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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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Custom Printing: A Case Study on Printing Paper

A print brokering client of mine is producing a book. It will be 5.5” x 8.5” and perfect bound with French flaps. This client runs a small publishing house. Therefore, to make this print book consistent with others in my client’s series, I have specified Sebago IV 55# Antique finish, blue-white for the main text of the book.

For the eight-page insert of photos that will appear in the middle of the book, I specified Somerset Gloss 80# text.

Today I delivered sample sheets of both paper stocks to my client. I had received these through the commercial printing vendor, but he had requested them from the paper merchant, Lindenmeyr.

Interestingly enough, by accident—or just good fortune—the printer had requested Somerset Matte instead of Somerset Gloss. We’ll see if my client likes it. If not, we can go back to the gloss. I myself think the two sheets go together especially well since they both have a subdued appearance (the uncoated sheet against the matte sheet).

Paper Specification Breakdown

The preceding section may seem simple at first, or at least logical, but it reflects a number of technical and aesthetic decisions. It also ends with the presentation of samples to the client, who, after all, is the final arbiter.

Paper Weight

First of all, even though 55# text seems light, the Antique finish Sebago IV actually is rather thick and substantial. It feels like a 70# text sheet. This is because it has not been crushed and smoothed out in the calender rolls of the papermaking machine. This also accounts for its rough finish.

Because the main text stock is thick, I selected a thicker than usual gloss stock for the eight-page photo section. I chose 80# rather than 70# text weight. It feels more substantial than 70#, and even though it is thinner than the main text paper (Sebago IV has a bulk of 360 ppi and the Somerset Matte has a bulk of 456 ppi—lower numbers per inch equal thicker paper), the two feel compatible (with paper, the feel of the stock is what counts). If the photo section had been longer than eight pages, I might have suggested 70# matte or gloss text, since the goal would have been to avoid creating a bulky photo section.

Paper Brightness and Whiteness

Sebago IV is not particularly bright. It has a brightness level of 85 (out of 100). Therefore, the 88 brightness of the Somerset Matte will be visually consistent with the Sebago. The subdued nature of the paper (not overly bright) is perfect for a text-heavy print book. It will make reading the text easier on the eyes.

Both the main text paper and the matte coated sheet for the photos are a blue-white shade (as opposed to a cream white—or yellow-white) shade. I chose the same shade so the photo section would look compatible with the main text.

Paper Opacity

The Sebago IV sheet has an opacity (light blocking power) of 93 (out of 100), and the Somerset Matte has an opacity of 95. Given the thickness of the 80# stock for the photo section, this should be totally adequate to keep the reader from seeing the photos on the back of a page through the front of a page (this translucence, or show-through, might be more of an issue with 50#, 60#, and 70# paper weights).

Paper Availability

When I was negotiating a schedule with the commercial printing vendor’s customer service representative, she mentioned that the paper mills had warned of late deliveries. I took this very seriously for the following reasons:

    1. My client’s delivery date is firm. The print book distributor will charge late fees if the books are not delivered on time.


  1. The printer’s due date for a signed contract and commitment of funds will start the process of acquiring paper for the job. Since the printer can do nothing without paper, the date for the signed contract and funds transfer are actually more rigid than the date for submission of art files.

In general (as an aside), it is wise to remember that printers have long-standing relationships with paper merchants and paper mills. Your printer may be able to get a certain paper easily and on time, but if you choose a stock that is less readily available, this could not only be reflected in the overall price but also in the speed with which your commercial printing vendor can get the paper onto his factory floor. (Choose wisely, ask questions, and keep an open mind to paper substitutions.)

The Client Is the Final Arbiter

As noted before, my client will be the final arbiter, and nothing can help a client make a paper decision like paper samples: how they feel in the hand and how they look under various lighting conditions.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

    1. Make friends with your paper merchant. Get samples regularly and learn to understand paper terms like “caliper,” “bulk,” “whiteness,” “brightness,” “surface texture,” and “opacity.” This will help you compare paper samples.


    1. A good rule of thumb is that photos are more spectacular on a gloss coated sheet. Failing that, choose a matte coated sheet. If you choose an uncoated sheet for photos, have a good reason for doing so (since you won’t get the varied range of tones you would on a coated sheet due to uncoated paper’s increased ink absorbency).


  1. Talk to your printer about paper cost, but also discuss paper availability. Work all of this into your final schedule—early, so you’re not unhappily surprised by the delivery date.

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