The essentials of paper

When it comes down to paper, choosing the right fit for the project at hand can be a daunting task as there are endless possibilities of styles, grades, colors, textures, coated, uncoated, and many more.  The first question that pops into my head when I am in this situation is always the same series of questions, “What grade of paper do I need?”, “Who is the intended audience?”, “What is my cost of production?”, “How should I style it?”. All of these questions come down to the nature of the project itself and who it is intended for. For example, if I was going to be making thank-you cards for my family in masses with quick production then I would use a low grade paper and ink jet printing because it is fast and cheap however the quality is low. On the other hand however, if I was creating invitations for a formal wedding I would grab high graded papers, as well as something much sturdier such as card stock which is more expensive but is much higher in quality.

Some things to consider:

There are many different types of paper, and paper is made with various different ingredients such as: Pulp, Cotton, Postconsumer waste fiber, Broke (mill waste fiber), Calcium Carbonate, Dyes and Colorings, Optical Brighteners, Fillers, Sizing, and Coating.

Papers and Grades

Opaques and offset papers:

These are typically sold in large quantities, with price and availability being the most important factors to them. Opaque and offset papers are uncoated and have good internal bonding, high surface strength, as well as dimensional stability. These print good on web presses and are typically used in long runs

Coated Papers:

Coated papers are made similarly to offset paper with the difference being that coated papers have a coating added to their surface before calendaring. The function of the coating acts to minimize the dot gain from ink with greater ink hold out, to leave a crisper looking print. With coated papers there are also different finishes: Cast Coated, Gloss, Dull, Silk, or Matte. Lastly, coated papers are assigned numbers 1-5, with 1 being the highest quality.

Writing Papers (bond / corresponding):

Writing grade paper is what you would expect it to be, it is the paper that is well designed for letterhead, corporate identity programs, and office printers. These papers are also made to work just as well with pen or pencil, offset printing, engraving, and thermography. To be more simple this is standard printer paper as we all know it universally. These papers can also come with or without watermarks, and they may also contain a small amount of cotton fiber for a better feel and extra strength.

Text and Cover Papers:

Text and cover papers are also known as premium uncoated printing paper and are made available in a large spectrum of colors and finishes. The text papers are lighter and used for book pages, brochures, or booklets, while cover papers are heavier and used for covers, brochures, and business cards as they are much stronger. These papers are made with a smooth finish, natural finish, or textured finish.

Consider this when choosing a paper


A poorly formed sheet will exhibit more dot gain and a mottled appearance when printed.


A paper with a relatively high opacity of 96% will have less (or no) show-through from printing on the reverse side or the sheet below.


For pieces with a great deal of copy, a natural shade of white is preferable to minimize eyestrain.


Finish / Smoothness:

Finish or smoothness affects ink receptivity and ink holdout.



Side-to-Side Consistency:

Better papers have good side-to-side consistency and will print colors evenly on both the wire and felt sides.


The print quality of a paper will be determined by formation, smoothness, brightness, opacity and if applicable, surface coating.

Environmental Qualities:

For many customers, the use of recycled paper or paper manufactured with renewable energy is important.

Paper Permanence:

Acid-free papers are manufactured in an alkaline environment, which prevents the internal chemical deterioration of the paper over time.  The life span for alkaline paper measures in hundreds of years, compared to just decades for acid paper.

More characteristics of paper

There are still many things to consider when choosing a paper, In my experience I have realized that two other major factors when choosing paper can come down to the papers weight, and the paper size itself.

Terms to consider with paper weight:


Calipers indicate a papers thickness, they are measured in thousandths of an inch, and it can be expressed as .007 inches or 7 point.

M Weight:

The M Weight is the term for the weight of 1000 sheets of paper in a given size.

Basis Weight:

Every paper category has its own base weight, the way that the base weight is determined for each paper category is by the weight of 500 sheets in its basic size.


The metric system measures paper weight in grams per square meter (g/m2 or GSM).

Paper Sizes

U.S. Standard                                                         ISO and JIS A: Series (Europe / Asia)







889 x 1575

35 x 45


841 x 1189

33.1 x 46.8

584 x 889

23 x 35


594 x 841

23.4 x 33.1

432 x 559

17 x 22


420 x 594

16.5 x 23.4


279 x 432

11 x 17


297 x 420

11.7 x 16.5


8.5 x 14


216 x 279

8.5 x 11


210 x 297

8.3 x 11.7


7.25 x 10.5


140 x 216

5.5 x 8.5


148 x 210

5.8 x 8.3


108 x 140

4.25 x 5.5


105 x 148

4.1 x 5.8

89 x 108

3.5 x 4.25


74 x 105

2.9 x 4.1

As I have been researching and reading up more about paper there are so many factors to look into when it comes down to choosing the right paper for the job. From reading I have learned that not only does the paper grade, and sturdiness matter, but so do the sizes, the styles, coating or uncoated, printing technique, texture, and many other factors that I will discuss further on.

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