TKs Korner Masthead

April 2024

Picking Right Paper And Substrate For Your Printing Project: Digital, Sheetfed/Offset, Large Format etc

It can be very confusing to choose a paper with the introduction of foreign versus domestic sheets... Not to mention which substrates you should choose for various types of large format projects.

• Just what are you getting or giving up?

• What differences are there between them?

• How about between Coated/Uncoated, Gloss/Dull/Matte/Velvet/Silk, Premium?

• As well as #1/#2/#3?

• How do you choose the right paper for each different subject and/or print project?

• What effect will one paper have versus another for the library of materials that you are trying to create?

*NOTE: today's standards are not like they were in the past.

Meaning #1, #2, #3 and Premium are not really used any longer.

There are still brighter, whiter and smoother sheets out there, but not titled as noted above.

We should discuss your Brand standards, family member pieces etc to ensure utilizing the same so your pieces are consistent for those projects that it matters.

Large Format

Which substrate should I use for this type of project and its usage?

Does it come sheet size or on rolls?

What’s the maximum size it can be produced?

What types of inks can be used if I need to be concerned about outside vs inside conditions, UV rays / lights, life cycle needed etc?

All great questions! This issue will help you decide which paper to choose for your next project.

Remember, there are quite a few good tools available for your library that will help guide you through the hard decisions. Each paper house puts out their own helpful guides that explain their paper specifics, i.e., product name, grade, finish, shade, brightness, opacity, etc. (More about that later.)

As you read on, I will give you additional information that will answer many of your questions. Keep in mind that each project is different and may require a new twist to your final decision. And, of course, there are always two main ingredients in printing to understand - Paper AND Ink. Then, we will be able to make better informed decisions and obtain the desired results for our clients as well as our target audience. Please see the Ink Tour issue for more info.

FIRST, let’s address Foreign vs. Domestic sheets.

At home we have all kinds of stringent requirements and quality standards that our papers must meet. OSHA also plays a big role in what each mill must do in order to make paper.

The foreign mills don’t have all these same rulings, which makes them much cheaper in most cases. This has put enormous pressure on our domestic sheets to lower costs any way possible. This could be the reason for some of the quality differences you may be noticing, as well as some mills closing or eliminating certain lines.

Pros: Usually the brightness is very high, very smooth and the price can be up to 1/3 cheaper

Cons: What may be called a certain sheet (#2 for example) doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the same brightness/opacity of what we have deemed it to be. Content difference (50% less wood fiber-droops more), less opacity, folding concerns, fading color over time, heavy ink coverage may cause curling, consistency of availability.

Thought you’d like these 3 guides for your use:

Opacity Guide (24k .pdf) Weight of the stock and percentage of ink coverage can be very important.

Paper Equivalent Weight Guide (271k .pdf) Each stock can be different even if it is labeled the same weight.

Approximate Paper Calipers Guide (275k .pdf) Mailing requirements for postal savings makes this important

• Three tests for grain direction and when important, i.e., tear, fold, add water (how it dries or curls shows direction). Usually important for print runs and finishing mailing procedures.

A quick description of Brightness and Opacity:

Brightness is a paper’s ability to reflect light. Usually measured on a scale of 0-100. (See each paper’s guide for what you are choosing.)

Opacity is the paper’s ability to obstruct light. Usually referred to as “show through”, it is also measured on a scale of 0-100. The higher the number, the more opaque or less show through. (See your opacity guidelines for each paper.)

NOW, let’s move into How Paper is Made and each type’s specifics. All coated paper is made from wood fiber, yet all is not created equal. The precise blend of fibers from hardwoods and softwoods make the pulp for high quality coated papers.

High Opacity is essential to a fine, coated printing paper. This comes from the addition of special and expensive pigments (called opacifiers) to the pulp before it enters the paper machine. These fillers even out the areas of low opacity by filling in the voids between fibers in the base stock. This in turn increases the number of reflective surfaces that gives you a sheet with even brightness, uniform strength, high opacity and an astonishingly smooth surface. In addition, it is these areas of low opacity that undermine the readability and print contrast of the sheet.

