How to Get a Good Paper Grade

Getting a good paper grade isn’t like acing a test. Paper grades are classifications with very slight deviations from the old school classifications that correspond with how printers order paper. Learning about paper grades this way will make it easier for you to converse with your printer.

Bond and Writing
Bond/writing is very receptive to ink and pencil. For that reason, it is used for stationery and letterheads. Rag bond is made from cotton and is more durable. This makes it ideal for items that are going to be around a long time such as diplomas or folded and refolded and refolded, such as letters. Bond is often watermarked. Writing refers to the lightweight sheets of a suite of matching papers, including text and cover weight papers, and bond refers to the same type of paper but does not have any matching text or cover weights.

watermark

A watermark in a writing grade paper.

Text and Cover
This grade is for fine uncoated papers. Sometimes they have a matching writing grade. This grade is never coated and includes linens, felts, and all those lovely colored papers.

felt_paper_copy

Felt papers in a text and cover grade paper.

Coated
Coated papers are available in gloss, ultra gloss, dull, matte, etc. Coated papers offer high-resolution reproduction in offset printing. Although they are graded by their brightness, most coated papers exceed their grade range in brightness. This is so that a Number Two can have the brightness of a Number One. Normally another quality such as opacity or “snap” is sacrificed in order to get a number two price with a number one brightness.

The grades, in descending order of quality, are as follows: Premium, Number One, Number Two, Number Three, Number Four and Number Five. The grade directly relates to the cost, so a Premium sheet costs more than a Number One which costs more than a Number Two and so forth. Coated paper that is text weight used to be referred to as book; now it is called text.

Uncoated
This category encompasses text and cover weight papers, sometimes matching, that are not in the “fine papers” text and cover category. It includes offset, opaque, postcard or reply card, and newsprint categories.

Recent additions to this category are matching cover weights to the opaques. This category is the heart of everyday office papers.

Bristol, Tag, and Board
This category is a catchall for all the sturdy, but not necessarily pretty, papers.

Index is perfect for writing on with a pen and is often used for cards that need to be filled out because, in addition to being cover weight, it is also a very stiff paper. Library cards, for those who remember them, were probably made of index paper. It is generally available in smooth, vellum, and the standard “office colors.”

Bristol is a little softer than index or tag and folds better than both. It is available in cover weights in “office colors.”

Tag is strong and very receptive to ink. It is available in white and manila in various cover weights.

Board includes chipboard which is typically the bottom piece of paper on a scratch pad. It can be chip colored, (a grayish, brownish color that varies with each lot due to the characteristics of the recycled material that goes into it) on both sides or C1s and comes in a multitude of weights.

recycledpaper

Recycled textures and colors in text and cover grade papers.

Specialty
This category includes all the oddballs, such as translucent, metallic, and synthetic papers. Synthetic papers are like plastic, do not tear, and are very water resistant. Other specialty papers with surfaces that look like leather or feel like suede are also in this group. Although rarely used now, onionskin, a very thin and strong paper, is in this category. So is Bible paper, which is very thin, strong, and opaque.

swatch assort crop

Swatch books showing the incredible range of colors and textures available to graphic designers.

Carbonless
Carbonless paper used to have its own category but, with desktop printers and digital document delivery, the use of carbonless paper has dropped tremendously. Suffice it to say that carbonless comes in multiple “parts,” such as two-part, three-part, four-part, etc., and those parts can come in different colors in whatever order you want. The standard sequence for three part is white-canary-pink, for example, but if you wanted a form to be white-green-goldenrod, your printer can do that too.

Pressure Sensitive and Gummed
This group is enormous with more specialties than you can possibly imagine. Because of the nature of pressure sensitive paper, depending on what the end user is going to do with it, your printer has a zillion options from which to choose, such as printable liner, scoreless liner, diagonal liner, vertical liner, and horizontal liner. Then there’s permanent or removable adhesive. The “face” of the label can be coated, uncoated, writing, fabric, synthetic, you name it. In fact, any paper can be converted into a label. Labels have displaced most of the items that used to be marked with tags made with tag paper and gummed papers that needed to be wet to activate the gum. Old-fashioned postage stamps are an example of gummed paper.

Digital
This is a relatively new group of papers that are used in various digital devices. Digital printing methods vary widely, and each substrate (the base material onto which images will be printed) needs to be tested as to its receptivity to the ink/toner/wet toner, etc., and also to the wear and tear the paper can inflict on the digital printing device. Large-format machines require special papers. There are approved papers for each digital device. They are available coated or uncoated, roll, or sheet-fed, and as text or cover. They are all white except for “copy paper,” which comes in the “office colors.” These papers are certified to run on various presses. That does not mean you cannot specify a non-certified sheet, but you may be disappointed in either the reproduction quality or your printer saying “no” because of the wear and tear it causes to the digital press.

Envelopes
Although envelopes are not really a “grade,” I am including them here because they are made from specific papers. Every writing paper has a matching #10 envelope. That is part of what makes it a writing-grade paper. Basic commercial envelopes are 24# white wove. Wove paper is smooth. Larger envelopes are 28# because they need to be thicker to hold more weight. A 10 x 13 catalog envelope is an example. With the exception of the writing envelopes in the #10 size, nearly all envelopes are white or manila in regularly stocked sizes.

You have now been given a great responsibility, choosing the paper grade your project will be printed on. The quality of the paper does affect your printed outcome in function, feel and printed quality, so be sure to choose well, young grasshopper.

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