What if the paper is too thick to print?

I’m not just talking through my hat, thickness of paper makes a difference. I’ve been presented with a couple of print jobs recently that specified paper thicker than the average press is equipped to handle. It seems that heavier weights are more popular than ever. I once had a customer who referred to it as “plop value.” He described plop value as the sound a substantial marketing piece makes when dropped on the desk.  The heavier the paper the greater the plop value. The greater the plop value the more credibility it receives–at least that was his theory.

I was wondering if that is really true. Do we associate paper stock thickness with importance of the piece? Even as I ask the question, I recall a couple of thoughts. I heard of a consumer study that was done many years ago. The purpose of the study was to determine if an average consumer could spot a more expensive item from one that was less. If I remember the results correctly, we untrained consumers did pretty well. We couldn’t tell exactly why one product was better than another, but most of the time the consumers just knew. The only product that stumped us was cameras. Apparently a heavier camera was associated with more costly. A lighter weight camera was dismissed as being less substantial and thus less costly. Does this perception apply to paper as well?

The other example has nothing to do with paper weight but with coating. I can’t tell you how often printing buyers assume that gloss coated paper is either more expensive, or of better quality than uncoated paper.  I’ve even shown people samples of a No.3 commodity grade gloss stock with a top-of-the-line fine writing stock, and asked them to tell me which was more expensive, and as strange as it seems, most will choose the coated paper over the uncoated. Maybe it is because of our grade school memories of learning to write with those thick pencils on the cheapest possible wood-pulp paper available. If you looked closely at the sheet you’d see slivers of wood. Yuck.

That explains why paper mills are making double-thick stocks and heavier weights. The customers demand it. You can’t blame the mills or the designers. The market wants what the market wants. If you don’t provide it someone else will.

The problem is that presses designed to handle 16 pt. to 18 pt. stock just can’t run the 22 pt. stocks on the market. Now that doesn’t mean that all printers can’t run it, some can. What it means to printing buyers faced with the challenge of finding printers able to print on these thick stocks, is that their options are more limited.

If this trend continues, and who knows if it will, advertising and marketing materials have definite trends, something very popular today will be (excuse me for saying this) old hat tomorrow. But, if the trend continues the builders of printing presses will begin creating and marketing equipment that will handle the heavier weights. This will take time. Printing presses, especially multicolor larger format presses can and do cost in the millions of dollars. Most printers don’t go out and buy a new press every year, so as long as we want heavier papers, for the time being our printer options will be restricted.

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