An essential component to any printed piece is the paper choice. Unfortunately it can be overwhelming when offered a list of paper choices, confused even more by industry-specific terminology. Learning the meaning behind the most commonly used terms can help you make a better-informed decision.
When talking about paper, brightness is a quantifiable attribute. What is measured is the reflection of light across a wavelength of blue light. The standard used in North America is based on a scale of 0-100. The higher the brightness value, the more light is reflected by the sheet of paper.
It is a growing trend to replace the measure of brightness with measure of whiteness, although very related, the two terms are not measured the same way. Whiteness is considered by many to be slightly more relevant as it measures the paper as your eye perceives it. Measurements are made under D65 illumination, which is a standard representation of outdoor daylight. For a perfect reflecting, nonfluorescent white material, the Whiteness value would be 100.
Shade is also related to brightness and whiteness as refers to the actual color of the paper. Shade influences how accurately colors are reproduced, the “whiter” paper is, the more accurate the representation of the original image will be.
Opacity refers to how see-through a piece of paper is. It affects how likely you are to be able to see printed text and images on the other side of the paper.
A coated paper stock has a surface sealant and often contains clay. Coating papers reduce dot gain by restricting ink from absorbing into the surface of the paper. This sealant allows for crisper printing, particularly photos, gradients and fine detailed images. Different coatings can achieve different textures and finishes.
An uncoated paper stock has not been coated with surface sealants. Inks dry by absorbing into the paper.
Final paper products come in a variety of finishes or surfaces. The most common are matte and gloss although there are a lot of in-between terms like silk, satin, dull gloss, etc.
Gloss refers to a specific type of finish achieved in coated paper. Gloss creates a highly shiny and reflective finish, think pages of a magazine. Gloss creates the ultimate in reproduction detail.
A matte finish reflects an absolute minimum of light, making it much easier on the eyes, and therefore easier to read.
Bond, or writing is the categorization for your basic multi-purpose general paper. It ranges from copier paper, all the way up to watermarked linen resume paper.
Text is a thicker grade of paper that is often used for books, newsletters, flyers, etc.
Cover is a catchall term that refers to most cardstock papers such as used in a business card, postcard, or report cover. Cardstock can actually be subdivided into Bristol, Index, Cover, and Board but Cover is the most often used category. Cover is made to match companion text weights.
Weight refers to the “basis weight” which is how much 500 sheets of paper weigh. If 500 sheets of paper weighed 80 lbs, it would be 80 lbs. text, but in printing that would be written as 80# text instead of writing out lbs. To introduce some extra confusion, the sheet dimensions used to determine that weight are different depending on whether you are using text or cover. This is actually just the beginning, stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on understanding paper weights and thicknesses. (Edit: Go here for blog post on paper weights.)
Caliper refers to the thickness of a single sheet of paper. Weight and thickness are completely different measurements. Caliper is the actual measured thickness measured in mils (1/1000”), also referred to as points.