Different Types of Paper For Your Next Print Job


For graphic designers, creativity extends far beyond the initial design and the production of print ready artwork. Looking beyond colour and imagery, a talented graphic designer will also be considering the choice of paper for printing to match the visual look and feel of the project, as well as enhance the overall finished effect.

Selecting the right types of paper or card plays a vital role in influencing the impact of the design in its finished form, affecting the perceived quality, durability and performance.

The choice available from the paper industry and today’s sophisticated paper mills is almost bewildering. Papers differ in terms of manufacture, composition, design, thickness and weight. There are special options which can improve every aspect of the finished printed project.

From matte, gloss and silk-coated papers to watermarks, differing levels of brightness and whiteness and even carbon-balanced papers, there’s a plethora of options. Each offers its own advantages, disadvantages and opportunities.

Let’s take a look at a few of the options on offer.  

What is paperweight?

We’ll start with paper weight – this is a good point to begin, as one of the first things you should be considering is how the final printed piece is to be used.

If it’s designed for mailing, then the weight of the paper stock you choose is particularly important as it can impact the cost of mailing.

Paper weight is gauged on the thickness and quality of the stock itself. It’s expressed in GSM (grammes per square metre)

Different papers are specified for different projects. It’s important to understand how they react to different materials and finishes such as laminating and varnishing. It’s also worth noting that materials of 170gsm or heavier will require creasing as well as folding to ensure a quality finish with no cracking.

Match your choice to the importance of the project in hand – lighter weights for items such as stationery, medium weight cardstock paper for business cards – your choice of paper will affect how your customers view your products and your business.

What are paper whiteness and paper brightness?

Time to get a bit more technical. Paper whiteness and paper brightness are different. Paper whiteness is a question of RGB perception – it’s all about how much red, green and blue reflectance your eye sees when you’re looking at it. More reds mean you’ll see a warmer white, and more blues give the effect of a cool white.

The environment you’re viewing it in will affect your perception too. Whiteness is increased indoors and decreased outdoors.

Paper brightness, in contrast, is based on the paper’s ability to reflect light. More blue light reflectance means increased brightness.

Remember although we’ve spoken about whiteness and brightness paper isn’t just white it can be sourced in a whole variety of colours, whether pastel shades or deep colours like those offered from manufacturers like Papago.

Mark Bailey

Optical brightening agents (OBAs) are sometimes added to paper stock or paper coatings, resulting in an increased level of whiteness. They absorb UV energy and emit it again as visible light in the blue spectrum.

They do degrade over time in terms of effect, but they don’t biodegrade, which means they can pose an environmental hazard over time.

Features of different paper types

So what are the key advantages and disadvantages of different types of paper for printing and digital printing? Let’s look at a few more closely.

Matte and Gloss Coated Paper

Matte paper and gloss paper are typically treated with a porous coating which allows the ink to be absorbed effectively. They’re typically used for printed items such as catalogues and brochures, creating a quality finish.

Specifying a gloss coating means the printed image has an additional vibrancy. Gloss coated papers are typically quicker to dry so offer production advantages.

  • Matte-coated paper and gloss-coated paper don’t require a sealer coat and dry quickly
  • They can also be written on using a pen or pencil – this may be important depending on the purpose of your finished print piece
  • It’s an affordable process which doesn’t add significantly to the cost of the paper stock. Matt coatings are less reflective and more resistant to light
  • Glossy paper adds particular vibrancy to imagery, increasing the impact
  • On the reverse side, there’s no protective layer so your printed piece is more subject to damage over time
  • A gloss-coated paper can be reflective and create glare, making it more difficult to read in certain environments.

Silk Coated Paper

Silk-coated paper has a soft and luxurious, almost fabric feel, and is an ideal choice for premium printed projects. The effect is halfway between a matte and a gloss finish.

Typically available in natural hues or dyed in a full range of colours, the binding silk fibres are sometimes combined with other materials such as cotton to create a crisp, clean finish. This also helps the printed colours to retain their originality and vibrancy, enhancing the luxurious finish.

  • Silk-coated printing paper has a low surface sheen and can be printed on an LED UV press
  • However, ink can bleed through the paper in certain circumstances

Bond Paper

Bond paper was originally used for government documentation. Today, it’s commonly used as printer paper for office machines. This includes copier paper and desktop printers and inkjet paper, as well as stationery and business forms and laser printer paper. Most printer paper is bond.

Its key advantage is the price. It’s suitable for everyday use and capable of withstanding handling and folding.

Uncoated Paper

Uncoated papers are manufactured using calendaring (heavy rollers) to create a smooth finish. The lack of coating means no glare to the surface, plus adding absorbency capabilities taking up printing inks.

They’re commonly used in the production of envelopes and other mass-produced items such as flyers, newsletters and business form paper.

Some people consider uncoated printing paper to be a more responsible environmental choice, as they usually require less ink in the printing process. They also typically require longer drying times, which makes them less suitable for projects requiring a fast turnaround.

  • Uncoated paper is easy to write on using pens or pencils
  • Less glare means they can be better suited for documents with large amounts of text
  • They’re affordable and effective, and take embossing and foil stamping well

Carbon-balanced Paper

Paper is a great sustainable product, and Carbon Balanced Paper provides businesses with a way to reduce their carbon impact. In partnership with the World Land Trust (WLT), many companies are opting for carbon balanced paper for their printed communications, taking the use of recycled paper one step further.

“Launched in 2011, carbon balanced paper has been chosen by more than 3000 businesses, saving over 200,000 tonnes of CO2 and helping WLT to protect 19,000 acres of threatened habitats around the globe.”


Recycled paper

The true recycled form is 100% post-consumer recycled paper. This is made from paper collected from offices, households and other sources, which is no longer useful in its existing form. This paper scrap is then reprocessed into paper pulp and turned back into quality paper, ready for reuse.

  • Recycled material uses fewer resources such as water and power in production
  • Recycled materials reduce waste in landfill
  • Paper scrap can be recycled up to 4 to 5 times
  • It helps preserve forests by reducing demand for wood pulp and tree felling

Watermarked Paper

So what is a watermark? Thought to originate in Italy in the 13th century, a watermark is an image which is incorporated into the paper’s surface at the manufacturing stage.

Their main use is to provide authenticity for security documents (think title deeds and bank notes) but can be used for a variety of authentication and identification purposes, as well as business stationery and print documents.

There are different ways of creating watermarks, including an embossing technique and using metal dies on the dandy roll used in paper manufacture.

Final thoughts on paper types and finishes

We haven’t even touched on other paper types such as self-adhesive, kraft paper, parchment paper, waxed paper, carbonless NCR and acid-free paper, all required for specialist processes. There are a lot of things to consider when specifying the different types of paper for a particular print job.

It’s important to think about the cost of the material, the longevity of the chosen stock and the look and feel you can achieve to match the brand objectives.

If in doubt, talk to a professional printer – they’ll know even more about the advantages and disadvantages in terms of printed paper and the finished project.

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