Archive for the ‘Paper Finishes’ Category

When it Comes to Paper, Mind Reading is Not Practiced Here

Monday, November 9th, 2009

As a printing broker one of the most difficult challenges I face in trying to determine bid specifications is paper. Why paper? Because most people have no idea how many different kinds of paper are available. Usually I have to resort to questions like, “Does it feel about the same as the paper in your office copier?” Or, “Is it more like poster board?” These questions at least get me in the ballpark. Then maybe I can start pinning it down by asking about the surface of the sheet. “Is it smooth, or textured?” “Is it shiny, or flat?” “If you scratch it with your fingernail does it leave a shiny spot?” “If you hold it up to a light source can you see a watermark?” Anyone in the printing business will understand what I am talking about. It’s like a game of twenty questions, particularly if we’re speaking on the telephone.

Here is something funny–I was discussing a job with a customer the other day–and to help me determine the weight of the paper, he flipped the corner of the sheet over the mouthpiece. When I asked what he was doing, he half-seriously said, “You [Bill] have been in the business for so long that I thought you’d be able to tell how much it weighed by the sound.”  That was a first. I’ve had customers expect me to read their minds, but never has one asked me to identify the weight of paper by the sound.mindmatrix

Of course, the easiest way to figure out what kind of paper a customer wants to use is to have them provide a sample. Usually the stock will become immediately evident, but then there are those occasions when it is not a domestic sheet and importers don’t carry it either. I had that problem once with a local company who represented a skin care line of products manufactured in France. They produced a paper sample that neither I, nor three different paper merchants could identify.

Some of the problems come from the paper industry itself. Paper has been around a long, long time. Just like a foot became a length of measurement by the King’s shoe print, paper weight had rudimentary methods of comparison. How many shovel-fulls of this or that went into the mix. For example here is a list of some weights you may encounter when buying printing: Cover, Text, Book, Bond, Ledger, Tag, Duplex, Blanks, Bristol, and Index. To make it more confusing you can buy 80# Cover, or 80# Text but they aren’t the same thing–not at all. 80# Cover is heavy more akin to poster board, and 80# is similar to your office stationery but probably a little heavier. People will often say something like the paper is  eighty pound and be sure they answered the question, until I ask, “Cover or text?” That’s when they get stuck.

Most stationery is printed on bond and you can often recognize it by a watermark. A 24# bond sheet weighs about as much as a 60# offset. Confused? We haven’t even gotten started yet. No wonder customers can’t figure out what they want the printing/paper industry has made it impossibly difficult. Not on purpose, but there it is.

If your job requires interaction with printers, I have some recommendations to simplify communications:

  1. Always try to provide a sample of the paper you would like to match.
  2. Create a paper sample book. Put various papers in a binder and label them with their weight, finish, and color. By doing this you will have a ready reference to help you.
  3. Watch for paper that crosses your desk. It might be direct mail, catalogs, or invitations. Slip them into the pocket of your binder if you like them and have your rep identify them later.
  4. If you find a paper that you particularly like and want to use it often, ask your print rep to get you a swatch book to keep with your binder. The paper mills put them out to display their wares and they will show you all of the weights, textures, and colors that the paper comes in.
  5. In many markets, the paper merchants will conduct seminars to teach customers about various aspects of paper like weight, thickness, surface, and brightness. Ask your printer if there are any learning opportunities like that in your area.
  6. Avoid using phrases like, just regular paper, something cheap, you know what we like, or something like we did last time. Honestly we want to help, but most of us in the printing business are terrible at reading minds.

Printing on Black Paper

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

It isn’t just black that creates a problem, any dark colored printing paper presents challenges. The biggest hurdle is that printing inks are transparent. CYMK (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black) dots are meant to be seen through. Overlapping dots create the color variations, you know, blue + yellow = green or yellow + red = orange. So what happens when you print transparent ink on dark paper? Right, the stock overwhelms the ink and you either don’t see it or the image is so faint as to be useless.

