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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: Paper Choices for Direct Mail

I received two pieces of direct mail this week that piqued my interest. In fact, I decided to keep them, and not just for this article. I wanted to think about why I found them unique.

Ironically, as more and more people have moved their marketing efforts from physical, paper based commercial printing to the more ephemeral Internet, those direct mail marketers who have stayed the course have found less competition for the reader’s attention.

In many cases, there’s less mail in the mailbox. What this means is that you have fewer pieces to review. But studies have shown that people still do take time to read their physical direct mail. In contrast, emails seem to be increasing every day, so I personally find myself reading fewer and fewer of the promotional ones. I look for a reason to delete them since there are always so many.

In light of this situation, I received the two physical mail pieces this week, and it was actually the paper choices more than the design that caught my attention.

Again, ironically, it was one of the major differences between email marketing and physical, print marketing that made these two pieces stand out. After all, you can’t touch a website or an email.

Paper Choices: The First Fold-over Card

The first piece is marketing collateral for a bank. The folded size is 6” x 9”, but it opens up into a 6”x 18” flat size, which in itself is unique. It feels big, and its dramatically lit images and ink solids with reversed type echo the feeling of space and abundance.

But what makes it really memorable is the feel of the custom printing paper stock.

Keep in mind that two functional (and useful) characteristics of paper are its weight and its surface. In this case the paper feels heavy (probably 80# cover), but this weight is doubled, since it is a fold-over card. The first thing you feel is the double thickness of the paper before you open the front flap upward to reveal the tall and narrow format.

Secondly, the commercial printing vendor coated the entire card–both sides—with soft-touch UV (or possibly reticulated varnish). It has a rough but consistent pattern, and this makes it feel soft as I run my finger across its surface. Combined with the thickness of the custom printing stock, the slightly uneven surface of the paper makes holding the marketing piece a tactile experience. The designer used one of the main benefits of paper—its physical, tactile nature—to its best advantage.

One reason I would probably guess that this is soft-touch UV coating (in addition to the soft feel) is the contrast between the soft background and a few items highlighted with a spot gloss effect (also probably a UV coating). The gloss coating covers the logo and some of the reversed type. Under a bright light, the contrast between the matte, pebbly finish covering most of the printed product and the smooth gloss effect over selected large headlines and the logo makes the display type and logo stand out more than usual. Under bright light they have a high-gloss reflective sheen.

All of this affects the viewer long before the large photos, page design, and text of the marketing piece. These qualities happen to be stellar as well (a simple but bold design reflected in the typeface, reversed type, and dramatically lit and well-balanced images). However, the very first thing the reader notices, upon pulling this marketing piece out of the envelope, is the texture and feel of the paper, a subtle element of design that works on a subconscious level. The reader may not consciously know what is going on, but the feel and weight of the paper are working their magic upon her or him.

Paper Choices: The Second Fold-over Card

Interestingly enough, this is a fold-over card, too. But it opens from side to side. (It is horizontal rather than vertical.) So the effect is more traditional. However, the paper is a very thick, uncoated and blue white stock. So before you open the fold-over card, the paper feels especially heavy. And this registers as “important information” when you pull it out of the envelope. It’s “weighty,” so to speak.

The uncoated surface of the paper combined with the full-bleed photos on all four panels gives a soft, subdued feel to this marketing piece, which is an introduction to a new series of town homes near my fiancee’s and my house.

The front panel shows about ten of the townhouses, all touching, at dusk. The sky is a subdued blue (as is the headline type, which is slightly darker), but you can see the reflection of the sunset in the windows, and some of the house lights have been turned on. The touches of orange sunlight in the cover image provide a nice warm contrast to the predominantly cool colors of the overall image. And the softness of the image at day’s end is consistent with both the soft feel of the uncoated paper and the softness of the printed image (in contrast to an image printed on a gloss or even a dull coated commercial printing sheet).

Inside the fold-over card the solid ink areas and reverse type provide an austere counterpoint to the large image of a kitchen in one of the row houses.

Overall, the effect of the marketing piece is one of substance (due to the thickness of the paper) with a casual, relaxed flair (due to the soft, uncoated paper surface).

Paper Choices: A Thick Business Card

My fiancee just handed me a business card from a fine artist. It’s actually perfect to round out this series of marketing pieces enhanced by shrewd custom printing paper choices.

There are three elements that distinguish this business card from its peers. First, it is thicker than usual. It is 14pt. For comparison, that’s just under 120# cover stock. To put this in perspective, when I was a graphic designer I used to specify 80# cover stock for business cards. So this paper feels much heavier and rigid. Like the two fold-over cards noted above, this business card has substance and (psychological as well as physical) weight.

One side of the card is a montage of the artist’s paintings, many of which are at sunset, so the contrast between the oranges and reds of the sun in the clouds works nicely against the dark silhouettes of the buildings. The colors are dramatic even in this small size with this many images in the montage. You don’t really see the individual paintings as much as their unifying color scheme.

On the front of the card is the artist’s website URL, hand-written in three lines (white reversed out of a black background that bleeds on all sides). So it’s simple. One side has the web contact information, and one side has a smattering of the artist’s images.

And because of the thickness of the commercial printing paper stock (and its rigidity), the overall effect is one of importance: an importance conveyed by the paper choice even before the reader can consciously address the graphic design or the marketing message.

2 Responses to “Commercial Printing: Paper Choices for Direct Mail”

  1. Val Valdez says:

    I am a freelance writer for daily and weekly newspapers in Central Texas. This week, an editor said two weekly newspapers are reducing from 10 to 8 pages due to higher printing costs since “someone” is hoarding printing supplies, paper, toner, ink etc. Are you aware of any hoarding of printing materials/supplies within the publication industry to drive up printing costs?

    I appreciate any reply.
    Thank you,
    Val Valdez

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your question. I know that when the supply of paper goes down, the prices go up, and I have seen this happen a number of times over the years. However, I’ve always seen news pointing to reduced production rather than hoarding. It seems to me that hoarding would be harder to achieve and would have a smaller impact than just reducing production. Keep in mind that this is just what I know based on the CEOs and other management at printing plants with whom I interact on a regular basis. That is, it’s anecdotal. But none of the printing professionals I know have told me that people are hoarding supplies.


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