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Selecting Ideal Papers for Printing Projects

March 12, 2024

In the landscape of commercial printing, the selection of paper is a critical decision that influences the overall success and impact of printed materials. The choice of paper extends beyond mere aesthetics, encompassing factors such as texture, weight, and finish, all of which play pivotal roles in conveying the desired message and enhancing the visual appeal of the final product. The selection process involves a balance between cost-effectiveness, environmental considerations, and the specific requirements of the intended audience.

Papers for every purpose are available to commercial printers, and with a seemingly endless variety, it is important to know the key differences in types of paper. Understanding the diverse characteristics of available papers is essential for achieving optimal results. Performance characteristics of a particular paper could make it an ideal choice for one project and quite ill-suited for another.

Characteristics and Types of Printing Papers

Following is an overview of some key distinctions to aid in selecting the most appropriate paper for a given project based on desired aesthetics and functionality.


Brightness refers to a white paper's ability to reflect light. Higher brightness levels give greater contrast with black inks and a more vivid appearance of ink colors. Lower-brightness papers are traditionally used in book printing, installation guides, user manuals, etc. Brightness levels between 85-100 (brightest) are common.


Opacity is the extent to which paper allows light to pass through. Higher opacity prevents text and images from showing through the back of the paper, improving readability and the perception of the overall quality of a printed piece.


The “Basis Weight” method for expressing the weight of paper is used in the United States and Canada. Basis weight is defined as the weight in pounds of 500 sheets of paper in its basis size. Unfortunately, different categories of paper have different basis sizes and thus, different weights. This can be confusing because there seems to be a lack of consistency. Check with your printing sales rep when needing clarification.


Caliper is a term printers use which refers to the thickness of a sheet of paper. This is expressed as thousandths of an inch in the United States and Canada. In some cases, cover stocks may be expressed in points. Thicker paper tends to feel more substantial and can enhance the perceived value and quality of printed materials.


Finish refers to the characteristics of the surface of a paper meant to convey smoothness or texture. Examples include Smooth, Super Smooth, Vellum, Wove and Antique.


The texture of paper refers to the evenness of the surface of an uncoated sheet. It can influence the overall look and feel of printed materials. Options include smooth, linen, laid, and textured finishes.

Bond/Writing Paper

Bond paper is a relatively economical paper used primarily for letterheads, envelopes, and other stationery. Copy/Printer papers are typically bond paper. Writing papers are an enhanced grade of bond, being made with shorter fibers for a smoother and softer sheet. Writing papers are produced with a variety of finishes and some may contain cotton fiber.

Uncoated Offset Paper (Book and Cover Weights)

Uncoated offset has a smooth printing surface and some brands offer a super smooth finish. A few mills offer a rarely used vellum finish which is less smooth but still prints well. Brightness and opacity vary between brands. Available in white and a wide variety of pastel and rich colors.

Common uses include books, brochures, manuals, price lists, catalogs, corporate reports, newsletters, direct mail, inserts, and posters.

Coated Offset Papers (Book and Cover Weights)

Coated paper is a popular choice for branded marketing materials, booklets, books, brochures, catalogs, corporate reports, newsletters, direct mail, inserts, and posters, to name a few.

Coated papers have smooth surfaces and are available in gloss, matte, satin, etc. finishes. Coated papers are available in white only.

Coated offset papers allow for exceptional-quality printing. Coatings, which usually consist of clay added to the surface of paper, require less ink as there is little absorption into the paper. Less ink usage reduces dot gain in photos and tints, resulting in the sharpest images possible.

Gloss papers have a smooth, shiny finish and are considered the best choice for reproducing high-quality images. This stock should be avoided for projects designed to be written on after printing.

Matte, Satin, and Dull papers reduce glare and are often preferred for projects where maximum readability is essential.

Coated Cover Expressed in Points Rather Than Weight

This category of cover/board stocks is designated by their calipers and not their weights. In North America, the caliper of these stocks is displayed in points, a point being one-thousandth of an inch, or .001"). For example, a 10pt. Cover stock is 0.010" thick. Common uses include signage, POP displays direct mail, menus, greeting cards, postcards, booklet covers, and brochures.

Coated One Side Cover (C1S) has a gloss finish on the front side with the back side of the sheet being matte. This stock is available in various thicknesses from 8pt to 24pt.

Coated Two Sides Cover (C2S) has a smooth gloss finish on both sides of the sheet. This stock is available in various thicknesses from 10pt to 24pt.


Text Papers (Book and Cover Weights)

When you want your design to get a little help from the paper itself, you may want to consider text stock. Text papers are in a category all their own and are a classy upgrade from other papers. Choose from a wide variety of finishes, textures, book and cover weights, and a seemingly endless array of colors.

Index and Tag Papers

Index and Tag papers are heavy, sturdy card stocks. They are typically printed in one or two colors and are not considered a good choice for quality 4-color work. Common uses for both of these papers are folders, cards, tags, menus, etc.

Bristol Paper

Bristol paper is often bulky and ideal for meeting postal standards for 7-point reply card thickness.

Carbonless Paper

Carbonless paper is a set of two or more papers that are engineered to transfer images through applied pressure from the top sheet to one or more sheets below, without the use of a carbon sheet.

Synthetic Paper

Using synthetic paper can be advantageous for certain applications. It has many characteristics that are similar to pulp-based paper. Manufactured by using petroleum-based resin, synthetic paper is engineered to be durable like plastic while still retaining the feel and print characteristics of traditional paper. Having a film-like quality, synthetic paper is resistant to water, grease, and tear-resistant. While this is a more expensive substrate option, it is often a good choice for menus, field guides, door hangers, maps, etc.


Premier Print Group offers many Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certified papers that you may specify. FSC’s forest management certification confirms that forests are being managed appropriately to promote sustainability, preserve biological diversity, and benefit the lives of local workers. Be sure to advise your rep that you want your project printed on certified paper.

Your Premier account executive has a wealth of knowledge to help you in the paper selection process. Don’t hesitate to ask to see swatch books, especially where colored papers are concerned. Why not start a conversation today?