.)

Paper Thickness, or Caliper

The notation 426 ppi refers to the number of pages in an inch. If you specified a paper with a ppi of 350, the press sheets would be thicker than a paper with a ppi of 426 (i.e., fewer sheets needed to create a stack of paper one inch tall). When you’re choosing a particular paper with a particular ppi (referred to as a paper with a particular “caliper”), think about the thickness of the final product. A 426-page book would be one inch thick. A print book produced on a thinner paper might appear cheap and shoddy to customers who had bought last year’s copy printed on a thicker stock.

The final few words of the paper specification, “Pricing as of 4\11\11,” tell you something about the nature of custom printing. Specifically, it is a manufacturing process. Materials consumed in the production of a job will be factored into the estimate at the price at which they were purchased. That is, if you get an estimate from a printer in March, and paper prices go up in June, the book you print in July may cost more. This is a legitimate practice. In many cases, depending on the stock you want—and your willingness to have your commercial printing supplier substitute paper—your printer may already have an adequate supply on the pressroom floor. To be sure, you might want to ask for a “house sheet.” If a printer uses a large volume of a particular printing stock, he can often get better pricing than he can get for a specialty sheet.

The Best Way to Save Money on Printing Paper

To be safe, the more often you can specify paper by qualities rather than by name brand (i.e., “a #1 bright white opaque text sheet” rather than “Finch Opaque,” the more often your printer will be able to shop around for a good price. For example, Finch, Cougar, Husky, and Lynx might be equally good paper choices. As an alternative, you can request a particular press sheet and then tell your printer that you would be open to suggestions (or substitutions).

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