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OBH | Paper stocks

We get just a little excited about paper…

We print on it, die cut it, fold it, score it, glue it, sew it and our designers dream about it. But paper is paper right?

Well, it’s not really. All kinds of materials have been used to write on since the dawn of time – rock, wood, cave walls, buildings, papyrus, parchment to name a few but it was the Chinese that invented paper around 1 00BC from finely chopped mulberry bark, hemp rags and water, mashing it flat then pressing out the water and drying flat. Some would say just as important as the invention of the Gutenberg press and essential to its success.

Paper remains the most versatile conduit for communication. Not only does the font on the page communicate a message, the paper itself tells a story. The tactile nature provides multi-sensory experiences.

For example, the shade of colour alone can affect the readability of a book, with off-white paper often chosen over bright white for novels. Textured papers with a pattern that can be felt, providing something not only beautiful to view but also to touch and feel and are often used for certificates, wedding invitations, official documents and bookmarks.

Let’s look at the differences between paper stocks, explore when they are typically used and some information to consider when printing.

So what are the different types of papers?

Paper is normally categorised in two ways – coated or uncoated.

When paper is first made it is rough, with tiny crevices. Coated paper has been coated with a surface sealant, usually clay, which smooths out the surface and reduces the way ink absorbs into the paper, described in the industry as dot gain. On coated stocks the dots remain tight providing very sharp, clear images, especially for photos, and extremely vibrant colours. This is often the choice of paper for books with photos, such as coffee table books, school yearbooks, catalogues, brochures, magazines and posters.

Coated paper comes in three styles.
Gloss has a high sheen, with a reflective nature
Satin has a less shiny coated finish
Matte is a non-glossy, flat looking paper with very little sheen. There is often less show through, or opacity and it feels thicker or bulkier than gloss paper.

When printing on satin or matte paper on an offset press, a clear varnish seal is highly recommended, as these two paper types can set-off onto another sheet, leaving a scuff mark.

Uncoated paper has not been coated with a surface sealant which means the ink absorbs into the paper. When printing, the press operator sets the press to print the dots further apart to allow them to bleed into each other.

Like baking a pavlova, it’s important to give them enough room to expand. Uncoated paper flattens colours and images, and is perfect for books where the images are intended to look soft and natural or give a contemporary or environmental feel. It’s also commonly used for stationery such as letterhead, note pads, forms and documents which need to be written on with pen or overprinted.


When printing a book cover, greeting card or postcard, board weight papers are used, and there are a variety to choose from.

Book covers or greeting cards are often printed on a single sided board with a grammage of anywhere between around 250–350gsm. This is where the outside is coated with a gloss or satin finish, and the inside is uncoated, which is especially important for greeting cards or post cards which need to be written on as the ink from pens often smudges on a coated paper surface.

In some instances a double sided board (coated both sides) is used for book covers, as they tend to curl less in humid climates.


There are a raft of speciality stocks, such as linens (where the paper has a pattern), coloured, translucent (which is not dissimilar to baking paper and provides a creative touch as a first page of a book or documents), pearlescent boards (which have a shimmer or sparkle to them) and many more.

Specialty stocks are generally used for high end documents, books and invitations. The nature of the stock means that they are often more expensive than a standard paper or board.

Environmental Paper

There are several environmental certifications for paper and printers, such as FSC. FSC is an international information trail about the path taken for products from certified forests to print. FSC is an assurance that your printing has been printed on paper originating from well-managed, responsible and sustainable forests.

Recycled paper comes in coated and uncoated formats, and is generally more expensive than non-recycled papers due to the additional manufacturing processes and demand.

Paper may be on the decline, but it will survive not only on the supermarket shelf or beside the lavatory, but in the office too. Old technologies have a habit of enduring. We still use pencils and candles and the world still produces more bicycles than cars.

Greg Hassold // General Manager – Sales & Marketing

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