Choosing the right paper for the print job

As the technical level of printers continues to grow, we are also facing more choice than ever over the type of paper we use. The number of different varieties can seem endless; all differing in brightness, weight, opacity and texture. Determining which combination of qualities you need can be a little daunting, but more often than not, the answer depends on its use.

Are you using the paper for formal certificates or letters, or to promote events on a poster or flier? Will you be developing a brochure, or compiling an invitation or ‘save the date’? The purpose of the print directly affects the choice of paper, and the choice of paper directly affects the quality of the result.

Thankfully, most printer manuals will recommend which paper best suits, and which ink or toner should be used, so make sure that you give that read. However, here are five simple points to keep in mind if the manual fails you:

Surface

Paper can come in a number of different surface types or textures. It can be coated for example, meaning that it is either matte or glossy. This is perfect for printing photographs, posters or brochures. An uncoated, or ‘offset paper’ is more common, and can have either a smooth or a rougher, grainier finish. The smooth and glossy coated paper is great for inkjet printers, as the ink will penetrate the paper better to give a photographic style print. Textured paper will run better though a laser printer due to its high-temperature fusing process. This paper type is classically used for fancy handwritten letters, such as wedding invitations.

Brightness

The brightness of a paper affects how contrasted the white and black will look against each other, or how vivid the colours will appear. The lower the brightness, the lower the contrast, and vice versa. Brightness is measured from 1-100, with the higher the number meaning the brighter the paper. The average piece of paper has a brightness of 92, while the higher quality, more expensive paper has a brightness level of around 96 or 97.

Weight

The thickness of the paper is measured in gsm, with the thicker paper usually indicating a higher quality finish. 80gsm is the average weight for paper, while 90-120gsm would be deemed stationary standard and more appropriate for those formal letters or certificates. 45-50gsm is the weight of paper typically used for newspapers.

Opacity

While most paper will only let a certain amount of light through, it is possible to control this factor. When shopping for paper, it is important to remember that the cheaper, low opacity paper will mean that the printer ink is more likely to bleed through, making it an unwise choice for double-sided printing.

The opacity of paper will connect to its weight, with the heavier the paper the less likely it is to be translucent.

Environment

Finally, just a reminder to consider the environment when choosing your paper. Thinner paper is generally eco-friendlier, and always try to print double sided if suitable (it is possible to have a paper that does both)! Recycled paper is also an option from most shops, and always try to collect wasted paper to be used as scraps.

In general, photocopy paper tends to fit most basic needs. It’s uncoated, meaning that it works well in most types of printers, it’s brightness level matches the average at 92, as does its weight at 80gsm. Conveniently, it also the cheapest paper on the market and great for everyday use. It’s only when you start to need something a little more formal that you should look for a brighter, weightier paper.