Paper Matters Blog
How to Spec the Right Paper for Digital Printing

Over the last few years, advances in technology have made things so much easier when it comes to printing, especially for creative professionals.  Digital printing is one of those advances with options that just keep expanding.

In addition to being able to produce print projects both economically and in smaller quantities, digital printing offers creative professionals more options than ever when it comes to paper selection. But like any technology, each operating system has its own unique set of requirements—and digital printing is no exception. Things like paper thickness (caliper), weight (gsm) and finish can vary greatly between equipment.

The key to successful results is knowing how to spec the right paper for digital printing

First, determine the type of digital equipment being used and choose your paper based on that press. This is important because every digital printer has different paper requirements. An HP Indigo, for example, requires a surface treatment. Just because a paper is shown as “digital” in a swatch book does not mean it’s necessarily suited to that equipment.

Once you know the equipment, ask your printer about the equipment’s capabilities. Printers love talking about their printing equipment! And when it comes to digital printing, many of today’s digital presses offer techniques that can generate a lot of impact. Things like white ink, gold and silver metallic inks, clear coatings that mimic spot UV – these all can be done on a digital press.

Each of these capabilities is not only going to vary by equipment, but also by the printer. For example, I adore the digital gold metallic ink I saw featured in Domtar’s Make Your Mark on Cougar piece. The effect was achieved using the Xerox® 1000i Color Press. But simply knowing the printer has that equipment isn’t enough for me to get those results.

I need to know if the printer has the capability to use the digital gold metallic ink, as the press requires different canisters and software to produce the results I want. So it’s always a good idea to find out what the capabilities of the equipment at said printer are.

paper for digital printing


From here, I recommend asking your printer about the paper requirements based on the equipment. How heavy of a weight can the machine run? Many digital presses will accommodate up to 352 gsm, around 130 lb. Cover—but double check to be sure.

The same rule of thumb follows when it comes to paper finish – when in doubt, ask. Smooth and super smooth finishes should be issue free on a digital press. But if you are looking to print digitally on an embossed finish, like linen or felt, I recommend testing. You could run into problems with uniformity of the printed images.

To be sure the paper you want to use is the right one for digital printing, look for an indicator in the swatchbook that the paper is guaranteed for digital printing. And know that “compatible” is not the same thing as “guaranteed.” I had a marketer learn about this the hard way.

They specified a heavier text weight than what was noted as being guaranteed to use throughout their firm. Needless to say, it was an expensive mistake. When printing digital, always ask for samples prior to printing the full run.

I also recommend finding out what digital papers are stocked locally. This will vary by market and paper merchant, but knowing what is available locally can make all the difference when you’re up against a tight deadline.

And if time is no issue, know that just because a paper is not stocked locally does not mean you can’t get it. At most it should be 3-4 days from the mill to the merchant, usually sooner depending on how often the merchant orders from that mill.

The bottom line is work with your printer in the beginning of the process. This gives you and the printer plenty of time to address any potential problems, test papers and ensure availability. If you follow the above practices, you can be pretty certain of the paper’s performance on press and feel confident choosing the right paper for digital printing.

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