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December 2006 e-Gram

The Fine Art of Finding the Right Finish

Choosing the right kind of paper for a particular job is an often unappreciated part of a graphic designer’s work. Yet the right paper can “make” a design and the wrong one can kill it. Sometimes the choice is obvious, like glossy paper for a brochure. Other choices can be more subtle, such as contrasting a matte-finish paper with a spot-gloss varnish on a high-end annual report. Whatever the decision, you can be sure it will make a lasting impression.

A paper’s finish, its surface look and feel, provides the most noticeable characteristic of paper. Different finishes are designed for different tasks. Paper finish is divided into two main characteristics: coated and uncoated. Uncoated papers vary in smoothness depending on the materials that make up the paper and how much calendering (heat and pressure) the paper was subjected to after being made. Coated papers are made smoother still by adding other materials to their surface. Additionally, some finishes can be embossed on the paper after it was made, including linen, tweed and pebble. Other finishes, such as the laid pattern, are created while the paper is still wet.

Finishes vary even within a particular kind of paper. For instance, uncoated book papers are designed with a matte finish to make reading text easy. They vary, in order of increasing smoothness, from antique through eggshell, vellum and smooth to luster.

Coated papers vary in finish by the kind of look they have, including dull, matte, semi-gloss and gloss. Coated papers tend to absorb less ink so they work better for four-color or heavy-coverage printing. Gloss finishes reflect light uniformly, making images pop, while matte finishes defuse the light, making text easier to read.

Picking a paper usually starts by choosing the general grade, such as newsprint, book, bond or cardstock. Within that grade there are different finishes, coatings and levels of smoothness. Depending on the nature of the design, different characteristics will matter. If the piece includes a lot of images, embossed finishes will not work well because the ink won’t sit evenly on them. Conversely, a résumé, certificate or invitation will gain much from being printed on textured paper.

In order to choose paper, you have to understand its vocabulary and the variety of choices available to you. We can help with these decisions by providing paper samples and discussing your project. Please call us with any paper-related questions.

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