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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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Archive for the ‘Paper and finishing’ Category

Book Printing: Thoughts on Choosing Printing Paper

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

I found a perfect-bound mythology book in the thrift store this week that I had last read and loved in 1981, so I bought it for a dollar. But what struck me even more than the surprise of finding it again was the publication date (1976) and the fact that the cover, cover coating, and interior paper showed absolutely no sign of age. None.

Unlike many other print books I had seen recently in the thrift stores, both the text stock and the cover stock of this book showed none of the yellowing around the edges that I was used to seeing in much more recently printed books. All of the photos on the crisp uncoated stock were pristine and exactly as I had remembered them from my first reading of the book thirty-six years ago.

This brought to mind a few thoughts about paper.

First of all, reading a book is a tactile experience, and for me the thickness and feel of the paper and gloss cover coating as well as the roughness of the paper and even the thickness of the book were relevant to my overall reading experience. None of these qualities can be replicated on an e-reader.

My next thought was that certain qualities in the paper made this print book look as good as the day it had been published. Since there was no discoloration or yellowing, I made an educated guess that alkaline paper had been used. This is considered to be of archival quality, in contrast to other books I have from the 1970s that are now yellow and brittle due to the highly acidic content of their text paper. These are not considered to be of archival quality.

When you compare these two paperbacks to some of the hardcover books printed and bound in the late 1800s, it is interesting to see that the older print books in many cases seem to be in much better shape than the paperbacks from the 1970s. Again, this has to do with the quality of the materials used.

Paper is not cheap, and alkaline paper is often more expensive than acidic paper, so the paperbacks I had collected in the 1970s were probably meant to be read and then discarded, or at least not kept for the ensuing forty years. This is fine. I paid very little for them.

How Does This Relate to Contemporary Book Printing?

In recent years, a large percentage of books have migrated from hard-cover and paperback format to electronic media only, as files for e-reader devices. This has been leveling off or decreasing recently. People are not giving up on print books. But in many cases publishers are choosing a print format to highlight particular print qualities not available in electronic media. Many of these involve properties of printing paper that will improve the tactile experience of book-reading. Therefore, it behooves designers and print buyers to learn a bit about commercial printing paper.

Here’s a starting point.

On another trip to the thrift store I found a paper handbook from the 1980s. It was specifically written for those who sell or buy paper. I’m sure contemporary paper mills, printers, and paper merchants can provide similar books. All you have to do is ask. Here are some of the subjects the book addresses.

Paper Properties

These include “whiteness, brightness, color, surface texture, finish, opacity, stiffness, flexibility, grain, and gloss” (Walden’s Handbook for Paper Salespeople & Buyers of Printing Paper, Second Edition). These are just the visual properties. More tactile qualities include thickness, bulk, resistance to tearing, smoothness, opacity, ink receptivity…. The list goes on and on.

If you were to boil down this list into a few key concepts, they might be:

  1. The thickness and stiffness of the paper as it feels in your hand (and the appropriateness of the thickness for the product you’re printing).
  2. The color of the paper (whether it has a bluish-white or yellowish-white tone, or whether it has a more intense color altogether like a dark green tinted sheet used for a holiday invitation and printed with silver ink).
  3. The quality of the paper, or its formation (its consistency across the sheet when held up to the light), since an even paper formation allows for evenly printed halftones and text.
  4. Whether the paper is coated or uncoated, and if coated whether it has a gloss or dull finish.
  5. The runnability of the paper. That is, does the paper possess those qualities (such as dimensional stability) that will make it run through a commercial printing press easily without causing problems. A related concept would be ink receptivity, or whether the paper absorbs ink evenly into the paper (if uncoated) or whether the ink sits up on top of the paper surface (if coated).

The Paper-Making Process

A paper handbook such as this will also explain the process of making paper, from the essentially liquid form in which it starts to the final cut sheets that are ready to load into the commercial printing press.

You will also find descriptions of paper flaws to look for (such as wavy edges) or the propensity of a paper for picking (having pinpricks of the paper—along with the ink–come off during the printing process). Dimensionally unstable paper is another flaw to avoid, as is paper that is not trimmed squarely.

Paper Tests

The Walden Handbook also describes a number of tests to ensure the quality of the paper, such as the burst test and tensile strength test, which relate to a paper’s propensity for tearing.

In addition, the paper handbook describes opacity testing (related to the light-stopping power of a particular paper). This paper property is particularly useful if you have a photo on one side of a sheet of paper and text on the other. Using an opaque sheet will ensure that you won’t see the photo on the back of the paper when you’re reading the text on the front of the sheet.

