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A Simple Guide to Paper Choices for Newsletters, Brochures and Flyers

March 20th 2012

Has a printer ever stumped you with the question, “What paper do you want it on?”. You may have been given a pile of swatch books and samples, and descriptions from your printer as they try to help you make your selection.

Soon your head is swimming with technical jargon – text, wove, gsm, bond, laid, gloss – and you feel swamped by too many choices.

Clearly, picking the best paper helps you reach your audience effectively. And, because paper represents up to 40% of the typical cost for printing, choosing well also controls costs. Here’s a quick look at the papers suitable for short-run jobs like newsletters, brochures and flyers.

Two choices: coated and uncoated

Whether you’re using a commercial printing company or your local printer, both deal with two grades of paper suited to short-run publications: one is coated, and the other is uncoated. Other grades that printers use – such as bond, text and cover – are called specialty papers and are made for other kinds of printed products (i.e letterheads, business cards or menus).

Uncoated paper is the versatile stock used for most commercial jobs. If your newsletter comprises text and line art (i.e graphs, technical drawings or cartoons) and has no halftones (i.e photographs), uncoated will give fine results at minimal cost. Coated stock – often used for catalogues, magazines, and upscale brochures – creates a slicker and higher-end impression than uncoated. Because it is usually printed with colour images, it is available only in white. The coated stock you see most often is gloss paper. It generally comes with a rating number from A1 to A3, denoting its surface shine: quality (and price) go up as the rating number goes down. News magazines and consumer catalogues are often printed on gloss rated A3; trade magazines, annual reports, coffee table books, and lavish brochures are on an A1 stock. Most printers would typically use an A2 gloss, as it’s a good choice for publications with line art and/or halftones.

Coated papers also come with a nonglaze surface called dull or matte, which cost slightly more than gloss. Stock with this surface takes halftones well, and also works well for publications whose colours must appear elegant but understated. Nonglare coated paper is easier to write on than gloss paper, so using it is a good idea if your publication includes an order form or reader survey.

Paper colour

“Printing papers” come in hundreds of colours but, unlike inks, have no standard system for names or numbers. “Ivory” at one paper mill, is “cream” at another and “natural” at a third. One grey may seem warm and another cool. And colours go in and out of style – mills add and drop hues every couple of years, following trends in fashion and interior design. Primaries give way to pastels, which in turn give way to earth tones.

When choosing paper colour, put samples next to each other so you can view two or three at once, instead of relying on memory. The human memory for nuances of colour is poor, but the ability to distinguish between hues is excellent.

Even if all you want is white, you’ll find that whites vary considerably. Compare four or five different types of white paper side by side (e.g pages from a magazine or book, a letterhead, newsletter etc) and try to decide which is “whitest” or “truly white”.

If snappy photos are important to you, choose a very white sheet – highlights will be lighter, thus increasing detail and making dark inks seem darker. On the other hand if you’re printing reports or technical manuals that readers study for long periods at a time, consider paper that is slightly off-white, such as natural, cream or ivory. These shades reduce glare.

When colour isn’t a critical aspect of a printing job, consider using paper that your printer has an excess of in store, to save money.

Final word

Ask your printer to supply samples appropriate to the kinds of publications you produce.

Remember, no matter how much time and talent you put into your text and graphics, the paper you select is your final product. It’s what your readers will hold in their hands and what will carry your messages to them.