Uncoated Base Stock has what is called an “open surface” whose porosity (a measurement that refers to the ease with which air passes through paper) is ready-made for soaking up liquids. The most noticeable negative is that colors wash out and details lose their sharpness. In general, uncoated paper is highly porous and is why it’s often used for “soft” reproductions, such as watercolors, illustrations and copy.

Coatings are precisely formulated mixtures of calcium carbonate and clay suspended in a binder. Its job is to create a smooth, uniform surface across the sheet so light will reflect evenly and ink films will be uniform. It must be tight enough to hold ink out on the surface and just porous enough to allow ink to bind tightly to the surface of the sheet.

Ink Hold Out is when the ink delivers the intense color, crisp detail, precise lines, and sharp halftone dots at full intensity while still able to set up on the surface of the paper.

Typically, Gloss Finishes have the highest retained ink gloss, followed respectively by velvet, silk and matte finishes. The process of calendaring is the sheet and coating being polished to the desired effect. It is much like when you apply shoe polish — if you were to touch or scuff it, a shiny area would appear. Once the whole shoe had been polished, you would end up with a high gloss. The amount of production steps that your project goes through, whether or not you apply a varnish/aqueous, etc., will dictate your finished piece.

Smoothness plays a key factor in print quality and light reflection. The smoother the sheet is, the better the reflection.

Reflection, or how light bounces off the surface back to your eye, is dependent on the type of surface you have. A coated/smooth paper reflects light evenly in the same direction and enhances crisp reproduction. Uncoated paper such as non-gloss, mattes, etc., diffuse the light by scattering the rays in different directions. Typically, gloss has the best reflection, brighter color and snap with clear detail, followed by velvet, silk and matte. etc., which diffuse the light by scattering the rays in different directions.

With all this being said, what does it mean for you?

NEXT, follow along for More Helpful Information...

Gloss is a shiny surface created by super calendaring coating pigments so they reflect light off the surface in the same direction. The result is high reflectance for subjects that require strong ink gloss retention, such as the gleam of paint on a car, the sparkle of glassware or the shine of chrome.

Technical: Incredibly precise halftone dot and small pigments aligned for uniform light reflectance and excellent clarity

Aesthetic: Shiny and polished, powerful, slick to the touch

Performance: Smooth, even reflectance, unsurpassed resilience and retained ink gloss, scuff resistant, (although higher potential for fingerprinting)

Suggested Uses: Hard, shiny surfaces, including glass, metal and plastics, highly detailed subjects

Velvet is a lightly calendared surface that offers low to moderate paper gloss. Coating pigments and binders are combined to create a surface that scatters light. The velvet surface is best for printing images that need high resolution without high gloss. Velvet also provides high readability, premium performance and a tactile feel. (Keep in mind that it may scratch and scuff if not coated.)

Technical: More precise halftone dot than matte, greater light and scatter control

Aesthetic: Low glare for excellent readability, adds depth and dimension, human feel

Performance: Smooth, even reflectance, unsurpassed resilience and retained ink gloss

Suggested Uses: Text, portraits, textiles such as felt, leather and embroidery

Silk is a soft-finished surface with moderate paper gloss. Coating pigments are oriented so that light scatter is controlled. Silk is best for printing subjects that have a tactile sense, such as fine fabrics, and require high resolution without high gloss, such as a gem set in gold. Silk also allows for smooth, flat, solid ink lay and excellent readability. (Silk, like Velvet may also scratch and scuff if not coated).

Technical: Precise halftone dot, controlled pigments like gloss but finished differently for softer resolution

Aesthetic: Excellent contrast for enhanced readability, smooth ink lay

Performance: Pliant and resilient, on press and off

Suggested Uses: Fine art, glassware, fabric, and skin tones, detail

Matte is a smooth, level surface that is not super calendared, so it scatters light and retains a soft and “toothy” touch. It offers a look and feel of uncoated with the print reproduction quality of a coated sheet. (Again, keep in mind that Matte also may scratch and scuff if not coated.) NOTE, I have found that running a matte/dull stock with a satin aqueous seals and protects the sheet, plus allows you to write on it. Ideal for direct mail with BRCs etc.