Charts Describing Paper Options

A paper handbook such as this will also discuss (and even include drawings of) formats for envelopes. (You can get the same information from the US Post Office.) In addition, it will include charts showing the relative thickness of different kinds of paper (text stock weights compared to cover stock weights, for instance). This is useful in converting from one type of paper to another. Usually, such a chart will also show the “basic size” to which these “basis weights” refer.

Information for the Printer

Such a paper book will also list the standard dimensions of cut sheets of commercial printing stock as well as useful information for printers regarding storage and conditioning of paper prior to printing. This section will include information on skid packing of paper, characteristics of paper rolls, and how cut sheets of printing paper will arrive in cartons.

All of this information may make your head swim. It’s a bit like reading a dictionary. However, over time you will start to recognize certain paper qualities, and the more your knowledge grows, the more precise you can be in designing printed products that benefit from different paper choices. You will also be better able to discuss these paper properties and potential pitfalls with your printer or you paper merchant.

Custom Printing: The Printing Substrate Changes the Ink Color

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

The more I study the various visual arts, the more similarities I see between and among them.

My fiancee bought some hair coloring today, and noted that the final color will depend on the original hair color of the person using the product. She had chosen a bright auburn shade, and on the back of the package I saw three slightly different final colors based on whether the original hair had been light to medium blonde, dark blonde to light brown, or medium to dark brown.

Presumably, the purpose of such an explanation was to tell the user what to expect. But to me it brought to mind the differences in color output when offset custom printing (or digitally printing) on a white sheet, beige sheet, or much darker sheet. The substrate always affects the color of the printed ink.

My fiancee went on to explain how eyelash coloration works the same way. The color you apply with a brush will look different on women with different original eye lash colors.

How Does This Apply to Commercial Printing?

Here are some thoughts pertaining to a number of different custom printing situations and technologies:

  1. When you have chosen an off-white press sheet onto which you will print your four-color process job, remember that process inks are transparent. If your photos include faces, the flesh color will be affected by the underlying paper, and the overall effect may be yellower than you would like. To compensate for this you can have the printer add a layer of opaque white beneath the process colors. (This will add to your overall cost, of course.) I have also seen this done with a metallic silver ink as a base and with opaque white actually mixed in with the process colors.
  2. Another approach if you’ve chosen a cream stock and you want to print white lettering on the paper is to use white foil rather than ink. Foil will completely retain its surface consistency (unlike ink) because it will not seep into the paper. After all, the white foil is attached to the surface of the paper with heat and pressure. If you choose this option, you will need to pay extra for the metal die used to cut the white foil.
  3. If you’re printing on a black t-shirt, the underprinting of white ink will make a huge difference in the final color. In this case the opaque white will provide a consistent, light background for any subsequent colors you may add.
  4. Printing on clear acetate will benefit from the same approach. Let’s say you’re producing a large-format section of a movie standee, and you want a transparency effect. Printing the inkjet inks or custom screen printing inks directly on the clear acetate will dull down the colors significantly, but laying down a background of opaque white will provide a bright background which will reflect back to the viewer the light that travels through the transparent process colors. The viewer’s eye will interpret this as increased vibrancy within the inks.
  5. You should know that large format inkjet presses (both the flatbed variety and also the roll-fed presses) will usually have an additional ink reservoir for an opaque white ink. In addition, the inkjet presses have been designed to lay down the white background precisely positioned under the color overprinting. Therefore, this technology makes printing on either a colored background or a transparent background a viable, attractive option.

What About Proofing Your Print Job?

If you’re printing process colors over a colored background, then visualizing the final outcome will be a challenge. Your computer monitor will display color on a white background. Of course you can add a tint to the background of your job to match the paper, but this might not give you a completely accurate view (remember to remove the tint screen before printing).

What I’ve always done is ask the printer or paper merchant for printed samples that match my stated goals for the substrates and inks. It’s easier to communicate using a physical printed product. In addition, if the printer has produced a job you really like, you can always ask for help in preparing the art files to ensure that your job will be as successful as the one your commercial printing vendor just produced.

Another approach you might find helpful is to inkjet print a proof on the paper you have chosen for the final job. This is particularly useful if you’re printing process colors on a cream substrate. While not 100 percent accurate, this will at least give you a better idea than a screen view of how the final job will look.

If you’re flush with cash and your product needs to be perfect, you can always request a press proof (a few copies produced on a small press). However, this is an extremely expensive option since you’re really printing the project twice (once for the proof and once for the final job).

Commercial Printing: A Few Identity-Package Paper Tips

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

A print brokering client of mine just landed a new account. The client is global in its reach, which is particularly exciting. Now my client’s client needs an identity package to project its image around the world.

The Specifications for the Identity Package

My client came to me with four items to print initially: letterhead, envelopes, business cards, and a note card with an A-7 envelope. She wanted 500 copies of each item (with 500 copies of four names for the business cards) just to get the identity package moving.

