One Hundred Dollars More to Make an Impression

12/07/2016     5:01AM

Guest Post by: Jill DiNicolantonio, Parse & Parcel

When it comes to commercial printing, coated papers are used on the majority of projects. It’s considered the workhorse of the print industry. When used thoughtfully, it can be an amazing conduit for beautiful design and production. Printers love running it, and for good reasons. Coated paper provides a bright, consistently even surface allowing for minimal dot gain, great ink gloss and produces crisp, fine results. Plus, it’s fairly easy to run on press. Sounds like a designer’s dream, right?

Indeed, coated paper can be a dream surface for so many projects. But all too often, designers do not bother to specify coated paper brands. Most tend to rely on the printer’s coated house sheet with budget driving that decision, or they give vague specs like a “No.2 coated.” I’ve seen this happen a thousand times. And the big secret selecting a non-brand coated paper most designers don’t know is that they’re giving up way too much for little to no real impact on the budget.

Why Printers want you to Use Gloss Coated Paper

Coated sheets are ideally suited for projects featuring metallics, like automotive or jewelry; projects requiring high definition, like product catalogs and high end photography; or any project requiring a sleek look or feel. Back in the day, if your design required crisp, sharp details your only real option was to use a coated paper – and gloss coated at that. Luckily, advances in technology have changed all that and designers today have tons of options.

Coated papers come in four basic finishes: gloss, dull, silk and matte; with gloss having the shiniest finish and matte having a flat, un-glossy finish. Side note, I hear many, many designers refer to a “matte” paper when what they mean is uncoated paper – these are two completely different things. To avoid costly mistakes, you definitely want to make sure you are using the correct lingo when referring to paper finishes.

When it comes to coated paper finishes, printers LOVE to use gloss papers. They produce really high quality results, allow for an even, beautiful lay down of ink and a really crisp dot. Designers tend to love the more tactile side of coated papers; I have to admit I do, too. Show me a print piece featuring solid black coverage on a matte finish and I will not let it go. I think it’s that whole yin/yang aspect of the smoothness and uniformity of a coated paper paired with the softness of the matte finish—kind of like umami for paper. But matte coated papers can be unforgiving, if the surface is less than perfect it’ll show in the solids. For the best of both worlds (gloss/matte), a silk finish is a great option – it has great ink gloss, but nice tactility and easy readability which makes it a great choice for annual reports or publications.

The Big Misconception about Coated Papers

Back in the day, coated papers were classified by their brightness levels (brightness meaning the amount of light reflected off the paper), the brighter the sheet, the higher the grade classification. Hence the scale Premium, No.1, No.2, No.3, etc. A premium grade was considered the brightest and had a price tag to match. This worked for a while, when coated papers sold in North America were all manufactured in North America, and held to the same standard.

Then along came the imports. Imports gave printers the ability to provide the North American “premium” look for less. But like many things that are inexpensive to produce, the shelf-life for imports is fleeting. To achieve that premium brightness, imports had to have a ton of optical brighteners – sounds harmless. But, guess what—they yellow. Fast. Not to mention, most coated imports are pretty limp. To achieve the heft and rigidity of their domestic counterparts you usually need to go up a basis weight. FYI – paper is sold based on weight, so going up a basis weight is kind of counter-intuitive for the reason most opt for an import in the first place – to save money.

But the BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION OF ALL? The idea that using an imported coated paper will save money in your budget. Is it less expensive than a domestic premium sheet? Depends. The average offset sheet-fed print job these days is about a quantity of 2500. When you do the math, the price difference between the paper grades is not that much.

I spent over a decade working for paper merchants, if there’s one thing I understand it’s wholesale paper pricing. Here’s a comparison of hypothetical list prices on coated paper based on real world experience as a paper merchant:

1,000 sheets of 80# gloss text – all the same sheet size (160M for the paper geeks):

Category/List Price
Premium $225
No. 1 $210
No. 2 $195
Economy/Import $140

The difference between a premium sheet and an economy sheet is $85.00. Seriously, that’s all. But here’s the thing – this is only the published LIST PRICE. Printers, like other businesses, purchase at a whole different level based on their volume. The discount can vary depending on the size of the printer and how much paper they buy from their main paper supplier. The paper price is then marked up to account for the costs involved with handling paper and running a business. But let’s be honest – the savings the print buyer sees from the printer’s volume discount is nominal at best. So, who really benefits from using the economy/import/house sheet grade? And this applies to imports and house sheet grades as well.

To put it in terms designers can relate to, the cost to use a paper like McCoy is comparable to that of a high-end uncoated opaque sheet, and designers are using sheets like these all the time. So, I say if your budget can afford to use a high-end opaque sheet, your budget can support using a Premium or No. 1 domestic coated sheet brand.

Always specify the best paper possible for your project.

I don’t know about your clients, but I know I will always use a sheet like McCoy for my collateral over an import any day of the week. And even if I didn’t “know” paper, I know the difference between mediocre and memorable. I think most businesses are willing to spend less than $100 to make a lasting impression. After all, isn’t that the reason they decided to print in the first place?

Does that make sense?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are those of the guest blogger, and do not reflect the opinions of Sappi or any employee thereof. Sappi is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest blogger.

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Daniel Dejan