Printer Paper Options for Digital Printing: The Ultimate Guide

When you begin a digital printing project, one of the most important decisions you need to make is what kind of printer paper you will use. There are more paper decisions to make than you may think!

This is your ultimate guide to all of those printer paper decisions you’ll need to make in order to get the perfect finished product.

  1. Selecting Printer Paper
  2. Printer Paper Types
  3. Printer Paper Weight
  4. Coating and Finish
  5. Other Factors to Consider

designing fantastic brochure

Considerations When Selecting Printer Paper

Not all printing papers are alike! There are some big differences between the stuff you probably use with your home computer and the kind of paper used in commercial printing for professional displays, direct mail campaigns, or custom stationary.

As you begin planning a digital printing project, there are a few things you need to decide right away: the price you are willing to pay, the turnaround time it will take to complete, and how much customization you want to have.

Let’s dive in.

Cost

The cost of printing paper covers varies widely depending on the paper type and quality you are looking for. Some projects require a certain quality of paper or finish in order to capture the desired effect while others can work with whatever is quick and cheap. You’ll need to decide how picky you are about the look and feel of your finished print. 

Unfinished paper is the money-saver solution when you just need ink put to paper. 

When you go with unfinished, there are no additional charges for your project beyond the cost of paper, ink and labor.

For custom and premium finishes on your paper, you would also be paying for things like the cutting, folding, and custom sizing of the print. Depending on what you are printing for and the budget you have available, these extra costs may be worth it to you. Sometimes a great digital design just falls a little short when it’s printed on flimsy, low-quality paper someone pulled from the bottom drawer.

Other times, you don’t need all the fancy bells and whistles. You just need your image or message on the paper to speak for itself. For some small businesses or individuals looking to print for marketing materials or other needs, the savings from printing cheaper can make a huge difference. And if you have the capability to do some of the finishing touches yourself, you can save even more.

The specific cost of an individual print depends on paper dimension, weight, quantity, etc. But in general, the heavier, larger papers cost more while the smaller, thinner papers usually cost less.

Turnaround Time

The next thing to ask yourself- how quickly do you need this printing project completed? 

We at Sun Print Solutions recommend getting your order in as soon as you can to ensure you have plenty of time to approve the proof, make any edits, and get your prints to you before you need to use them. There will need to be some communication between you and the commercial printer in order to ensure you are getting the best result. Don’t forget to take this into account as you plan for the roll out of your printed materials.

Versatility and Customization

The biggest factor in determining turnaround time for your order will be the level of customization you want.

If you’re looking to have a bunch of standard copies whipped up on unfinished laser printed paper, that doesn’t take much time at all. But if you need high-gloss, special cut cardstock with a different name on each one, that will probably take a little longer to do right. Just something to keep in mind!

factors paper selection

 

Printer Paper Types

These are some of the most common types of paper used for printing.

Inkjet Printer Paper

Designed specifically for use with inkjet printers, this type of paper can be used for various types of projects. However, the overall quality of inkjet paper is low compared to more expensive paper types.

Bright White Paper

This paper type is a great option for double-sided printing, since the brightness of the paper prevents and see-through to text or graphic on the other side. Bright white paper also has a nice smooth feel to it.

Laser Printer Paper

Usually, laser printers and laser printer paper are used to produce business documents, labels, and other official materials.

Resume Paper (Bond)

Resumes are often printed on heavier paper, with a cream or off-white coloration. This is simply due to traditional standards. The main benefit of using resume paper is that it will better withstand the passing back and forth and other wear that resumes usually experience.

Card Stock

Card stock is among the strongest paper types, and the most thick. It is best used for projects that need to be very durable long-term without fraying or becoming wrinkled.

Printed Catalogs Are Making a Comeback

 

Printer Paper Weight

Ok, so let’s say you know your budget, your timeline, and the design you want printed. You’re ready to submit an order.

When you submit your project to the printers, they will need more information from you than just, “I want this on white paper.” One of the first things your printing shop will ask for is the paper weight you want to use.

But don’t get bugged by the details! Knowing the different types of paper options actually allows you to have total control over your digital printing. Paper weight makes a big difference. In fact, you can feel the difference when you hold it.

Paper Base Weight

Printer paper weight can get a little confusing, and we realize that it’s definitely not the most exciting topic in the world. We’ll keep it as simple as we can here. If you’re going to order commercial printing, you should at least have a basic understanding of something called the paper “basis weight”.

The basis weight of any specific paper stock is determined by how much one ream (500 sheets) weighs at a designated sheet size

For example, your everyday bond card stock paper measures its basis weight using the dimensions 17in x 22in. So the weight of 500 sheets of bond card stock at 17in x 22in is the basis weight for bond card stock.

Each paper type uses a different sheet size for determining its basis weight. Kind of confusing, right? In general terms, 20 lb. paper is the economical, lightweight type that we use in the printer and copier. Medium weight is 22 to 24 lbs., and heavy paper is 28 to 32 lbs. That’s about all you need to know as a commercial printing customer, so don’t worry about figuring it all out yourself. The professionals at Sun Print Solutions can help you get what you need.

But there is a little shortcut you can use to determine the paper weight you will need for your project…

GSM – Grams Per Square Meter

Fortunately, paper manufacturers have tried to make paper weight easier to understand with a metric called “Grams Per Square Meter”. This measurement (also known as “grammage”) is standard to all types of stock, so you won’t have to measure or calculate sheet sizes to figure out how heavy the paper is that you want for your print job. That’s a relief, right?

Most digital printing equipment, as well as your regular office copier and printer, now use the GSM specification. You should be able to find the GSM listed right on the paper packaging.

