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Choosing the Right Paper for Your DTP Project

written by: •edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 4/9/2013

Paper selection is a crucial but often overlooked aspect of desktop publishing. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a paper stock for a job which this article will familiarize you with.

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    Choosing the Right Paper

    Choosing the Right Paper for your DTP Project In the high tech world of desktop publishing, never underestimate the power of paper. A great looking design will fall flat – whether you're designing a wedding invitation or creating a business flyer – if it is printed on the wrong type of paper. A budget can easily be broken by an unwise paper choice.

    The first thing to keep in mind is that comparing paper to paper can be very difficult, as many of the terms and measurements used are not standardized.


    Many papers in North America, for example, are labeled according to their weight, as opposed to grammage (which measures the density of paper in terms of grams per square metre). The challenge in working with weight is that it is not standardized. It is based on weight of a paper ream of 500 sheets; however, this is based on the traditional size of uncut sheets, which varies with different paper types.

    What does this mean for a desktop publisher? It means that 100 pound cover stock will not be the same thickness as a 100 pound text stock. Practically speaking, this means that just because a certain paper sample you have seems to work for your project doesn’t mean that a different paper type with the same weight will work as well.


    Texture is another variable when working with paper stock. Paper can be uncoated or coated. Coated stock runs the gamut from matte (the roughest) to gloss (the smoothest). Texture can make a huge difference in how a document is perceived by the reader, and it also can greatly effect readability.


    Opacity is a measure of a paper’s ‘see through’ characteristics. It is measured using a scale from 1 to 100; the higher the opacity, the less chance that higher ink areas will be seen through the back of the sheet, an important factor to consider if you are printing on both sides of a document.


    If you are creating a job that will be going through a mailing house, finding out the caliper of the paper is an important part of the process. This is the thickness of paper when measured in micrometers. Postal regulations require certain caliper sizes for specific types of bulk mail. Consult with the post office and your printer for these specifications.


    Brightness is a further factor to keep in mind. It is measured from 0 to 100 percent, with bright white sheets in the above 90 range.


    Budget wise, paper choice can make a huge difference when it comes to your print project. A quote from your printer for a job using newsprint, for example, will generally be far lower than one for a high end coated stock. The bigger the run, the more effect paper choice has on the overall price of your print job.

    When all is said and done, the best advice for a desktop publisher is to get samples of different papers from your printer, and compare them to see which one best suites the document you are printing and your budget.