After receiving my client’s email, my initial goal was to flesh out the specifications for the custom printing supplier, so he could provide an estimate. For the business cards, my client specified “heavy matte stock” in her email. She said she thought the note cards could be slightly different, since they would be sent out individually, probably without a business card, letterhead, or #10 envelope. She wanted to consider a textured sheet for the note cards, perhaps one with a linen finish.

My Initial Contact with the Printer

I started the discussion with the commercial printing vendor by focusing on the paper for the four print jobs. It was pretty much a given that for a 500-copy press run, the best custom printing technology would be digital. All jobs were to print in 4-color process inks. Therefore, I had approached a printer with an HP Indigo digital press. I felt this press equipment would do the best job of showcasing my client’s client’s new professional image, at an economical price.

Nevertheless, I wanted to make sure both the paper and the toner would be durable. These were my concerns:

  1. I wanted to make sure that the toner would adhere evenly to the linen sheet. Since a linen texture has an uneven surface (hills and valleys, for the warp and woof of the linen pattern), I wanted to make sure the layer of toner would not have white spots where the toner did not adhere to the paper. The printer assured me that his suggested paper options, Neenah Classic Crest and Classic Linen, were both certified for the HP Indigo.
  2. I also wanted to make sure that my client’s client could run the letterhead or envelopes through a laser printer (for text imprinting, after the 4-color digital printing of the logo and address). Would an additional paper coating be needed, or would there be a risk of the toner particles’ melting in the heat of a laser printer?

The Overall Look of the Identity Package Items

My client was very precise, noting that she wanted a bright white press sheet. She also didn’t want to buy the most expensive paper for the job. She wanted to contain her client’s costs. This is what I found out from the printer:

  1. The Neenah Classic Crest and Classic Linen paper lines are not expensive sheets. Compared to other stationery papers (those provided in weights and finishes appropriate for a coordinated set of business cards, letterhead, and envelopes), they are quite affordable.
  2. I also wanted to confirm that the commercial printing supplier would not need to buy an entire carton of paper for this job (some papers have minimums; you need to buy the minimum order no matter how little paper you use). Since the jobs are small (500 copies of the letterhead, #10 envelopes, and note cards; plus 500 copies of each of four names for the business cards), this might have been an issue. The printer assured me it was not.
  3. For such a short run, I believed that the paper component of the job would be only a minimal amount of the total cost, no matter which paper was chosen. The printer assured me that this was true.

A Coordinated Look for the Identity Package

The reason I wanted to specify all paper from one dedicated stationery vendor was that I wanted to present a unified look for the new company’s identity materials. The Neenah paper lines included the multiple paper weights needed for all of the corporate identity elements (letterhead, business cards, and stationery), but it also provided the linen finish my client wanted for the note cards and A7 envelopes. My client felt the linen paper for the note cards would showcase the “hatched lines” of the logo, and I was confident that the paper’s brightness, whiteness, and surface formation would be consistent enough in both the Neenah Classic Crest and Classic Linen lines to still look like they were created for the same business firm.

Choosing Paper Weights for All Items

All that was left was to determine the weight of the paper. My client wanted a heavier than usual business card. The printer suggested a 120# cover stock (since 80# cover stock has often been the norm for business cards). This would give an appealing stiffness and snap to the card.

My client had specified 28# #10 envelopes. Usually 24# is the norm. Given the heavier than usual paper stock for the envelopes, I suggested a 70# (rather than 60#) text paper for the letterhead, again to give a sense of solidity and opulence to the client’s new business.

Finally, for the note cards the printer suggested a 100# cover stock. He felt this would be adequate. The cards didn’t need to be any thicker. These flat note cards would have no embossed panel around the edges. They would be flat, modern, and simple in design.

The printer felt all of this would provide a unified look for the new business and that the Indigo would present the best possible printed image (for the price) for the short-run jobs. My client agreed. Now, all we need to do is wait for pricing.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

All of the specifications in this sample identity package bear close review and consideration. Paper weight, surface texture, paper color and brightness—even before ink or toner hit the surface of the paper—all either promote or damage an image (yours and your client’s). Make sure your paper choices are congruent. The best way to do this is to choose paper for all elements of an identity package from a paper supplier such as Neenah. Crane and Strathmore are two more lines to investigate. And always involve your custom printing supplier in the decisions regarding paper runnability, availability, and cost.

