Paper 101 - What You Need to Know About Paper When Buying Print

When you're planning the details of your next printed piece, paper selection is one of the first (and most important!) concerns. With so many options available, choosing the right paper requires considering specific characteristics.

Read on to learn about the things you might want to think about when you're ready to print. If you start feeling a little overwhelmed, don't worry -- our representatives are expert in this kind of thing!


Paper Grades/Types

The grade (or type) of paper describes it in terms of the intended use. The four most common types of paper are:

  • Bond

    Designed to be easily written on and cleanly erased. This paper is commonly used to print stationary and letterhead. "Bond" paper gets its name from being originally manufactured for documents like government bonds.

  • Book/Offset

    This is the most commonly used paper grade in printing. It offers both good strength and high brightness. This paper may be coated or uncoated by the paper mill, allowing for a matte, satin, or gloss finish before ink is applied.

  • Text

    This paper is available in a variety of colors and textures. Text weight is a good fit for projects like flyers, manuals, and digital copies.

  • Cover

    Designed with greater bulk and stiffness, while retaining flexibility. Common applications of cover stock are business cards, postcards, and (as the name implies) book covers.


Basis Weight

This refers to the weight (typically expressed in pounds) of 500 sheets of paper ( =1 ream) in the trade size.

Grade/Type Trade Size Common Weights
Bond 17" x 22" 20 - 24#
Book/Offset 25" x 38" 50 - 100#
Text 25" x 38" 60 - 80#
Cover 20" x 26" 60 - 100#

Physical Properties

Brightness refers to the amount of light that is reflected from the surface of the paper. The more light that is reflected makes for more vivid printed images. There are different scales to measure the brightness, but it is commonly accepted that the brighter the paper the better the print quality.

Caliper is a measure of sheet thickness, usually expressed in 1/1000" (mils). Note that book weight paper is usually expressed in pages per inch (PPI).

Grain refers to the orientation of the fibers in a sheet. The grain direction is an important factor when considering folded pieces and tear resistance. Paper folds better when parallel to the grain unless it is scored first.

Opacity is the amount of light that is able to pass through the sheet. Opacity ranges from 0% (totally transparent) to 100% (no light visible on the reverse). This is an important factor when printing piece that is backed up (printed on both sides).

Finish is the coating that is applied at the paper mill before printing. The finishes available are gloss, satin, matte, or no finish.

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