Paper Matters Blog
How Paper Shade Can Impact Your Print Project

When it comes to adding a pop of color to your print projects, paper provides some of the biggest bang for your buck. When the paper shade is considered early in the design process, paper can actually be the “fifth” color in a four-color print project – sort of a bonus color.

While you might think, why not just use a PMS ink color to achieve the desired color? Knowing when to choose a colored paper vs. printing a solid color can make a big difference on the final outcome of the printed piece. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when deciding to specify a different paper shade for print.

As with any print project, thinking about the end-use should dictate paper selection. I often tell designers to start at the end and work backwards. When it comes to invitation design, no truer words are spoken.

The biggest hang up when designing invitations is always the envelope – so don’t save it for last. After all, the envelope is what garners the recipient’s attention, and nothing does that better than a pop of color.  And given the current popularity of calligraphy and wax seals on special occasion correspondence, choosing a colored card stock with matching envelope is the perfect choice for it.

However, the one thing you want to keep in mind when designing invitations is quantity. Most local paper merchants have an abundance of white envelopes on the floor in multiple sizes; but trying to find a dusty blue A-8 can be quite a challenge.

I advise involving your paper/print rep early on and ask them to hunt down availability of your desired color/size envelope.  There is nothing worse than waiting until you’re ready to go to press only to realize the color envelope you want is unavailable or requires a minimum order of 2500 (the standard carton qty. for envelopes).

Packaging applications are another type of project when specifying a colored sheet is a good idea – especially if you’re designing high-end packaging. When it comes to luxury, it’s all about the details. And one of the details that are noticeable is the edges of the packaging, especially the closures.

Oftentimes a coated-one-side board grade is recommended by the printer, and many times it’s a perfectly suitable use – but for luxury or high-end packaging you want to go the extra step and choose a dyed, solid colored cover or board stock. It gives a more polished appearance on the edges, whereas a standard white c1S sheet, while covered in ink, will still show white edges.

And since we’re talking about edges, the same holds true for identity system components, particularly business cards. A colored paper stock will carry that color through its edges, and since most business cards are produced on cover weight papers which are thicker, those white edges can be noticeable. This goes double if you’re going super heavy (think 130#C +). The exception would be if you were painting the edges.

Specifying a colored sheet, as opposed to printing a solid color on a white sheet, can be an impactful design element in publications as well. I recently saw annual report for an insurance company where they opted to used three bright colored papers for the financials.  The use of different paper shades completely changed the feel of the annual report and made the brand feel fresh and exciting as opposed to bland and stodgy.

I also think it’s important to consider the print techniques you want use in the production of the project. If you’re looking to include pressure based print techniques, like foil stamping or embossing, those processes use heat and pressure, which can compress the fibers.

While they work equally well on both white and colored papers, depending on the design effect you’re looking for, using a colored sheet can provide a sharper contrast when paired with the technique. Plus there is just something about the subtle beauty of a blind emboss on a different paper shade other than white that grabs our attention.

As with any print project, it’s always a good idea to involve your print rep early on in the process. Fill them in on what your expectations are, seek their expertise. When in doubt about whether a certain paper shade will “work” with the ink colors specified ask about getting ink draw downs.  In addition, your print rep can provide you with real life samples showing ink on different paper shades as well as the print techniques you’re considering.

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