Picture this: you’re in a hurry to get to a meeting, and you send a print job to the printer. While it’s printing, you collect your meeting materials from your desk, and as you head off to the meeting you swing by the printer to grab your document. But the document doesn't meet your expectations. Still, the meeting's about to start and you rush off to avoid being late.
Poor quality print projects are typically blamed on low toner, running out of one color, paper jams or improper alignment. But one issue-causing factor most people often forget about is using the incorrect paper weight.
There are numerous weights available for paper stock and each has its own specialized use in printing. Read on for a thorough description of paper weights and their proper use so you can avoid poor quality prints next time you are late for a meeting (and anytime in between).
What is Paper Stock?
Paper stock is determined first by weight, which has to do with thickness and stiffness of sheets of paper. When paper is measured it is based upon a standard size sheet, and standard paper weights are based on a quantity of 500 sheets. Figuring paper stock is quite simple. You simply compare stocks by the weight of the pages. But it becomes more complicated when different paper sizes or volumes are taken into consideration. For example, some paper weights are determined by 1,000 sheets, rather than 500. These more complex variations can take a little more time.
If this doesn’t help clarify your questions regarding which type of paper you need for your office’s print projects, don’t be alarmed. You can download our Paper Weight Cheat Sheet for a quick guide to commonly used paper stocks, plus I’ll add clarification as we continue.
Standard Copier Paper Weight
For printer paper, the paper's weight refers to the thickness of various stocks, which is represented as a measurement in pounds. There are numerous classifications of paper stock, each with its own weight. The following are some of the more common types you should be aware of; the types of print projects your office produces will determine which stocks you should provide:
- Bond Paper: This is the standard paper used in copiers and printers in offices around the world. Also referred to as writing paper, the standard weights for bond paper include 16, 20, 24, 28, 32 and 36 pounds.
- Text Paper: Most frequently used in commercial printing operations, text paper is typically featured on stationary and letterhead print jobs. Text paper is commonly offered in weights of 50, 60, 70, 80 and 100 pounds.
- Cover Paper: Also known as card stock, cover paper is a heavy, stiff paper that is available in a variety of colors and finishes. Weights range from as low as 50 pounds to as high as 120 pounds.
- Bristol Paper: Originating in the town of Bristol, England, this kind of paper harkens back to the days when paper was made from rags. This extremely thick, heavy paper is often used in creating book covers or wedding invitations. It is available in either 67 or 120 pounds.
- Index Paper: As the name suggests, this paper is used for index cards or postcards. Fairly stiff and inexpensive, index paper is available in 90, 110 and 140 pounds.
- Tag Paper: This durable paper is used for everyday purposes like retail signage and is available in weights ranging from 100 to 200 pounds.
As the weight increases within each paper type, so does the thickness or sturdiness of the paper. It can get confusing when you compare paper weight across paper types. For example, 20# bond paper has an equivalent weight of 28# cover paper (however, cover paper isn’t typically sold in this weight).
Our paper weight conversion chart can help you determine which weights compare to others across paper types and which weights within each paper type are standard; this will be helpful when purchasing paper supplies for specific and custom printing projects.
How to Choose the Right Weight of paper
While modern multifunction printers are designed to work with a variety of paper weights, there are few printers that can perform at a high level using all paper weights. The type of printer and the type of print job are going to play major roles in the final product you receive in the printer tray.
Standard bond paper, weighing 20 pounds, is the most common paper found in offices. It is ideal for use in copy machines, fax machines and standard printers. Bond paper’s lighter weight makes it jam resistant, economical to purchase and the most flexible for use across various machines. Common uses include high-volume print jobs, faxes and everyday print jobs (such as emails and documents for storage).
Mid-range paper weights are ideal for use in higher-end multifunction devices and inkjet/laser printers. These heavier paper weights are more versatile, resistant to translucency and tend to provide a smoother finish. You’ll often see mid-range paper weights used in printing business proposals, presentations and documents geared toward customers (such as direct mailers).
Finally, papers with the heaviest weights are best suited for commercial printers and specific inkjet/laser printers only. These sturdy paper weights offer the smoothest finishes, clear colors and the greatest resistance to translucency. Heavy paper is often used for signs, flyers, professional presentation materials and as cover material for documents (book covers).
STANDARD STOCKS FOR SPECIFIC PURPOSES
There are standard stocks used in everyday printing situations or for common projects. When purchasing paper for your company, this may be a handy cheat sheet for you to reference.
- Standard Printing Paper: 20# pound bond or 50# text
- Letterhead: 24# bond or 60# text
- Brochures/Presentations: 28#/32# bond or 70#/80# text
- Postcards/Posters: 65# cover
- Business Cards: 80# cover
- Invitations: 100# cover
- Tabs/Dividers/Manila Folders: 110# index
TYPES OF PAPER: COLOR, Finishes and Size
While undoubtedly important, the weight of paper isn't the only variable capable of affecting printing. It's also worth noting differences in color, finish and size.
Nowadays, you can buy paper in just about any color you can imagine. Most paper suppliers carry a standard stock of pastels (blue, yellow, green, pink, goldenrod, purple, salmon, cream, turquoise and gray), brights (blue, green, yellow red, pink, orange, gold and purple) and neutrals (tan, cream, buff and ivory). Keep in mind, printing on colored paper can alter how different colors and shades of toner show up.
Paper finishes alter texture as well as appearance. Here are some of the standard paper finishes as described by The Paper Hub:
- Embossed finishes produce a raised appearance on the paper. Common types of embossed finishes are linen, laid and felt.
- Vellum is a very common finish for general purpose paper. It will appear smooth to the untrained eye, although the paper has a subtle roughness (tooth) which separates it from 'smooth'.
- Smooth finish paper is passed through a set of rollers during the papermaking process to produce an exceptionally even surface.
- Cockle is a finish that simulates characteristics of handmade paper. The effect is obtained by air drying the paper under minimum tension.
Finally, all types of paper can be found in a variety of sizes. Here are the common sizes used, but most multifunction printers can handle a much wider variety (see image):
- Letter: 8.5 x 11
- Legal: 8.5 x 14
- Tabloid: 11 x 17
Sometimes, having the right paper dimensions selected can mean the difference between a high-quality print and something that's destined for they recycling bin.
Unfortunately, it isn’t one size fits all when it comes to paper choice and printer compatibility. Certain printers can handle certain paper weights; if you feed your printer a paper weight that it cannot handle, it will typically jam or produce poor-quality results. And certain printers can only handle the most common paper sizes. Check with your print provider to determine which types of paper your printer can manage.
If your paper selection, equipment capabilities and project requirements don’t align, your printed results can fall short of your expectations. The wrong paper, used in the wrong device for a particular project, will have a negative impact on the overall appearance of the project. If your business is having trouble identifying the proper paper weight for your print project requirements and aligning those needs with your printing equipment’s capabilities, consult a copier printer specialist for direction and assistance.