For reference, 20 lb paper is typically rated at around 75 GSM. For 24 to 28 lb. paper, expect to see GSM in the range of 90 to 105; and 32 lb. paper is approximately 120 GSM.

Once again, this is probably more information than you need if you’re just submitting your print order to the local shop. But understanding GSM and how paper weight is measured will make specifying the details of your project quicker and more precise. And this is the COMPLETE guide to selecting printer paper, right?!

Choosing Printing Paper Weight

If you’re printing an important client proposal or a letter to the board of directors, you likely want heavier (higher quality) stock.

If you’re printing employee manuals that you plan to put in a binder, you might opt for a medium-quality stock, for long-term durability.

If you’re printing handouts for a meeting, everyday forms or documents for your files, light-duty digital printing paper is probably all that you need to get the job done.

And if you’re not sure what you need, you can always describe the nature of you project to the professionals at Sun Print Solutions. We are happy to make recommendations to help you create what you have in mind.

commercial printing specialty finishing

 

Coating and Finish

Paper coating and finish put the final touch on your design and give it that professional, high-quality look and feel that makes it stand out. Think glossy wedding invitation compared to an appliance instruction manual. There’s a big difference, right?

Paper Coating vs Paper Finish

Paper coating was originally developed for the purpose of protecting printed pieces from risks like smudging and fingerprints, as well as to aid in the drying process when materials are hot off the printer. But they can also play a factor in design and the perceived quality of your printed item. 

Coating on printer paper refers to an actual material being used to coat the paper. There are multiple types of coating that can be applied.

Varnish

This type of coating is applied on a printing press, similar to how the ink is applied. Varnish coatings can be applied to the entire pieces or spot-applied to help emphasize specific areas of the printed item. You can get pretty creative in how you use a varnish coating.

Aqueous

An aqueous coating is water-based and applied to pieces the same way as varnish, but with faster drying properties. Unlike varnish coatings, an aqueous coat must be applied to the entire piece. It cannot be used to spot-apply.

Ultra-Violet

As you can assume by the name, ultraviolet coatings utilize UV rays to immediately cure a layer of clear ink applied to the printed surface. This paper coating method creates an especially lustrous appearance that is also scratch resistance. If you want to get the maximum amount of shine, UV coating is the way to go.

Paper finish is related to paper coating, but refers more to the aesthetic created by the coating as opposed to the coating material itself. The two most common paper finish options are glossy (sharper images, brighter colors ) and matte (softened, velvety appearance). 

Special Finishes – Post-Print Effects

Besides the more common coats and finishes we’ve already covered, some customers utilize more creative finishes, called “post-print effects”, to make their digital printing stand out even more. Sun Print Solutions can bring your creative ideas to life!

Some examples of creative post-print effects would be things like lamination, spot coating, metallic ink or foil stamping. Depending on your vibe, you may even want to include glitter or pearlescent coatings to make an impression.

Some ways to add flair to the physical design of your print would be finishes like die cutting, embossing (raised impression), or debossing (indentation). If you have a creative idea for binding or folding after your item has been printed, you can go crazy with that too! If you can envision it, your commercial printing pros can probably make it happen!

Here are some recommended coating + finish ideas to create some popular effects…

  • Collateral with dull coatings will offer a classic, smooth feel
  • Using spot gloss combined with dull finish is a great way to bring the illusion of “depth” to your printed materials. This can draw the viewer’s focus onto specific areas you want to highlight.
  • You can use spot coatings to make images appear to “pop” off the page.
  • Combine glossy paper with a dull finish to keep the glare down but also help the colors stand out.
  • Consider tinted coatings to add a lighter feel to shadows or other darker areas in images.
  • Use dull coatings to soften images that are too sharp, or to give an old-fashioned look.

Combining Offset & Digital Printing for Personalization

 

Other Printer Paper Factors to Consider

Once you have decided on your actual design, paper weight, and the coating and finish you want to create your desired effect, you’re almost ready to send it off to the printers! There are just a few more things you may want to consider before you have them fire up the machines.

Paper Thickness

We know, we know.

Paper thickness? Really?

You bet! Again, this is the ultimate guide to printer paper selection, and this is actually useful information! But we’ll keep it brief.

Paper is measured in thousandths of an inch, which are termed “points” in the printing industry. As such, 14pt paper will be 0.014 inches thick.

Thickness is mainly used for describing cover stock types. For some types of printing projects, this specification matters. Think of a business card, for instance, which generally is crafted on stock ranging from 12pt to 14pt. A flimsy business card that is too thin won’t hold up well over time in a wallet or pocket.

Opacity

Finally, you ought to also consider the opacity, or transparency, of your printing paper. 

Opacity is measured by percentage, from 0% to 100%. The higher the percentage, the less transparent the paper is – cardstock, for example, is 100% opaque because you cannot see through it at all. On the other end of the spectrum would be completely sheered paper, at 0% opaque.

Vellum and tracing paper are other examples of extremely non-opaque options. For two-sided printing projects of any kind, you would want highly opaque paper types that will not bleed through to the other side whatsoever.

 

There, we did it! Everything you need to know (and probably a little more) about the elements to consider in choosing the right paper and customizing for your digital printing projects.

If you made it all the way to the end of our guide, we salute you! You’re now super ready to design and order a beautiful, eye-catching, and effective professional print order. At the very least, we hope you at least know enough to ask the right questions to your commercial printing pros. Sun Print Solutions is happy to answer those questions you may have and help plan your next big printing project. Give us a call! 

For more printing information, check out our pages about Offset Lithographic Printing, Digital Printing, Printing for Direct Mail Campaigns, and Package Printing.