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If you’ve ever tried to order printed marketing materials, you’ve been barraged by questions about stock, weight, coating, and more. Continue reading to learn all you need to choose the right paper for your print job.

Does paper still matter?

Before diving into the nitty gritty, it’s important for us to address the big question: Does paper still matter?

We believe it does and recent studies agree. According to research out of Temple University, physical advertising elicits a greater emotional response, creates a stronger subconscious desire for the product or service, and associates a higher value with the product or service than digital advertising.

According to Canadian neuromarketing firm TrueImpact, paper marketing requires 21% less cognitive effort to process. This makes paper both easier to understand and more memorable. According to the report, “When asked to cite the brand (company name) of an advertisement they had just seen, recall was 70% higher among participants who were exposed to a direct mail piece (75%) than a digital ad (44%).”

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Playing cards on are usually printed on 310 gsm paper.

Paper weight

The sturdiness of paper can be measured by weight, by thickness, or by density. The same stock could be named by pound, point, or gsm. In all cases, however, a higher number means thicker, heavier paper. Use the chart below to compare.

By pounds (lb or #)

As you roam the aisles of Staples or OfficeMax, you may wonder why certain reams are labeled 20 lb or 28 lb when they clearly don’t weigh that much. The reason is that the weight is taken from the uncut sheets. If 500 sheets of uncut paper weighs 20 pounds, it’s called 20 lb stock. Different types of paper have different standard uncut sizes, so a pound of one is not the same as a pound of the other.

By point (pt.)

Point refers to the thickness of the sheet in thousandths of an inch. A sheet of 10 pt. card stock is 0.010 inches thick. A 14 pt. business card is 0.014 inches thick.

By density (gsm)

Grams per square meter (gsm) is the universal metric measurement for paper density. This number can be converted to pounds or points.

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Typical notebook paper is 20 lb bond.

Paper types

There are also different types of paper, each developed for a different purpose. Make sure you include the type of stock and not just the weight when you’re talking to a printer.

Bond paper

Bond paper or writing paper typically comes in 20 lb, 24 lb, and 28 lb weights. Chances are you have bond paper in your copier at work and printer at home.

Text paper

Text paper is thicker than bond. It typically comes in 70 lb, 80 lb, and 100 lb weights. It’s called text because it’s frequently used for pages in books, but it can also be called offset, ledger, or even book paper. Text paper is easily rolled and works well for printing flyers and handouts.

Cover stock

Cover stock is heavy, rigid, and not easily folded. Typical weights include 80 lb, 100 lb, 120 lb. Sometimes called card stock, this paper is often used for greeting cards, programs, and invitations. Keep in mind, 100 lb cover is about twice as thick as 100 lb text.

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Magazine pages are printed on 60 lb text with a gloss coating.

Paper coatings

In addition to type and weight, paper varies by coating. Coated stock has a sealant applied to the surface that affects the shine and feel. Think of the difference in shine between a glossy photo and the dull page of a notebook.

Advantages and disadvantages

Coated paper absorbs less moisture than uncoated. Since the ink is less likely to spread beyond the printed dot, images are clearer and more defined. Coating makes paper more opaque so the image on one side is less likely to show through to the other, even on a thin sheet. On the down side, coating makes paper harder to write on, especially with pencil. Plus, desktop printers don’t print well on coated paper. And no one likes a smeary print job.

Here are some common coatings from most to least shine:

Gloss – super shiny
Satin
Silk
Matte
Dull – no visible shine

Uncoated paper

Uncoated paper has no surface sealant so ink absorbs more fully into the paper. This can dull colors and blur images. Uncoated paper is rougher to the touch and has no shine, which can make it look more natural. More colors and textures are available in uncoated stock than coated. Some typical textures include wove or smooth, laid (a ribbon-like texture), and linen.

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Most greeting cards are printed on 120 lb cover with matte coating.

Paper brightness

The brightness of paper measures the percentage of a certain wavelength of blue light the paper reflects. It’s scored from 1 to 100, with 100 being the brightest. Due to the contrast with ink, brighter paper is more readable and ink colors appear more accurate, vibrant, and pure. Thus, brighter paper is better for colorful designs.

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The pages of a novel are printed on 55 lb uncoated text.

Which paper do I need?

When choosing the right paper for your project, think about how the printed piece needs to function before thinking about how it will look. Each type of print collateral has a different purpose and may need a different stock. Any legitimate printer should let you see and touch their paper options, and online printers will usually send you a sample pack. In the meantime, here are some guiding questions to consider when choosing paper:

Does the piece need some rigidity?
Will the piece be folded?
Do you need to be able to write on the page?
Will the piece be mailed?

Paper weight conversion chart

It can be difficult to decode the pounds, points, and gsm values. Use this helpful chart to compare paper weights and types.

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