Technical: Less precise halftone dot, disoriented pigments scatter light for softer feel

Aesthetic: No glare for unsurpassed viewing and readability, texture enhances handmade nature of artwork, creates impression of substance

Performance: Good paper stiffness and run ability, scuffing may occur with softer surfaces

Suggested Uses: Black & white images, text, illustrations, images with texture

Large Format

Sheets and rolls depending on material type

Thinner materials such as paper, vinyl, fabric

Minimum of onion skin to 2” thick materials

Roll width up to 63”
Maximum flat sheet size of 60x120

Ink types
Rolfed machine = Latex Ink – 3-5 year
Flatbed = UV ink – Over 5 year

Types – and Common Usages

Adhesives: Vinyl, Glow in the dark vinyl, Window, Wall graphic, wall paper

Banner: retractable or hanging. Indoor or outdoor.

Backlit media: lightbox inserts, transit sign, menu boards

Fabric: short term, backlit light boxes.

Cling: Floor, mirror, window

Paper: Poster, signs, etc

Styrene: Somewhat flexible. Long term. Thinner gauges .015, .020, .030, .040 common thicknesses.

PVC: Rigid plastic. Long term. Thicknesses 1mm

Magnet stock: Auto signs, Metal applications up to 10ft. .020 or .030 thickness

Corrugated Plastic: Yard signs, Standee cutout, POP displays. Indoor or outdoor.

Corrugated Paper: Box or carton packaging.

Foam board: Standard, Ultra Board, Gator Board

Honeycomb board: Falcon Board

Aluminum Composite: Rigid Signage. Indoor or outdoor.

Yoga Matts



Wow, that is a lot to absorb (no pun intended). OK, you got me, I totally planned that.

I would be happy to sit down with you on your next project to see what type of stock would make the most sense, how it plays into your grouping of pieces, etc. Please let me know. I have an excellent collection of one-of-a-kind samples and projects showing the same art run differently: different types of coatings, different types of stocks, etc. You may want to review these to help give you some ideas for making your next project look unique. It really starts the creative process by actually seeing what you can do.

Before we go...

If you have a production issue not discussed above that you would like me to address, or a project that needs to be looked at, please give me a call or send me an email.

As always, I will do whatever it takes to ensure you receive the best value for every marketing dollar you invest.

Connect with me on LinkedIn

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Referrals are greatly appreciated. If you know someone I can help, or who might like to receive TK's Korner, please let me know.

Take care and have a great day!


Tom Kubinski

Printing Consultant Who Helps You Make Good Impressions
Direct: 612-278-1568
Cell: 612-760-3700


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Did you miss an issue of TK's Korner? Click below to view!


Branding - 22 Laws Of
Brand Warfare
Clear Dry Ink
Creative Coatings Techniques
Desktop Techniques
Digital Printing - Variable Data or Business Development
Direct Mail Raise Response, Lower Costs
FSC Certification
In House Mailing Capabilities
Ink Tour—Everything you wanted to know
Marketing More Effectively
Paper Mill Tour - Coated
Paper Mill Tour - Uncoated
Picking the Right Paper and Substrate
PDF Formats
PDF Info & Quark vs. InDesign
PODi - Digital Print Success Story
Postal Changes, Mailing Requirements & Rates
Press Check Tips
PURL - Avoid Dog House Campaign
QR Codes
Save Disk Space
Social Media -- The Basics
Social Media vs. Print
Top File Issues
UV Burn
Ways to Save Money
What Sets Shapco Apart?
Why Print in a Down Market?
Why Work With TK?



Tom Kubinski
Printing Consultant
Direct: 612-278-1568
Fax: 612-334-5879
Cell: 612-760-3700
1109 Zane Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN. 55422
Phone: 612-375-1150
Fax: 612-334-5879
Toll Free: 1-800-230-2828

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