Custom Printing: A Case Study on Printing Paper

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

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.
  2. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

Commercial Printing: Four Protective Coating Options

Friday, November 7th, 2014

There are a number of reasons to coat the cover paper of a perfect-bound print book, or the dust jacket of a case bound book, or even a poster, but the primary ones involve appearance and durability. If you want the print book, for instance, to endure heavy use or last a long time (or if you want to protect heavy ink coverage from fingerprinting), consider coating the sheet. Or, if you want to contrast various dull or gloss effects against one another to highlight the printed images, you may also want to add an additional coating.

Here are four options to consider when choosing a protective coating. (Remember that this is in addition to the gloss or dull surface of a coated sheet. Protective coatings go on top of the printed, dried press sheets.)

Press Varnish

The simplest and least expensive paper coating is a varnish. Essentially varnish is ink without its colorant (or the ink vehicle with no pigment). The custom printing supplier adds this coating by using one of the ink units on his press (let’s say a fifth or sixth unit on a six-color press, after the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks have been laid down).

In fact, if you’re printing your 4-color job on a six-color press and you’re not using a PMS match color in one of the remaining ink units, you might want to add both a dull and a gloss varnish.

Perhaps you could coat the photos with the gloss varnish to make them stand out, and coat the background with a dull varnish to make it recede. Using both varnishes together would make the contrast more striking, and would cause anything covered with gloss varnish to “jump” off the page.

An alternate use for varnish is to completely coat the press sheet. This is called a flood application, in contrast to a varnish laid down in a limited area, which is called a spot application.

An alternative to a clear coating of varnish is a tinted coat. You may want to use this inside a magazine, for instance, for a subtle, ghost-like image or type treatment that can only barely be seen.

Varnish is the least durable coating, and it may yellow over time, so it’s wise to consider how long your printed product will be in use. It also can darken the inks over which it is printed. And it is not particularly useful when printed on an uncoated sheet, since it will be absorbed into the paper fibers like any other ink, potentially rendering it useless for both protection and any aesthetic effect.

Aqueous Coating

Aqueous coating comes in dull, gloss, and satin (in between dull and gloss). Like varnish, aqueous coating is applied in-line. But unlike varnish, aqueous coating is applied using a separate aqueous coating tower, which immediately follows the four or six press inking units.

Aqueous coating is a water soluble polymer, so it dries to a hard surface. Therefore, it is very durable as well as attractive. However, aqueous coating is more suited to a flood application (over the entire press sheet) than a spot coating.

Not every custom printing vendor has equipment for aqueous coating. If you request this service, your printer may need to subcontract the work, adding to the cost and schedule of the job.

Ultraviolet Coating

UV (ultraviolet) coating “cures” under ultraviolet light. It is more expensive than either varnish or aqueous coating. Unlike aqueous coating, it can be easily applied as either a spot coating or a flood coating. Usually the process is completed off-line (as a separate finishing step), in contrast to the in-line nature of applying varnish or an aqueous coating.

Since UV coating “cures” instantly when exposed to light (rather than drying when exposed to heat), no solvents are necessary and no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are released into the atmosphere during its application.

As with aqueous coating, not every printer can apply a UV coating. Your printer may need to subcontract this work.

Film Laminates and Liquid Laminates

Even more durable than UV coating is lamination. This comes as a film or as a liquid coating. Since it seals the press sheet completely, you might wind up with book covers that curl. In this case, the uncoated interior of the book cover absorbs moisture (humidity) and expands, while the coated side does not. You can avoid this problem by specifying “lay-flat laminate,” which is permeable and allows air to pass through the polyester coating.

Things to Remember

If you will need to write on a portion of your print job with a ballpoint pen, or if you will need to inkjet information (like addresses) onto the printed press sheet, you will need to leave an unprinted area with no protective coating. Otherwise, the ink (particularly ballpoint pen ink) will smear.

That said, there are always exceptions. I have seen inkjet addressing applied directly over some coatings. Therefore, unless you play it safe and omit the coating over such an area, you will need to discuss this with your printer to make sure his equipment will accommodate your needs.

Commercial Printing: Using Paper Sample Books

Monday, October 20th, 2014

One of the downsides of having had a house fire is that all my printed samples and paper sample swatch books are gone. This is a problem for a print broker.

Actually, I have one paper book, from NewPage, that a digital printing supplier sent me this week.

Benefits of the Paper Swatch Book

Commercial printing involves putting ink or toner on paper. Paper is an important element of the product, and it’s often easy to forget this in the rush to write copy or create the graphic design. Moreover, it is sometimes confusing to specify paper. “Make it like this” is a less than specific way to describe to your custom printing supplier the kind of paper you will need. Therefore, if you have the same paper swatch books your printer does, you can, for instance, say you want “60# white gloss text, or a 10pt matte coated cover stock.” Immediately you and your printer will be communicating about the exact same paper.

So here’s a crash course based on the sample paper book I just received.

