Paper. It’s a fundamental part of everyday life, and most people would say that they understand it. But beneath the surface, the creation, challenges and varieties of paper are surprisingly complex. There’s far more to paper than meets the eye, and even seasoned professionals can benefit from diving into the details and power of paper.

Paper is the lifeblood of the direct marketing industry. Also known as stock or substrate, paper engages multiple senses and can conjure a visceral reaction in the consumer. With a multitude of fiber combinations, pulping processes, finishes, coatings and other variables that go into paper making, the possibilities for paper creation are near limitless. Direct marketers can make precise choices on paper stock that support and elevate their creative marketing campaigns.

Recently, I traveled with three co-workers to an informational paper seminar hosted by Midland Paper. This session yielded an in-depth review of many aspects of the paper-making process. I was able to expand my paper knowledge greatly. Here are some of the properties of paper that I feel are important for marketers to know:

The Properties of Paper

In order to make informed decisions when selecting a paper stock, it’s helpful to understand the basic characteristics that make up paper, and how altering each of them affects the final product.

Basis weight – This is the weight of a 500-sheet ream of paper cut to the base size and measured in pounds. Basis weight is really about measuring the relationship between density and thickness in a substrate. The thickness (the weight) of the stock can influence the consumer’s perception of a piece, as thicker paper stocks generally connote quality, while lighter basis weights can often be used more flexibly when scoring, folding, and binding.

Brightness/Whiteness – Brightness is defined as the measurement of light reflected off the surface of paper. Whiteness is the quality of light reflected. These two properties affect the perceived color of the paper as well as the final look of the ink that is applied. It’s helpful to think of paper as a filter: process color inks are transparent, so paper color shows through and will affect the final perception of color.

Finish – A paper’s finish defines the look and feel of the piece, as well as how the color of printed ink is perceived. The most common finishes are gloss, dull and matte. Gloss finish is the hardest and smoothest of the finishes and imparts a shiny appearance to the paper. Images and colors printed on smoother, glossier papers will reflect more light, will seem brighter, and will pop more, though the surface itself will have more glare. A dull finish provides a similarly hard and smooth surface, but with less glare. Matte finishes also provide a low glare surface, but at a lower price point and with a slightly rougher texture and somewhat silkier feel.

Coating – Whether a stock is coated or uncoated has a huge influence on how the paper behaves once ink is applied. An uncoated stock will absorb more of the ink into its porous surface, where it spreads out and expands, increasing what printers call dot gain. Alternately, coated stocks have better ink holdout. Due to this, images tend to appear crisper and brighter on coated stocks. Generally, uncoated paper is rougher and print fidelity tends to be lower. For instances when print quality is not paramount or if the printed piece calls for a more “natural” or organic look, uncoated stock can be utilized.

Other important properties to consider: grain direction, opacity, formation

These are just a few of the key properties of paper worth keeping in mind, especially when purchasing paper. Having a vision of the final printed piece in mind is helpful, especially in tandem with basic paper knowledge. This will lead to a much more successful final printed product.


Bonus fact: The composition of paper begins looking a lot like a glass of water. In fact, this suspension, also called the “slurry,” is made up of 98 – 99.5% water. The remaining percentage is made up of the precious fibers that ultimately form the final product. Paper making is extremely water-intensive.


Kyle Porter
Associate Account Manager

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