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The Essential Non-Designer Guide to Choosing Paper Stock

There are several factors to consider when choosing a paper stock. To help you choose the best material for your next print project, we've created this handy guide that explains the essential difference between stock types to help you navigate through 'paperland' and all the jargon that surrounds it

Starting from its definition, in the publishing industry, the word 'stock' refers to the type of paper used for a printing job. Paper stock is often described by brightness & colour, text and grain. Let's look at each attribute and how paper selection has a great significant on the final product since it provides the tactile feel, texture, weight and ink performance of your prints.


Stock paper comes in a variety of textures, which can range from a rough matte to shiny and smooth.

Brightness & Colour

Regardless of the type of stock you select, paper comes in an assortment of colours and brightness—the brighter the paper, the more readable it will be. Brighter papers also display ink colours more accurately, vibrantly and purely,


Opacity measures the transparency, how much print shows through from one side of the paper to the other. Paper that shows nothing from the other side is 100% opaque.

Paper Weights

There are two conventions currently in use for paperweights.

In Europe and most parts of the world that use ISO paper sizes, the paperweight is measured in GSM (or g/m2), which stands for 'Grams per Square Meter' and means exactly that—how many grams a single sheet of paper weighs measuring 1m x 1m per square metre.

In countries that use US paper sizes—such as the United States and Canada— the basis weight refers to how much a 500 sheet ream of uncut paper actually weights, and it is usually specified in pounds (lbs).

Finally, the thickness of a paper is expressed by points, where a point is equal to one-thousandth of .001 inches. Paper that is 10pt is 0.01 inches thick, 20pt is 0.02 inches thick, etc.

Generally speaking, the thicker the paper, the more durable it is, but this ultimately depends on how it is coated.

Whenever in doubt, request samples to assess it firsthand.

Coated vs uncoated

Paper stock is either coated or uncoated.

Uncoated stock has no coatings on the natural fibres; therefore, has a non-glare surface and inks absorb into the paper easily to give it a flat appearance.

In general, if your print will contain mainly text and readability is your priority, or if it's a piece which will be written on—to fill in details or maybe make notes—then you'd want to select an uncoated stock.

A word of warning: Some stocks can't be written on even if they're uncoated (e.g. plastic).

Uncoated paper is often used for items such as invitations, stationery, envelopes, and any final product you can write on.

There are a vast number and type of uncoated stocks which are available in a variety of surfaces, both smooth (like printer or copy paper) and textured, for example, a linen finish.

A smooth finish is a right choice for writing. A textured finish is a good choice for invitations or business cards.

Uncoated stocks include bonds, offsets, card, and newsprint.

Coated paper stock has a sealant which will better display text and images with sharper detail, and denser colour/gives a crisp finish to full-colour graphics, photos and detailed images. During printing, this sealant restricts ink from absorbing into the surface of the paper.

Coated paper is typically used for print literature and promotional items—such as flyers, brochures, postcards (coated on one side)—posters, packaging and any product that you won't be writing on.

Types of paper finishes

Coated stocks come in a variety of coating options: gloss, satin/silk, matt and special finishes.

Each paper finish has its characteristics, so before deciding which one is most appropriate for your needs, ask yourself what you need your prints to accomplish.

Its good practice to ask for samples so you can feel the stock and see how each finish prints for yourself.


Gloss paper has a high sheen and is well suited to prints that need to attract attention with photos and any design with bright colours—e.g. a magazine or photo book.


Satin/Silk paper has a smooth surface paper that a step down from the full shine of gloss paper, but still gives your prints that smooth finishing touch. If your design contains mostly images with some text, then a silk finish could be a better option—e.g. flyers, brochures, business cards or invitations.


Matt paper has minimal sheen and is flat looking.

If you have to have a coated stock for better print quality but need the paper for writing on it, matte stocks can sometimes be used with certain types of pens—when in doubt, always do a test to make sure that solution will work for you.

Specialty Paper Coatings

There are also speciality coatings that can be added after a piece is printed to:

  • help protect the printed surface from scratching, fingerprints and dirt or can be used to create eye-catching effects;
  • enhance the appearance of economy-grade paper by improving gloss and providing a smoother touch;
  • improve the durability of the printed pieces during shipment through to the end-use of items such as postcards, brochures, catalogues, flyers, etc.

You can read more about speciality coating finishes here.


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