“Why do the mills create printing papers that won’t work well on press?” you might ask. Ah, that is a good question. Those wily paper mills know what Graphic Designers want and bold colored paper is often the best choice for their project. Strong color adds drama that you just can’t get with pastel shades. Again, “Why use it if it won’t yield a good result?” Printers have more than one trick up their sleeves. There are other processes that can be employed to print on dark paper.

Reverse Image:

Reverse image and type

Reverse image and type

The simplest way to achieve a dark background with a light image is to print it. Print the background with solid black, plum, or forest green on a white stock. Leave a window for the images, and you can achieve almost any look you want. The difficulty here is that offset printing is done with dots, as we discussed in an earlier blog. Print the dots on a textured or soft paper surface and you’ll probably end up with streaky, or splotchy solids. The paper surface makes a big difference. Make sure you discuss these issues with your printing professional before you go to press. Streaky, splotchy surprises are not fun.

The  poster to the right for the Rhythm City Dance School is a good example of reversed images. The type is white, but the dancer is gray. White is the color of the stock and the gray was achieved by using a screen of black (separating the black dots).  The point is, that while this piece appears to be printed on black paper it is really printed on white paper with a lot of black ink.

Foil Stamp:

Most foils are made opaque on purpose. They will cover any background color. The problem is that foil stamping is more costly than offset printing because it requires a die, the foil, and equipment that runs slower. The good news is that foil is available in a wide spectrum of colors, and finishes. For example you can get gold foil in satin, flat, shiny, and really shiny. It also comes in many shades. Gold foils are available in yellowish tints, greenish tints, and nearly bronze. Other foils that work well are white, silver, or clear.

Blind Emboss:

An excellent treatment to employ using dark paper is the blind emboss. Blind embossing raises the surface of the paper creating an image that is perceived by its height. It’s like a white-on-white blouse. The color is the same, but the pattern is revealed anyway. Blind embossing will cost more also than offset printing. Dies can get very pricey depending on the number of levels in your image. Most blind embosses are one level, but I’ve seen sculptured dies with a face or animal that are very complex. Sculptured dies, as you might imagine, can get into the thousands of dollars.

Foil Emboss:

As you might expect foil embossing uses both techniques. The image is foil stamped and then raised via blind emboss. A combo die can be created for this effect. Combo dies, as you probably guessed, cost less than buying two separate dies.

Opaque Inks:

Most opaque inks are not as opaque as you would like them to be. Imagine painting a light color over a previously dark wall. If you’ve had this experience you know that one coat won’t be enough. You might have to do two, three, or four coats before the wall is right. It’s the same with opaque inks. To blot out a dark surface the printer may have to double-bump (hit the image twice with the same color) and that probably won’t be enough. Additional bumps should work, theoretically,  but with each pass through the press you risk slurring your image or ruining paper. Paper is not indestructible, you know.

Metallic inks usually work better for this purpose. Metallic inks are made with up to 70% heavy metals, but even with metallic ink you will probably have to double-bump the image. And, this technique is not recommended for large areas.Type works better than swaths  of color which may show up blotchy.


I’ve seen some excellent results with combinations of  black. For example, black paper on the market is almost always uncoated, which means that the color is a little flatter. If you use a black foil stamp or clear foil you can create a striking look by contrasting the paper surface with the shiny image.

Spot UV Coating:

It used to be that UV coating on uncoated paper was a no,no. There are new formulas that will allow spot UV, but aren’t guaranteed. Much depends on the paper you select. If you want to try spot UV coating, be sure to get samples from your local paper merchant, and have the printer test it.

Why Are the Bids Wildly Different?

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Yesterday’s blog was a continuation of bid specifying. We shot a photo of my specification sheet that I use, but it came out too dark, and is too small to read, so we will try to correct that problem shortly. In the meantime, I thought a specification list would be easy for you to follow and if you want to create your own spec sheet you can. You are free to use the following information:

I. Customer’s Company Name

A. Contact Name, Address, and Phone or email address

B. Date including when estimate is required, when the job is due, when customer art is expected, and if a partial delivery will do.