Paper Weight (Pounds vs. Points, Cover vs. Text)

Cover stock comes in a particular standard size, which is 20” x 26”. Other sizes are available, but for the sake of standardization, this is called the “basic size,” and the weight of 500 sheets at the basic size is called the “basis weight.”

Let’s say you want to print a postal mailer on 130# cover stock (your paper swatch book will note this information on the sample sheets). This basis weight is the same as 10pt. stock. That is (and you can find paper conversion charts online), the thickness and stiffness of 130# coated cover paper and 10pt. coated cover paper will be approximately the same.

My NewPage paper swatch book is ideal on this count. On the front cover of this (approximately) 5.5” x 8.5” wire-O bound book, the headline notes that I’m looking at Productolith paper. Inside, on the page I’m reviewing at the moment, the printed text notes that I’m considering “Productolith Pts., 10pt. (134 lb.) semi-gloss C1S Tag.”

This rather cryptic description includes the name of the paper, its basis weight in points, its basis weight in pounds, its coating (semi-gloss, as opposed to matte, dull, gloss, satin, or uncoated), and “tag,” a specific category of paper (a lower quality sheet used more for tags and labels than for high-end marketing collateral). The description also tells you that the coating is only on one side of the sheet (C1S, as opposed to C2S). You might use this paper if your job requires full-color heavy ink coverage on one side of the paper and just a little black ink on the other.

The printed specs do not distinguish between “cover” and “text” stock because the paper is obviously very thick. But you will need to keep this in mind when you specify paper (or review a different paper book). Most paper books will distinguish between the text sheet (for instance, 100# text measured at a basic size of 25” x 38”) and the cover sheet (for instance, 100# cover measured at a basic size of 20” x 26”, as noted above).

Paper Color (Whiteness vs. Brightness)

Paper brightness tells you how much light a paper will reflect (96 is brighter than 90, for instance). In contrast, paper whiteness tells you the color of light the paper reflects (a blue-white, or cool-white, sheet will actually appear brighter than a yellow-white, or warm-white, sheet).

Paper Surface Finish

As noted above, you have a number of options starting with high gloss (which is a good coating if your printed product includes a lot of photos–it makes them “pop,” as they say). For text, this is less ideal, since it tires your eyes. If your job includes a lot of text, you might consider a dull or matte coated sheet (a less reflective paper surface). In between gloss and dull, you’ll find silk or satin. These surface coatings have a little texture (you can feel them when you run your hand across the sheet), but they don’t have a high gloss coating.

Keep in mind that not all sheets come in all coatings and some companies have different names (some call matte paper dull; some call satin paper silk). Just think about the three textures (glossy, not glossy, and something in the middle).

All of these are coated sheets (a mixture of clay and additives added to the surface of the paper to seal the sheet and allow the ink to sit on top of the paper rather than seeping into the fibers). In addition to coated paper, there’s uncoated paper, which has a nice, natural feel. There are also other variations in texture such as “linen” (which has a criss-cross pattern), “felt” (which is like the fabric felt), and “laid” (which has a ribbed texture). The best thing you can do is ask your custom printing vendor for a handful (or several boxes full) of paper swatch books. These will become a valuable tool for communicating with your printer (and educating yourself).

Final Caveat

Printers will often forget to tell you this when they deliver your boxes of paper swatch books, but it bears repeating. Like three-day old fish, paper swatch books have a shelf life. On the back of the paper swatch book (usually in very small type), you will find the date the book was produced. (My Productolith book was produced in 2012, so it’s not that old.)

Let’s say you’ve found the perfect paper for your new marketing campaign, and your chief marketing officer has approved the stock. But let’s say that the paper book has a date of 2001 rather than 2012. Chances are, the paper has been discontinued. This could be a problem. So make sure your paper books are “fresh.”

Getting the Paper Swatch Books

You can get paper swatch books from your commercial printing sales rep or your paper merchant. Both of them want your repeated business, so I’m sure both will be most helpful in getting you a selection of these invaluable paper books.

Custom Printing: A Few Thoughts on Paper Stocks

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Paper choices can make or break a job. In fact, paper is what makes a custom printing job a physical product, although the paper used in a print job often goes unnoticed. That said, it can still have an immense subliminal effect on the reader.

Here are a few thoughts on paper: how to choose it, how to use it.

Commercial Printing on Gloss vs. Dull, or Matte, Coated Paper

If you’re not going to print your job on an uncoated stock, your other two choices are gloss and matte coated text or cover paper. As a rule, it is easier to read large amounts of text on a dull or matte press sheet than on a gloss coated sheet, but photographs seem more dramatic (i.e., they “pop”) more on a gloss coated press sheet than on a matte sheet.

