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Paper Types: What are the Differences and How Do I Choose?

October 8, 2013

Choosing Direct Marketing Paper Type

For the Love of Paper

I love paper! LOVE it! LOVE IT I SAY! The color, the brightness, the textures, the piles and piles of swatch books and samples that cover my desk, I love it all! I love my paper sales rep, my paper spec rep, my paper distributer, my printer, my envelope converter, the paper specialty store, my paper delivery guy, I love anyone who can share tiny morsels of paper knowledge that will help me be a better designer. Even with my unbridled infatuation with it, understanding the technical aspects of paper and deciding what paper to choose can be a bit daunting. Keep the daunting process of paper selection simple by asking yourself two questions: What type of printed piece am I producing and what is my budget?

What type of printed marketing piece are you producing? Are you printing direct mail postcards, business cards, flyers or brochures? Direct mail postcards and business cards are printed on heavier stock paper (known as cover weight) while brochures and flyers are typically printed on lighter stock paper (known as text weight).

What’s your budget? It always comes down to dollars. Determine what you are willing or able to spend per piece and buy the best paper that your budget will allow. Remember, the printed marketing you produce is the public face of your company. Each piece is a tangible representation of your business. The quality of the piece reflects on your business.

We humans experience, learn about and survive in our world through our senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. We are sensory beings by nature. With printed materials, there aren’t many options for engaging the senses of taste, hearing or smell (barring edible flavored paper, embedded microchip speakers and scratch & sniff stickers). You can, however, engage your audience with your awesome visuals and hold their attention longer with a printed piece that just feels great to the touch. Design a beautiful piece with a compelling message and powerful graphics. Once you’ve captured your audience’s attention, hold their attention a bit longer by printing your design on quality paper. Quality paper creates an “Oh! Ah!” factor when someone holds the printed piece in their hands.

A Crash Course in Understanding Basic Paper Features: Paper Weight & Paper Coating

What is paper weight? Paper weight, or basis weight, is the weight of one ream (500 sheets) when cut to the industry standard for that specific grade of paper. The basic sheet size for text weight paper is 25” X 38” and the basic sheet size for cover paper is 20” X 26”. So, 500 sheets of 80 lb text weight paper cut to 25” X 38” would weigh, well, 80 lbs! Do you REALLY need to know this? Not really. I’m kissing the edge of becoming overly technical with that explanation. But what you DO need to know is that cover weight paper is typically heavier and thicker than text weight paper.


What does paper coating do? Paper coating serves a few purposes. Coating improves paper’s surface texture, lightness, opacity and color absorbing ability. A coating can be applied to a sheet during the papermaking process or applied after a piece has been printed. Coatings like gloss and matte are applied during the papermaking process by using a mix of pigments, extenders, binders or various chemicals to give the paper the desired effect. A coating, such as UV coating, is added after the piece is printed. UV coating adds extra shine and durability to the final piece.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what there is to know about paper, but this will give you a foundational understanding so you can make an educated choice when deciding what paper to choose for your next direct marketing print job.

Posted in: Printing