Paper Matters Blog
Paper – The Fifth Color

The paper you select is a key factor in helping your print job and your expectations. As a reminder, If you’re looking to achieve certain effects, the shade of paper you select can help you accomplish that goal. Considering paper as the fifth color in your print equation, it will influence the overall image of your printed pieces. With digital technologies that now have opaque white inks, you can truly make your paper selection a standout color in your print equation.

The shade of your paper can play a crucial role in the reproduction of your images. “Standard” printing inks are transparent. This is what allows us to build an infinite number of colors from cyan, magenta and yellow. Because the inks are transparent, the color of the paper will impact the final color of the print.

How Paper Color Impacts Image Appearance

In an effort to demonstrate the impact of the paper color, I ran a color test with white, cream and yellow paper. When printing a solid cyan block over the base paper, you can immediately see the shift in the color of the cyan ink. On the white paper, the cyan is crisp and bright. It becomes a bit darker on the cream paper and becomes a shade of teal when printed over yellow paper.

Don’t be afraid to ask your printer for a color test to ensure you find the right color for your project. By working together, you can use paper as your fifth color in all your print projects.

Selecting the Shade of Paper for Desired Results

The color of the paper needs to be taken into account when approving proofs for a print job. Many proofing systems use coated paper and inkjet inks and, although this will provide a basic representation of what the job will look like, it will not adequately reproduce the actual color you may achieve – especially if the paper you have selected for your job is significantly different than the proofing paper.

For example, take a look at the Starfish below.

Depending on the effect you are hoping to portray with your image and your target audience, different paper will yield a different impact. The white paper has a crisp clean look to the image. You might want to use the cream paper to give the sand a more realistic color.

While the yellow paper and starfish images may not work together, the yellow paper might give an image full of sunflowers that extra burst of brightness to the flower petals. It all depends on the job and your needs, so if your job will be printed on only 1 paper stock, you need to consider all of your images and how you need them to present.

Taking in paper as your fifth color will allow you to maximize your budget and enhance the effectiveness of your design.

When printing 4-color images, the background color of the paper needs to be carefully considered. It will impact the entire image so you need to determine your focal point and how you need it to reproduce.

Warm whites (with a redder tint) are often used when printing flesh tones and woodgrains. Cooler whites (bluer shades) may be preferred for snow, water or sky images. Luckily there are not as many paper shades of white as there are paint colors, but careful selection will help your printed images look as good as you imagined them.

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