If your job includes both heavy text sections and numerous photos that you want to showcase, consider choosing a matte or dull sheet and then spot gloss varnishing the photos. This will give you the best of both worlds.

Commercial Printing on Uncoated Paper

Photos and text will not be as crisp if printed on an uncoated press sheet, but this might actually be the effect you want. Let’s say you’re designing a brochure print job for a paper company and you want to showcase the environmental benefits of a certain paper stock. An uncoated sheet might just project the muted “look” you want. The crispness of the gloss coated sheet, or even the dull coated sheet, might actually conflict with the earthy, environmental tone you’re trying to convey.

That said, inks printed on uncoated paper seep into the substrate because there’s no coating to support the ink film (this is called “holdout”). Process inks and spot colors can seep into the fibers and look dull. Talk with your commercial printing vendor about this. He will be able to “open” the separations to allow for a lighter coating of ink on press. When this lighter amount of ink seeps into the paper (causing “dot gain” as it spreads), the more open screens (with smaller halftone dots) will compensate for the dot gain, and the overall effect will be more pleasing. The images won’t appear to be over-inked.

This does, however, require a fair amount of skill on your custom printing supplier’s part, so you may want to discuss your goals with your printer early in the process and/or attend a press inspection to check the overall results.

A Few Notes on Paper Handling

Paper behaves almost like a living organism. If you expose it to humidity, it will grow. This growth due to moisture will be greater in the “cross grain” direction (in contrast to “with the grain”) by a magnitude of three times. Too much moisture can warp the printing stock, or it can result in extended ink drying times. What this means is that if your printer does not handle your paper stock correctly, it will curl, become wavy, or not hold its proper dimensions.

Low humidity is bad, too. It can cause the paper to contract at the edges and expand in the middle of the sheet. Low humidity can cause problems with static electricity, change the dimensions of the paper causing misregistration on press, or make the paper brittle.

Because problems occur when paper is exposed to less than ideal humidity (or temperature, since they are related), paper needs to arrive at your custom printing vendor’s shop early, with enough time before your press date to allow it to become acclimated to your printer’s factory floor.

For instance, if the paper travels in a truck from the paper mill during the winter, and it arrives at your printer’s shop with a 10 degree Celsius (50 degree Fahrenheit) difference between the outdoor temperature (through which it traveled) and your printer’s room temperature, the paper must sit on the perssroom floor for 10 hours.

If the difference between the inside and outside temperature is 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), the paper needs 30 hours to become acclimated to your printers inside temperature. (according to A Guide to Graphic Print Production, Second Edition, by Kaj Johansson, Peter Lundberg, and Robert Ryberg).

Your printer will want to adhere to these standards and let the paper condition correctly. After all, changes in paper dimension due to humidity problems can wreak havoc with a printer’s workflow and schedule. Therefore, make sure your paper arrives at the printer’s shop early enough to allow plenty of time for this conditioning.

Commercial Printing: Three Things You May Not Know About Paper

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Here are a few thoughts on the nature of paper to help you make prudent design and print buying decisions:

Custom Printing on Colored Paper Changes Ink Colors

When you print on white paper, the white substrate reflects the light back to the viewer without changing it. It does not add or subtract anything from the ambient light, except where the actual commercial printing inks provide color. In contrast, when you print on colored paper stock, the substrate changes the hues of the inks. A yellow or beige paper, for instance, will add a yellowish tint to the inks printed on it.

Therefore, you may not get what you expect when your job comes back from the custom printing supplier, and you definitely won’t see an on-screen image that will look exactly like the final printed product. If your brochure or booklet includes images of people, their skin tone may be less than attractive.

That said, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t print on a colored stock. To get a more accurate view of how the final printed product will look, you may want to produce an inkjet proof on a sample of the paper substrate.

If you don’t like what you see, you have an option. Asking your commercial printing vendor to add a base of opaque white ink on the colored substrate under the photos will ensure that the paper reflects all wavelengths of light equally and therefore does not add a color cast to the process inks used in the images.

Paper Is Affected by Its Surroundings

Paper is organic. Therefore, it is affected by the surrounding temperature and humidity. Knowing this and accounting for the ambient conditions in the transport and storage of paper is important if you don’t want unexpected results during the custom printing process.

More specifically, the fibers that constitute a sheet of paper can change in thickness as much as 300 percent depending on the humidity. In addition, the same expansion of paper fibers in humid conditions can cause uneven growth or expansion of the paper in its length and width. Since paper expands more along the dimension perpendicular to the grain (known as cross grain), it can “grow” three times as much in this direction as in the direction parallel to the grain. This can wreak havoc with your printing plans.

In addition, exposure to light can change the color of paper and also affect its aging process.