C. Does the Customer want proofs? How? What kind? Attend a press check? How much notice is required?

II. Job Title

A. Description, for example: 16 page booklet, self-cover, saddle-stitched.

B. Quantity

C. New or Pickup? Is it a new job (never been run before) or a rerun (pickup) from a previous order? If pickup provide last invoice or job number and date.

D. Size, Flat,  Finished, Page Count, Self or Plus Cover

E. Are There Bleeds? Where, head, foot, right side, left side, full, or none?

F Printing Method? Digital, Sheet-fed offset, Cold Web, Heat-set Web, Letterpress, Other.

G. Any Other Special Requirements?

III. Customer Furnished Art and Proofs

A. Customer supplies: disk, PC or Mac, Program Name and Version, Dummy. Will send by email, or ftp?

B. Printer supplies: Typeset, Layout, Design, Proof, What type of proof (hard or electronic?)

IV. Paper

A. Describe Paper for Each Part i.e. Cover, Text, and page count for each. For example, a 16 page booklet with cover and flyleaf, saddle-stitched would be: 4pages cover, 4 pages flyleaf, and 16 pages text, for a total of 24 pages.

1. Weight of stock or thickness (cover weight, book, text, ledger, etc.)

2. Color of the Paper?

3. Description: Mill, Paper Line, Finish (linen, wove, etc.)

4. Coated or Uncoated? If coated is it Gloss, Dull, Satin, or Matte?

5. If it is an envelope will it be custom (converted from flat sheet, windows) or stocked? Size, prints face, flap, inside?

6. If it is a form, how many plies, color rotation for carbonless (w/y/p).

V. Ink

A. How Many Color on each side? Does it print 4/2 (four color one side and two on the other? Or maybe 1/1 (one color both sides). Is it the same color on both sides, i.e. red ink on one and blue on the other.

B. How Much Ink Coverage? Heavy, Medium, or Light.

C. Specialty Inks, laser ready, quick dry, hard dry, etc.

VI. Bindery

A. How does it Bind? Saddle-stitch, Perfect Bind, Wire-o, Plastic Comb, Hard Cover, Velo, Plastic Coil, Spiral, etc.

B. Does it require–Folding, Scoring, Collation?

C. Padding? How many sheets per pad, with chipboard or without, std. padding glue? Where, top, or sides.

VII. Other

A. Die Cutting

B. Foil Stamp/Foil Emboss/Blind Emboss–die required? What size? What material: Copper, Brass? How intricate? One level, two or more?

C. Numbering–beginning number, ending number. Red or Black?

D. Tabbing–how many banks? How many positions? Each sheet unique or are faces common and tabs the only variable? Mylar reinforce tabs, color? Three hole drill or other? Reinforce holes?

E. Gluing–as in pockets for a kit cover. How many? Other?

F. Perforation–Corner, “L”, or straight? Standard perf or micro? Laser ready?

G. Drill–how many holes and where? What size hole?

H. Shrink wrap–How many to a package,number of packages.

VIII. Packaging and Delivery

A. Bulk Box–product placed in box without any other wrapping.

B. Paper Band, Rubber Band, Shrink Wrap–how many per package, how many per box?

C. Standard Boxes, or special?

D. One local delivery address or more? Specify how many to each location.

E. To Ship? How (FedEx, UPS, USPS, other)? Use customer account or printers?

F. Samples? How many to customer, or other?

Can you believe that I was able to boil down all these points on one 81/2″X11″ form, and still have room to make a sketch to communicate more thoroughly? The real trick is understanding the job, and writing it down in such a way that the vendors will have the same clear information for giving you their best bid. If done right, a spec sheet removes all guesswork. Guessing, and assuming are the bane of printers. When they are all working from common specifications you’ll see their bids will come in much tighter. Wild pricing differences will be a thing of the past, and you won’t have any more surprises after the printer receives the art. They won’t call and say, “This is different than the way we bid it. There will be additional charges.” Had you budgeted for that contingency? I doubt it.

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