J.P. Gasway

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Paper Knowledge

To define paper as one type or in a single category is a tough task. There are many types of paper and mills are continually working to upgrade them. Hopefully the below information is able to provide you with a bit of "knowledge" into the world we call the Paper Industry...

There is a vast amount of components that go into paper and the production of them; from the time they are produced at the mill to the point of becoming a final production piece. Let’s start from the beginning…

Grain Direction

When cutting paper, it is crucial to determine if the paper will be folded or not for the finished piece. Reasoning for this is that paper has a "Grain Direction". Paper comes in two different grain directions:

Grain Short

Grain Long

Most often, the grain direction is represented in the last dimension of the product description. An example of this would be an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper has a "Long Grain" of 11 inches. Another example for a "Long Grain" would be 23" x 35" piece of paper. The grain would be running along the 35” giving it a “Long Grain” of 35 inches. 

On the other side of that, you have “Short Grain”. A short grain product, using the same sheet sizes would give you a grain direction running along the 8.5” side, often represented as 11” x 8.5” (notice the direction of the grain is the last length listed in the description). For the larger size sheet, following the same guidelines you would have a grain direction running along the 23” side, represented as 35” x 23”.

Bringing us back to the original statement of determining if the finished piece will be a folded piece, it is recommended that when folding a piece you always fold with the direction of the grain. This will yield a much cleaner fold and reduce or remove the chance of the paper “cracking” when folded. To add to this, when folding a piece of paper you will want to use a thin metal ruler, manual paper scorer or a “bone” folder or an equivalent device to “score” the paper before folding.

To confirm the grain direction, another method is to fold the piece of paper both ways so you have creases running both directions. One crease should be smoother than the other. The smoother crease should be the grain direction of the paper.

Size of Paper

Paper comes in various sizes. Most common is what is called a standard “Cut Size” sheet. Cut Size sheets are the papers most often run though copiers, inkjet and laser printers. Most common size would be 8.5” x 11”. Other common sizes are 8.5” x 14”, 11” x 17”. More recent additions to these common sizes would be the addition of the digital sizes, 12” x 18” or 13” x 19”. Generally, these sheets are converted from rolls of paper and packaged at the paper mill.

Also, there are some larger sheets of paper often referred to as “Parent Size” sheets. These are cut down from rolls as well at the paper mill. Most popular sizes of Parent Size sheets would be and are 23” x 35”, 25” x 38” and 26” x 40”. There are many benefits to why parent sheets are used for print jobs. On larger print jobs, a parent sheet is much more efficient. You can print multiple pages on a single parent sheet using larger printing presses.

Another tidbit, when printing on a sheet using ink that extends to one side or all edges of the sheet you need to have approximately ¼” to ½” excess paper on all edges of the sheet. We refer to this as a “Bleed”. The sheets are then trimmed down and the excess stock cut off. This is done to ensure that the ink goes all the way to the edges of the paper or final print piece.

For example, if you have a larger press you can print four 8.5” x 11” sheets on a parent size sheet of 17” x 22”. If a bleed is needed, then a 17.5” x 22.5” sheet would be used giving you a ¼” edge to cut down or “trim” for the bleed.

Parent sized sheets are also useful for making tabbed dividers, tickets, folders, door hangers, book covers, and can be modified to just about any size required for the project at hand.

Printing on Paper

Paper has a wide variety of finishes, colors, sizes and weights. The uses are more demanding and create a need for a greater selection. On top of that, you have newer printing technologies and digital equipment that are pushing new standards, requiring manufacturers to produce compatible products that provide optimum quality.

On the other side of that, not all paper and their “printing counterparts” are equal. Inkjet printers and copiers are limited for printing on paper in some areas. Most often, anything with a rough finish or “bumpy” texture will not produce a high quality finished piece using a copier or inkjet printer. There also are known issues with jamming when you get into your heavier weight papers. 

Printing presses generally have the most ability for printing as they have controls allowing them to accept various thicknesses, giving them a wider range of paper to print on. If planning on printing in house or on your own, make sure the equipment you are using will print the paper you choose and provide the quality you are looking for.

One of the main things to consider when determining a printing method is the size of the job. Are you printing 50 sheets or 50,000 sheets? This will help you determine which method you should use (keep in mind the printability of the stock you choose as well). If possible, always try to test the stock you choose before printing the full job.

Below are some of the printing methods along with some advantages and disadvantages:

Printing Presses – They have a vast range of printing capabilities, handling a wide variety of paper thicknesses and finishes. Smaller runs of personalized printing may not be as effective and will yield a higher cost. Printing presses are more efficient on longer runs.