To avoid problems, it’s important to transport and store paper in the proper temperature and humidity conditions and to make sure the paper is adequately wrapped to avoid exposure to light. Your paper manufacturer or printer can explain the specific requirements for your chosen paper stock. They will differ between paper stocks used for different purposes.

(For instance, the paper used for xerox printing is ideally stored at 30 percent humidity at a temperature of 20 degrees centigrade (68 degrees fahrenheit), whereas offset printing paper is ideally stored at 50 percent humidity at a temperature of 20 degrees centigrade. Due to the high heat used in laser printing, xerox or digital printing paper prefers a lower relative humidity.)

Finally, plan to have the paper delivered to your printer with adequate time for it to become acclimated to the pressroom temperature and humidity. (This may take 24 or more hours depending on the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures.)

Uncoated Paper Works Better Than Coated Stock for Glue Binding

When you perfect bind a print book, the bindery usually grinds off the spine of the collated press signatures to allow the glue to seep into the paper. This improves glue adhesion, so the pages don’t fall out of the book.

When you use an uncoated sheet for your print book, the paper is both rougher and more absorbent than a coated press sheet. Therefore, the glue has more surface area to grip and hold. This strengthens the binding. In contrast, a coated press sheet (gloss or dull) has a smooth surface and therefore does not provide as much surface area as an uncoated press sheet for the glue to grip.

Here are two ways to counteract this limitation and strengthen the glue bond if you do choose a coated stock for a perfect bound publication like a print book or magazine:

  1. Use a heavier rather than lighter weight printing paper.
  2. Use a cold adhesive glue rather than a hot-melt glue to bind the printed product.

Discuss these options with your book printer. He may have other ideas as well.

Commercial Printing: Primer on Folding and Scoring

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Often as designers and print buyers, we’re so focused on the page design or the texture of the press sheet that we forget the physical properties of the custom printing paper itself. Here are some thoughts on paper folding and scoring, two elements of your print job that will be essential, but invisible to the reader, if done correctly.

What Is Paper Grain?

Like wood, paper has grain. There’s a single direction in which the majority of paper fibers that make up a sheet of paper will align. It is parallel to the direction the paper traveled through the paper-making machine.

You can determine the direction of the fibers easily by tearing a press sheet. If you’re tearing with the grain, your tear will be much straighter than if you tear the paper against the grain.

You can also moisten one side of the sheet to determine the paper grain direction. In this case, the paper will curl parallel to the grain.

Fold With the Grain or Against the Grain?

Why does the direction of the paper grain matter?

If you’re designing a brochure and you fold with the grain, the press sheet will be less likely to crack, delaminate, or wrinkle. This is because you’re not folding the fibers; you’re folding the other elements of the paper mixture: the fines and the fillers.

That said, a fold “with the grain” is not as strong as a fold made “against the grain.” This may be a concern when you’re producing a pocket folder. In this case, to strengthen the spine of the pocket folder, you might want the printer to fold the spine against the grain rather than with the grain. In this case, you’re actually folding the paper fibers.

The paper fibers comprise the hinge between the front and back cover. This gives a strength to the fold on the spine that would not be present if the fibers ran parallel to the spine. In contrast, the parallel folds of the two pockets of the pocket folder are not structural and do not move back and forth as the spine fold does. Therefore, they can afford to be less durable than the fold of the spine.

Books Have Special Folding Requirements

If you’re producing a perfect-bound or case-bound print book, you do not have as much flexibility in choosing the paper grain direction. In this case, you will want the book printer to ensure that the paper grain of the text sheets runs parallel to the spine. If the paper grain were to run perpendicular to the direction of the print book’s spine, the pages would not lie flat, and the book might not open or close correctly.

Scoring to Allow for a Crisp, Flat Fold

When you fold thicker commercial printing paper against the grain, you need to score the press sheet before you fold it. Otherwise, the fold will be uneven, cracked, or buckled.

Scoring involves placing a metal rule (or some other device: even a string) against the press sheet as it goes through a rotary press or flatbed press (usually a letterpress rather than an offset press, although scoring can be done on an offset press as well; it just will damage the offset blanket). The weight of the printing press cylinders forces the rule into the paper, creasing it, and allowing for a later, more even folding process.

The bump that the scoring rule creates should be inside the final fold rather than outside of it. This allows for more even folding and less stress on the paper fibers.

Why You Should Score Before Folding

When a commercial printing vendor scores a sheet prior to folding it, any heavy-coverage ink, or varnish, will be less likely to crack when the sheet is folded. This may be useful for you to consider if you’re producing a pocket folder with a flood coating of ink, or even a brochure with photos, screens, or solid colors that cross a fold.

