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Paper & ink FAQs

Jun 1, 2004 12:00 AM

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Good news, printers: Creatives love print. In three studies conducted in the past year, the majority of respondents — the median percentage was 77 — said they design specifically for print. Designers reportedly love the quality and the control they have over the final piece.

More designers are also doing their own print buying, which means they rely heavily on their printers to guide them on their choices. For printers, then, it pays off in the long run to share your knowledge with designers. If your clients know you are fair and interested in keeping them current, they will be loyal.

As an online database specifically developed for the design and print industries, PaperSpecs (Palo Alto, CA) offers information on papers, paper characteristics and more. Following are some questions we frequently receive from printers who want to stay up-to-date with their clients' needs.

Why have designers been gravitating toward uncoated sheets?

A softer look in paper is emerging as a popular trend with creatives. Corporations want to project a kinder and gentler image, and uncoated smooth and textured sheets help send this message.

Coated paper has historically been the first choice for designs with lots of detail and color that pops, but designers and print buyers are now comparing uncoated with coated sheets for brochures, stationery and manuals. With UV inks and updated prepress technology, the natural surface of uncoated papers has proven to be ideal for four-color process printing.

How can UV inks affect a client's job?

When using traditional water- and solvent-based inks, the evaporative process removes 35 percent to 40 percent of the delivered ink volume. This requires more ink to achieve the desired color density. UV inks, on the other hand, act more like a liquid plastic. As the ink is exposed to the UV radiation, no material is removed, so nearly 100 percent of the delivered ink provides coloration. The significantly thicker consistency of the UV inks is also the reason that we increasingly see it used on uncoated papers.

That said, more absorbent papers such as vellums and thick covers tend to have more dot gain, especially on silk screen and other “slower” presses. This will happen with both higher- and lower-quality papers.

What papers are best when printing with metallic inks? Are there any ink characteristics we should be aware of?

Metallic inks perform best on coated stocks. Different coatings — matte or dull, for example — will produce different results, though.

On jobs with heavy metallic ink coverage or a long shelf life, or pieces that will experience a lot of handling, we still suggest varnishing the piece. The varnish will diminish the metallic effect somewhat, as metallics get their brilliance from the leafing of the metal flakes reflecting light, but will maintain the item's overall integrity. For a unique and subtle finish, add five percent to 10 percent of metallic ink to the varnish.

Watch out when printing metallics screened back — most metallic colors lose their “glow” when screened back. The result is seldom what the designer envisaged.

Finally, mix the requested metallic inks several days to a week before running the job on press. Metallic inks go through levels of changes, most of which will have taken place about 24 hours after the ink is mixed.

Is it worth it to invest in stochastic screening?

A lot of printers, once introduced to stochastic or other alternative screening, print most of their jobs with it — registration on press tends to be easier and color is more stable than with conventional printing. Alternative screening methods also provide more vivid, saturated colors, as the smaller dots allow you to lay down almost 20 percent more ink.

There are exceptions to the rule, however: If the specified stock is a vellum or a rougher surface, conventional screens at 150 to 175 lines still work better. Conventional screens also allow for less dot gain on uncoated sheets.

Should we invest in soft or remote proofing to make life easier for our clients (and ourselves)?

Soft and remote proofing have their place in the print production process, for different applications. They are a great way to streamline the proofing process, and the quality of these systems is improving tremendously. They may not be ideal for every client or every job, however.

Soft proofing — from PDF files to online services — is a perfect replacement for jobs where customers used to receive blue lines, or jobs that are time-critical, have a repetitive approval process or require overseas feedback. They are not intended to be used as standalone proofs for color-critical jobs.

For color-managed remote proofing to be successful, there has to be a close relationship between the designer and printer. Everyone involved has to agree on the same operating system, output device (calibrated to the press), paper, ink sets, monitor calibration and all other factors that affect color.

Remote proofing can be worth the time, money and effort to set up for clients that have regular print projects that don't differ too much from one to the next.

With all the great proofing technologies available, is there still a need for designers to come to press checks?

This was a hot topic at a recent print-buyer's conference. Very few designers and print buyers rely solely on proof sheets. After all, their clients pay them for the guarantee of a perfectly printed piece.

Since you will not be able to keep creatives out of the pressroom, take the opportunity to educate them about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into their print job. In a recent study by MAN Roland (Westmont, IL), “What to look for on a press check” was the No. 2 topic designers wanted to learn most about. You will be surprised by how much designers and print buyers appreciate you telling them what to look for on press checks, as well as how much or little can be done on press. Your insights will also increase the client's respect for the job you do.

Do synthetic papers need special printing considerations?

Synthetic papers print remarkably similarly to traditional papers and are suitable for embossing, foil stamping, diecutting — you name it. Due to their exceptionally smooth surface, these papers allow for maximum print contrast and effective runnability. If your client is printing a piece with a long life span, synthetic papers are highly recommended. They are durable and tear- and scuff-resistant, and fold without cracking.

Even though synthetic papers run well on standard offset presses, take some extra care in your ink selection. Work closely with your ink manufacturer, as the ink you use should be specially formulated for the paper. Low-solvent inks produce vivid, consistent print quality on sheetfed presses.

Also, since synthetic papers are non-porous, allow for a longer drying time and take extra control of the dampening solutions on press, so excess water cannot interfere with the ink transfer.

Aqueous and UV coatings give the printed piece extra protection. The world's largest manufacturer of synthetic papers, Yupo Corp. (Chesapeake, VA), recommends avoiding the following pigments when printing an aqueous coating on synthetic paper: red-lake C (warm red), reflex blue, purple, violet and rhodamines. These colors may burn out. Your ink supplier can provide substitute pigments that will be more stable.

Is the brightness factor overemphasized?

There is definitely some hype when it comes to paper brightness. As mills continue to create whiter and brighter sheets, it is easy to lose sight of the real issues: Does the paper run well on press, is its opacity suitable for the printed piece and does the grade really matter?

When the American Forest & Paper Assn. (Washington, DC) classified papers into grades, the classification was solely based on the brightness of a sheet. We all know that No. 2 sheets should have a brightness range from 83 percent to 84.9 percent. So why are there No. 3 sheets with brightness levels of over 90 these days?

Let's just say that brightness is no longer the only concern, and a sheet is whatever a manufacturer chooses to call it. The grade, in the end, is determined by marketing.

A brighter sheet is usually more expensive to make. Fillers and chemicals, such as fluorescent dyes and optical brighteners, are needed to create the paper's brighter appearance. They help to give the paper a blue-white shade, but also can take a toll on the paper's stability and runnability on press. This is what you pay for when you purchase a premium or No. 1 sheet: brightness and the assurance that the paper also offers a great runnability.

If your clients ask for a certain grade and you know price is a concern, show them printed samples on the best sheet one grade below. Mills are known to upgrade the quality of a sheet. Even though the sheet could pass for a No. 1, the mill has no offering in a No. 2 grade yet, so they will price it as a No. 2 to complete their palette. It is all about marketing.

Last tips

Make certain you are there for your clients every step of the way. Your expertise will ensure their project will look stunning. You'll improve their efforts through your knowledge and experience. After all, you're not just selling print, you're selling solutions.

Sabine Lenz is founder of PaperSpecs, Inc., an online paper database and “all-in-one swatchbook.” Contact her at or visit