Digital Copiers (Color or Black & White) – There are many papers out there specifically designed to produce very good results with full color printing and can run a fairly wide range of paper thicknesses. Quality of color can vary from unit to unit. Also, they need a relatively smooth paper finish. Coated papers should be laser guaranteed due to heat and copy quality.

Inkjet Printers – They are able to handle a variety of weights and paper finishes. Coated and translucent paper would require special coatings on the surface for optimum results. Overall speed of the job will be slow on larger jobs. Inkjet printers will produce beautiful full color work.

Lastly, when running a project that requires matching envelopes, be sure to verify the availability of the envelope type, size and minimum quantity needing to be ordered. The last thing you want happening is running a full job only to realize you have to go a different route with the envelopes.

Paper Weights

The easiest way to understand paper weights is by use of the “sub” or “basis” weight along with the “M” weight (MWT). The MWT is the total weight of 1,000 sheets of that specific paper. An example would be standard copy paper; it is normally 8-1/2” x 11” 20 lb 10MWT.  This would have a 1,000 sheet weight of 10 lbs. Knowing M weights can be very helpful when comparing different grades of paper. The paper with the greater MWT is heavier overall and most likely thicker.

One of the more confusing aspects of paper weights is called the Basis, Substance or the pound specification. When dealing with paper, these terms mean basically the same thing. Manufacturers name weights differently sometimes. You have most likely heard the term “20 lb copy paper”. The 20lb copy paper is the most common used paper for copiers, fax machines and where printing is able to use the most economical sheet with minimal quality requirements. To add to this, it is low in cost and performs well when printing one sided only. Many labels will read “20#/50#”. The manufacturers label it this way because a 20 lb paper is equivalent in weight to a 50 lb paper. The weight specified is based on the parent size sheet they were converted from.

The most common comparable text weights are:

20 lb = 50 lb

24 lb = 60 lb

28 lb = 70 lb

32 lb = 80 lb

Another reason to utilize the MWT is because often times paper basis weights are the same. An 80 lb text sheet is much lighter and thinner than an 80 lb Cover sheet. By comparing the two MWTs and also by feeling the paper you will notice a substantial difference.

Paper Finishes

As you know, paper comes in a wide variety of finishes. Laid, linen, felt and pearlized finishes are just a few of them among many more. When choosing a certain finish you will also be determining how your piece will be printed as some printing equipment is unable to print well on textured paper surfaces. Within various types of paper finishes, there is also a surface coated finish. Generally, this will come in the option of coated one side or two sided and is provided in a Gloss, Matte or Dull appearance. This finish is

Also, it is important to note that some papers, especially when you get away from your lighter colors, are made in a cover weight only and envelopes may be unavailable to match the sheet of paper. This is very important to keep in mind when trying to produce a matching project.

Some manufacturers offer the same color selection across several grades and this is useful for printing projects where a different finish or different part of the project is needed in the same color.

Some of the available finishes are:

Felt Finish – Has a bumpy finish which is most popular in text and cover weights

Linen Finish – Paper that has been embossed to resemble a linen cloth appearance

Parchment Finish – Resembles handmade parchment paper. Very popular for wedding announcements or for old world looking documents

Translucent – This is a see through sheet that is great for overlays. This can be used for wedding or other announcements and should have a special coating for inkjet printing

Surface Coated - This will come in the option of coated one side or two sided. You have options of a Gloss, Matte or Dull coating. This finish is used for magazines or advertising to yield a very sleek appearance

Paper Selection

When selecting a specific paper, you will want to make sure it meets all the criteria for the customer's satisfaction, will successfully run through your printing device and possibly mailing requirements. There are many reasons why certain papers have different characteristics. Here are just a few reasons why:

Postage Rates - Lighter weight papers are needed so the postage can be kept at a minimum. Also, weight and size can play a factor on items such as return postcards and RSVP’s. We recommend to contact the local postal service for specifications before running a large print job

Printing One Side – A paper with a lighter weight can be used to lower costs when only printing on one side

Watermarks – In many papers, you may have noticed a watermark is visible when held up to the light. The watermark can be a manufacturer’s logo and/or the grade of the paper. This will portray a classier sheet.

Coated Papers – Normally these come in a gloss, dull or a matte finish. Magazine publishers and promotional literature are some of the primary uses

Acid Free – This is a very popular piece when you need an archival sheet that will last without deteriorating. Acid free paper is required for museums and is popular in the scrap booking today

While this is just an introductory into the world of paper, we hope that it has provided insight and knowledge. The possibilities of paper are endless. As always, if ever a question regarding a specific style of paper give us a call and we will gladly assist in any questions you might have!!