You have probably seen beautiful prints on soft, textured paper that sings when combined with a signature letterpress bite. In this skill session, we’ll shed some light on how to explore the world of paper for yourself, and to communicate clearly with your printer so you receive the results you desire. We’ll talk about all the different weights, calipers and finishes, and what it all means in relation to your project. And we will give you plenty of resources to learn more.
Paper mills (“mill” is the term used to describe a paper manufacturer) all distribute swatch books of their products. A paper mill will usually have several line names or brand names that it produces, and each will have its own swatch book. Inside, you will usually find a waterfall of paper samples along with the color names, available weights and finishes. They often include examples of fine printing techniques on their papers. In the Resources section below, we have links for you to order swatch books for yourself.
An example of the many papers available from Neenah Paper Company from our paper library. Each swatch book is packed with examples and information about each paper brand.
A swatch book from French Paper Company, the oldest family-run paper company in the US. French Muscletone is very popular for designers specifying stocks for letterpress. French Paper can be purchased in small quantities direct from their website, so it is a great choice for short-run projects. They also stock matching envelopes for every grade and color in their line, which is fantastic for stationery designers. French also sells a Sample Pack Multi Pack, which is an amazing box of 8.5 x 11″ sheets of every paper they make. At $30, it is seriously worth the money for any graphic designer.
Inside a swatch book, you can find a waterfall layout of paper with a key sheet that describes the colors, weights and finishes available. Some colors may not be available in all weights, so check carefully to make sure you weight and shade combination is available.
Every paper has its own personalty on the press. Before you pick a paper, it’s best to decide what you want to express. Do you want your prints to have a soft, delicate, pillow-like impression profile? Or do you want to give your prints a deep, chiseled indentation?
Here are some examples of the kinds of papers you can choose, and the impression that results:
Paper weight does not accurately indicate paper thickness. For example, 110lb Crane’s Lettra Cover is actually slightly thicker than 130lb Neenah Classic Crest Cover. That’s because weight doesn’t take into account the density of the paper. The Lettra is soft and pulpy. The Classic Crest is hard and smooth. It simply packs more fibers into a thinner sheet.
The number to consider when thinking about thickness is the paper’s “caliper.” Paper thickness is usually measured with a device called a micrometer. In the US, it reads in thousandths of an inch, but we use the word “points” as shorthand. A paper that is 40 thousandths of an inch thick (0.040 inches) would be referred to as 40 point. For a handy reference, a dime is precisely 0.053 inches thick, or 53 points.
The paper industry uses the term “finish” to describe the paper’s surface texture. Every paper company has their own unique take on what these textures mean, but we have selected some favorites to show here.
French Paper Company – http://www.frenchpaper.com
Mohawk Paper – http://www.mohawkconnects.com
Neenah Paper – http://www.neenahpaper.com/
Reich Paper – http://www.reichpaper.com/
Domtar Paper – http://www.domtar.com
Legion Paper – http://www.legionpaper.com/
Visit their “our papers” section for photographs and descriptions of many great commercial and fine art papers.
Paper Specs – http://www.paperspecs.com/
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