Paper Matters Blog
How to Use the Paper Swatchbook

The following is part one of a two-part series from our friend Jill DiNicolantonio originally published as Save Your Sanity and Start with the Paper Swatchbook.  This how-to provides the basics on how to use the paper swatchbook to ensure your project runs smoothly and on budget. As the founder of Parse & Parcel and here recently the Engagement Director at Millcraft Paper, Jill has found swatchbooks to be a necessary tool for beginning any print project. While incredibly useful, they can also create a bit of information overload for newbies and seasoned professionals alike. To get the most from your swatchbook, follow Jill’s tips in this two-part series. You’ll be navigating through these robust tools like a pro in no time.

I’ve seen it happen time and again. A designer works on a print project and gets all the way through to the final stages of quoting only to find out the paper they designed the entire piece around doesn’t actually exist. Sounds unlikely but it’s true. I think we often assume that all papers are offered in standard weights, sizes/finishes and we just take for granted our paper specs won’t be an issue. Which is probably the case 80% of the time, but on the 20% they’re not it can really wreck havoc with our deadline, not to mention budget. You can save yourself (and your sanity) a ton of time by doing one simple thing at the onset of a project: open and read the swatchbook.


How to Use the Paper Swatchbook


While every swatchbook is laid out a little differently, the basic information provided is all the same. And this info is crucial to helping designers maximize their budget and meet their deadline.  I’m breaking it down into the five attributes to check in the swatch book when it comes properly identifying and specifying paper for your print projects.

Grade – This is pretty straightforward; the grade is a line of paper made by the paper mill or manufacturer. For example, Cougar® is the grade made by Domtar, the paper mill. Once you’ve identified the grade you’ll easily be able to locate the swatch book in your swatch box– just check the spine for the grade name.

Color – Honestly, the majority of print projects are going to be on a white stock, so if the grade only has one shade of white, move on to the next attribute. But if you are planning to use a colored stock, flip to the color you want in the paper waterfall inside the swatch book. Make sure it’s the shade you’re looking for, you may have to pull a few swatch books and compare shades to help you find that perfect color match.

Finish – Most swatchbooks will be divided and tabbed by finishes. Flip to the finish you are interested in using, in the world of uncoated papers the default finish is going to be smooth, but you’ll most likely see multiple options. For example, the Cougar swatchbook features three finishes to select from: super smooth, smooth and vellum.  Flip through each of the tabs and feel the texture of the paper, you’ll notice a very sleek, smooth feel on the super smooth compared to vellum, which has more of a toothy, tactile feel, and smooth is somewhere in between.

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