How I Choose Paper for My Projects



graphic design

Did you know that paper is like a snowflake? No two sheets are exactly alike! I’ve been a designer for over 15 years and I’ve learned quite a bit about paper and that knowledge has helped me choose what paper to use for my projects.

Paper manufacturers offer free (in most cases) swatchbooks to help you make an informed decision. For that reason, I have a closet full of swatchbooks. 

Paper essentially falls into two categories—cover weight and text weight. Cover weight is used for, you guessed it, covers of brochures, annual reports and booklets. It’s also used for business cards and postcards because its thick weight makes it more sturdy. Text weight paper is used in the center of brochures and annual reports. It’s less thick and easier to fold. It’s also used it for letterhead, flysheets or inserts and envelopes. 

Over the years, I’ve developed a set of go-to favorites but the type of paper I use depends on a few factors that I’ve outlined below.

Invitation: Foil stamping on Mohawk Deep Blue 100# Cover

Envelope: One-color gold Pantone Metallic on Curious Ice Gold

The type of printed piece:
Whether the project is a brochure, invitation or business stationery determines the type of paper I consider.

For a brochure, I typically use a coated paper. Coatings keep the ink from absorbing into the paper which reduces dot gain. The result is cleaner crisper printing, especially for photos and fine details. There are essentially 4 types of coated paper—gloss, satin or silk, dull and matte. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of gloss coated paper unless the brochure is really image heavy. I think ultra glossy paper makes text hard to read because the light reflects off the paper’s sheen. So if you have a text-heavy brochure or report, you’ll want to forgo glossy.

A go-to favorite for brochures is a satin coated 100# text. It has a slight sheen that helps the photos pop with a nice soft texture but it isn’t super shiny. However, if you have a postcard for a gallery or are creating collateral for a photographer, for example, and highlighting the imagery is your goal, definitely go with a gloss! If you’re up for it, you can find paper that has gloss on one side and satin or dull on the backside, so that you can have a glossy image on the front and more legible text on the other.

With budgetary restrictions in mind, I usually will design brochures to be self-cover, meaning that the cover paper is the same weight and type as the text pages. That way a printer doesn’t have two set-ups to deal with, cover and inside text. The more set-ups a printer has to do, the more expensive it will be to print. Just something to think about.

“I’m not a huge fan of super glossy paper unless the brochure is really image heavy. I think ultra glossy paper makes text hard to read.”

The type of printing:
For a brochure, you’ll most likely be printing 4-color process. But for something like an invitation, you may be letterpress printing or foil stamping. For that type of printing, I use a soft cotton paper that will take a deep impression and let the print process really shine. Some of my favorites are Reich Savoy and Crane’s Lettra with weights that range from 80# text to 236# cover. Cotton papers don’t have the coating that gloss paper does, so the ink gets absorbed and tends dull down. So you want to choose rich colors when printing on cotton paper.

The brightness of a sheet of paper can go from super bright white to ivory, and its brightness affects readability. The more contrast between the white and the ink, the harder it is on your eyes. For letterhead and business stationery, I’ll go with an uncoated text weight paper but choose the brightness depending on the look and feel of a company’s branding. If the company is more corporate and slick, I’ll choose a text weight paper with a bright white color to it–one that will show a strong contrast between the ink and the paper. If the company is more earthy or bohemian, I’ll choose an cream or subtle  paper which will give it a more natural, down-to-earth quality. Finch Fine is one of my favorites because I love the smoothness, brightness options and reasonable price.

graphic design annapolis washington, dc
graphic design annapolis washington, dc
graphic design annapolis washington, dc
graphic design annapolis washington, dc
graphic design annapolis washington, dc

Reich Savoy 184# Soft White Cover

When a printed piece calls for something a little more fun, unusual or striking, I’ll choose a colored paper. You can find paper in almost any color–from black and deep brown (Colorplan) to metallic and opal (Stardream and Curious) to day glo and neon (French) with everything in between. They also come in a variety of weights. You have to be careful with ink color on colored paper–you want to make sure there’s enough contrast for legibility. Whenever I can though, I’ll try to find a way to use colored paper to add some pizazz. Most often I’ll use a colored envelope when something is being mailed so that it really pops in the mailbox. Who doesn’t love getting colorful mail?

Sometimes I have to move fast. If a client needs a quick turnaround, I’ll reach out to my favorite print reps and see what they recommend. Printers stock paper for all types of collateral so they’ll be able to steer you in the right direction.

Digital printing can be done relatively quickly. Offset printing using four color process or spot colors takes a bit longer and the turnaround time can often depend on the printer’s workload. Letterpress takes about 5–10 business days because a polymer plate needs to be made and it’s a labor intensive, hand-done process. Foil stamping and embossing takes even longer because a metal plate is created to heat and press the foil into the paper.

I hope this information is useful to you. If you have any paper questions, feel free to reach out. I’d love to help!

business branding • pomp creative • graphic design studio • washington, dc • annapolis, maryland