The Lowdown on Choosing the Right Paper for Printed Media

The Lowdown on Choosing the Right Paper for Printed Media

When working with printed media you’d be surprised just how much difference paper can make to your project. Choose the wrong type of paper and you’ll find that your printed media causes people to shrug their shoulders and sigh. Get your paper choice just right, though, and you’ll find that your media suddenly causes heads to turn.

And here’s how you go about making the right decision for your papery needs

A Question of Thickness

The thickness of your paper can have a huge effect of the ability of your printed media to impress viewers, so you really need to get to grips with it.

The most common way to measure paper thickness is with the trusty grams per square metre (GSM) standard. It’s a pretty simple measurement and all you have to remember is that the higher the GSM the thicker the paper.

But what difference can paper thickness make? I mean, paper’s paper, right?

Well, not exactly!

You see, different thicknesses serve different needs. If, for example, you’re creating a set of business cards then they’re going to need to be durable, so a high thickness is essential to make sure they don’t get mangled up in people’s pockets.

A quick guide to GSM weights and their uses is:

30 – 100 GSM: Newspaper and magazine pages

120 – 150 GSM: Flyers, posters and magazine covers

180 – 300 GSM: Brochures and fancy coffee table books

325 – 425 GSM: Business cards

To Coat or Not to Coat

Choosing to go for coated or uncoated paper can bring a completely different dimension to the message being delivered by your media.

Coated paper usually has a coating applied to it in order to produce a glossy finish where photographs and illustrations can really sing. And the reason it achieves this shiny appearance is due to the coating preventing the paper fibres from soaking up too much of the ink. This keeps the colour closer to the surface and creates a bright finish.

At the other end of the spectrum is uncoated paper which barely knows how to spell coating let alone be slathered in it. And this is why the paper fibres soak up a lot of the ink and produce a matte finish which reflects relatively little light. This lack of reflection makes it just perfect for housing long texts.


Even something as simple as the shade of your paper can have a dramatic effect on the impact it brings to your printed projects.

The most common shade of paper is that perennial favourite of white, but it’s closely followed by its sibling cream.

White papers have varying shades of a blueish tone and, as you’d expect, imparts a colder, more clinical feel. This makes white paper ideal for more image based materials where the contrast needs to be stark and bold.

Cream, though, has a warmer and friendlier tone which wraps viewers up into an engaged state, so it’s perfect for texts. In fact, open up any book near you right now and you’ll find that the pages are almost certainly cream.

The Opacity Issue

Perhaps the biggest mistake that graphic designers make when selecting paper is its opacity.

But what is this curiously constructed word of opacity? Well, quite simply, it refers to just how much light can be transmitted through it.

And this becomes particularly important when designing printed media because too low an opacity means that images and texts will be visible on the other side of the paper.

Just imagine how cluttered and awkward that’s going to look in a brochure!

Bear in mind, though, that a number of factors such as thickness, coating and even shading can affect the opacity of your paper. And achieving complete opacity can become expensive if multiple sheets and printings are needed, so always bear your budget in mind!

For one sided designs, though, such as posters, you don’t need to worry about opacity quite so much.

Paper, then, is certainly a lot more complex than the average man on the street would imagine. It’s not rocket science, though, so building a firm foundation for your designs is easily achievable if you consider exactly what the paper can do for your design.



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