Jul 092011

Go to the grocery store and at the check out line the question is “paper or plastic?” There are some quick print and “big box” printers that have pretty much the same limited choices. Text or cover? Gloss or matte?

There are countless choices in paper. Weights from a very light weight 16 pound text to a very heavy 110 pound cover are all available for our digital printer. And finishes vary from uncoated to dull coated to high gloss, and cover weights coated on one side or both sides are also available. The possible permutations seem truly overwhelming. Which should you use? There’s no one right answer; the choice depends on many factors. We like to ask about how and where you are going to use our product before you make that choice. Some people think we’re a bit nosy. And maybe we are, but in a good way.

All paper is roughly divided into text and cover. Text weights refer to the kind of paper that would make up the inside pages of a paperback book. Cover weights are what the cover of that paperback book might be made of. Within these categories, paper can be uncoated, dull coated  (also called semi-gloss) and gloss coated (also called “calendered”).

As we like to say here at Digital Imaging, it’s a matter of personal preference. Photos tend to set up and look snappier on a gloss paper, but if you’re planning on looking at the piece in what we call “high key” or bright overhead lighting, you may want to consider a semi-gloss to cut down on glare. Will you need to have someone write on the finished piece (perhaps a form to fill out)? Then gloss is a poor choice. Is the piece going in an envelope? Select a text weight. Is it a stand-alone piece? Perhaps a cover weight is a better choice. Bleed through is always a factor. Selecting a heavy enough stock to prevent the image on one side of the paper from being visible from the back of the sheet depends on the content being printed. Toner-based digital printing also tends to impart a gloss to the printed material. In some cases, if you use a semi-gloss stock, the printing looks as if it were varnished. This may be a good thing or not, depending on what you had in mind. We have a certain amount of control over this gloss. The newer equipment (like our DocuColor) has good control over this gloss effect.

Cost is always a factor. In general, the heavier the weight the more expensive a paper is. Gloss papers tend to cost more than uncoated paper. Semi-gloss (or dull coat) is often more expensive than either uncoated or gloss. Premium papers cost more in all weights. These are the fancy sheets that contain fibers, unique surfaces, or specific colors.

Post-processing also is a factor. Gloss papers tend to “crack” more along a fold than semi-gloss or uncoated stocks. Lightweight papers don’t hold up well to perfing. Some sheets are only available long grain; a score and fold across the grain is more difficult to control than a fold along the grain.

It’s confusing but we’re usually amenable to printing a proof on two or even three different stocks to help you decide. The comforting thing about digital printing is that the difference in price for a short run between or most expensive and least expensive stock is minimal.

Not all stocks can run successfully in digital presses. Some heavily-textured or “laid” papers do not reproduce large solids well. The toner needs a relatively smooth surface to adhere to uniformly. If the surface is uneven, a motley appearance may result. A lot of label stocks have difficulty, especially if they are formulated for ink jet printing.

As technology continues to evolve, we are able to offer an ever-growing inventory of papers. Some of the more interesting recent additions are: Window Decals, Magnetic Sheets, Pre-cut door hangers, CD tray cards and inserts, weatherproof plastic, non-tear sheets, metallic finishes, parchments and non-copyable security papers. Also available are carbonless forms in two or three part configurations, clear acetate (for overhead projections), tab dividers and pocket folders.

The world of digital printing offers the same quality, selection, and versatility of offset without the requisite numbers to make it cost effective. Making digital printing work for you requires some planning ahead and perhaps a few design compromises, but in today’s competitive marketplace the added value of quick turnaround in small quantities makes it a valuable tool for every graphic designer.

Next: Variable data: the “big gun” of digital printing


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