Paper Matters Blog
Swatchbooks, A Useful Tool for Designers

Printers and paper merchants are all very familiar with paper swatchbooks, but as a designer, you might ask, “What are swatchbooks and how can they help me?” You may be that designer who cranks out the work never to have much say in the paper or printing process. Or, you may be that designer who is heavily involved in all aspects of the final printed piece. Either way, the swatchbook can be your friend…if you understand what it can offer you and how you can use it.

If you are a newbie to swatchbooks, start by picking one up and flipping through it. Most design agencies or in-house creative teams will have swatchbooks on hand. If one is not available to you, reach out to a printer or paper manufacturer to get one. Once you get your hands on one, right away, you’ll appreciate the design that goes into most of these swatchbooks. Paper manufacturers put great effort into the design and print quality of these useful tools. Paper is their product, so it needs to look top-notch with rich color, even solids, sharp detail, and lifelike skin tones.

As you flip through the pages you’ll notice a few things about these booklets. They all contain printed and unprinted samples, tabs that separate the paper grades offered and the specifications and stocking information of each product. Each component of a swatchbook is a valuable resource that when used can help in choosing the right paper to make your creative work stand out.

“How can each of these components help me?” you might ask. The qualities in a sheet of paper can greatly affect the final outcome of your printed work.

The printed samples in a swatchbook are typically the best representations of what the paper can do once ink is applied to the sheet. In the printed samples section, qualities like, color vibrancy, brightness of whites, opacity, texture and thickness of the sheet are things you should look for when reviewing the printed images. Great paper will deliver vibrant color with good detail, high opacity for minimal show-through and no mottling in those solid printed areas.

Let’s not forget about those unprinted samples. They are no less important in making the right paper choice. The unprinted samples are usually shown in a waterfall format so sheets can be easily compared side by side. Look for consistency in shade here. You want each printed page to be consistent throughout each and every print run, so the look of your brand remains consistent. Shade can be important to set the mood of your final printed piece. Choosing a bright white shade of paper can evoke a fresh, clean feel while a natural shade may bring a sense of warmth to your printed piece.

Other things to notice when viewing unprinted samples are:

  • Opacity or the amount of see-through of a sheet is important. Choose a higher opacity sheet for those two-sided flyers, for example.
  • Caliper or a sheet’s thickness comes into play when you want to carry some weight to your final piece. A thicker sheet can add durability when handling and mailing is needed. A heavier weight can also convey a sense of importance or luxury that you may want for cards or invitations.
  • Finish or surface texture can affect the look, feel and printability of paper. So carefully consider finish when making your final paper decision. An uncoated paper can have many finishes; smooth, super smooth and vellum are the finishes featured in our Cougar® and Lynx® swatchbooks.

Without tabs to divide each section, a swatchbook could feel a bit unorganized. These tabs are used to separate the different stocks variations the paper manufacturer offers in that paper line or sometimes the paper use, like envelope stock. Tabs, like in the Domtar paper swatchbooks, will also hold valuable information about stocking and paper specifications.

swatchbooks useful tool for designers 2

The stocking charts and specification tables may seem like a bunch of unnecessary numbers to a designer or swatchbook novice. In fact, this is where a wealth of information lies to those who know how to use it. With this information, you can make wise choices for your company or client about which paper is best to use for your project. For example, if your budget or print quantity dictates printing digitally, it would be helpful to know that the paper manufacturer only carries a digital sheet that is 12 x 18. Knowing this can save you time upfront as you begin to design your project. Having to start a design over can result in missed deadlines, hurting your reputation as a creative resource to your company or cause you to lose a client. So, get familiar with the specification and stocking areas of the swatchbook tool, they can be a real lifesaver.

Hopefully, fellow designers, I’ve given you more than enough reasons to take another look at that swatchbook that sits on your shelf. Print designers work hard to create show-stopping printed pieces. It seems only fitting that we take a little extra time to fully understand the qualities of paper and how those specifications can impact our final printed piece.

Keep creating and never stop learning.

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