A good rule of thumb is that you should score any commercial printing sheet heavier than 80# text if you’re folding against the paper grain, and you should score any cover stock thicker than 50# regardless of whether you’re folding with, or against, the grain.

Book Printing: Paper Substitution and Other Ways to Lower Costs

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

A book printing client of mine told me today that she wanted to go with “Printer A,” but unless the printer could lower its price by $2,000, she would have to award the book to “Printer B.” As a commercial printing broker, I had negotiated prices with both printers. Although I trusted both vendors, I knew Printer A would meet the delivery deadline, period. I knew my client’s schedule would be tight, and she and I both agreed that Printer A would therefore be the ideal choice. But what to do about the price?

My client asked whether Printer A would negotiate to win the job. Although many printers I work with will in fact negotiate pricing, this printer would not (which I can respect). I don’t consider such a request to be “cheating” in any way. After all, there are other variables beyond price, such as quality, customer service, materials, delivery, and schedule. Still, I had been very impressed with Printer A’s quality and turn-around in prior years, so I wanted them to get the work, and so did my client.

The Option I Suggested to My Client

I offered my client an option, and she came up with a second one of her own. My option was to ask the printer for a paper substitution.

The job in question is a 300-page, 6” x 9” trade book printed on Finch Fine text stock. My client likes the brightness, whiteness, smooth formation, and thickness (or caliper, or bulk) of Finch, as well as its opacity (light-stopping power), which keeps images on one side of the sheet from being visible through the other side of the sheet.

Finch is not the only paper with these qualities, though. In addition, all of these qualities are measurable on various scales and can be compared from sheet to sheet and brand to brand. For example, the brightness of Finch is 98 on a scale of 100. Lynx, another sheet produced by another paper mill (Domtar), has a brightness of 96. To the unaided eye, the two printing stocks may be sufficiently close, if the cost difference works. (Of course, my client would need to see printed and unprinted samples before making such a decision.)

Some book printers buy Finch Fine in bulk and use it as their house sheet, while others may choose an alternate sheet to keep on the pressroom floor. Given the discounts many printers can negotiate with paper mills for large paper purchases, choosing a particular text stock can add up to either a savings or a premium, depending on your book printer’s buying habits.

In fact, a few years ago I had solicited a bid for the same print book and had received pricing from a print supplier who made a paper substitution without telling me. It was only because I saw a different caliper for the paper than I had expected within the specifications of the estimate that I questioned the bid. The sales rep confessed: there had been a paper substitution. When I asked for Finch Fine stock instead, the book printer’s revised price went up several thousand dollars. For this particular printer, Finch Fine was definitely not the house sheet.

So we’ll see what kind of revised pricing comes back from Printer A for this year’s book. My only concern is that the press run may be too short to realize an adequate savings (i.e., press run multiplied by page count multiplied by the savings per hundred weight cost of the paper, if there is in fact a savings). But we’ll see. We only need to lower the price $2,000.00.

My Client’s Thoughts on Lowering Costs

I had mentioned that my client came up with a plan for an additional savings. Her fulfillment house had moved and now had a loading dock in their new location. What this means is that the delivery truck could back up and offload one or more skids rather than numerous separate cartons of print books. Clearly it’s much easier to move one heavy, wrapped skid of books with a lift than to move cartons one, or a few, at a time. Perhaps this would add to the savings my client would reap. Every dollar would help meet the budget.

Asking for the Book Printer’s Suggestions

When I asked the book printer if we would save money by changing the paper stock and perhaps delivering wrapped skids rather than cartons, I also asked him to make any other suggestions he could think of based on the specifications for the print book. (It always helps to approach the printer as a partner. After all, he may have ideas you haven’t considered yet.)

Why You Should Care

After receiving a number of bids on a print job, it’s common to have a preferred vendor. Usually it’s because you’ve had a number of years of positive experiences with that vendor. If their price is a little high, and they can’t lower it for any number of reasons, don’t take this as a show of bad faith. Just look for other options.

Specifying paper by its qualities rather than its brand can open up avenues for savings. Discussing options for delivery (or, as in this case, packaging) can open up other areas for savings.

This kind of negotiating says something a good printer will want to hear: that you appreciate the quality, service, and schedule he provides enough to want to find a way to work with him.

PS: The Final Answer

Today, as I was completing this article, I heard back from the printer. He could lower the overall price by the requested amount to meet my client’s budget. He had shopped around for paper deals, and he would buy the same Finch Fine paper stock in rolls rather than sheets. Cartoned paper costs more than rolls. The printer had recently installed “sheeting” equipment, so he could prepare the paper for the sheetfed press, taking it from the web roll and chopping into the required dimensions. What a wonderful answer. If you’re in the same spot, ask your printer if he can buy rolls and “sheet” the paper.


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