Printing Paper Essentials

Have you ever sat down and really thought about paper? Probably not, until the moment came when you first needed something printed, you needed it to look really good, and the old desktop printer just didn’t cut it.

Thanks to desktop printing, individuals and small businesses have discovered that they can do a lot of print work independently, taking desktop publishing to the limit. However, professional print buyers know that desktop printing can never compare in quality and durability to the work available from professional printing houses. There are a lot of different reasons for this, but one of the biggies – the one we’ll be picking apart in this article – is the grade of paper used.

Get Good Grades

A paper’s grade is determined by several factors including use, weight, and appearance, but all these factors basically boil down to a question of quality. Desktop printer grade paper, for example, is suitable for essays, reports, and resumes. Offset printer paper, on the other hand, is suited to commercial grade printing such as banners, tickets, labels, table tent displays, and CD & DVD covers.

In the offset printing process, large, flat sheets of offset paper are fed into the printer and impressed with predetermined CMYK color mixtures. The paper used has been designed and created for strength and durability, which allows the printer to print large amounts at high speeds. The paper is also designed to bond with ink without allowing it to soak in and become blurry, and without curling even as it absorbs a lot of ink.

There are many other types and grades of paper, including bond paper, ledger paper, and even vellum and papers made out of silk or cotton. However, a printer chooses paper for its ability to handle the intensity of a high quality printing and coating process. This is called a paper’s runnability.

Take Stock

Most printing projects require at least one of two main different kinds of paper: cover paper and text or book paper. At Hotcards, we use 100% made-in-America Carolina Gloss Coated Cover Stock as our cover paper. Cover paper is used for printing brochures, business cards, postcards, and other material that requires heavy, durable paper.

Our gloss text stock is called Amerigloss. Like Carolina, it is gloss coated on both sides, and 100% made in America, but it’s a slightly lighter weight paper, which is suited to flyers, posters, and many direct mailing materials.

When choosing stock, printing consider several factors that contribute towards the grade and runnability of paper, including finish, weight, and opacity.


When we talk about the finish of a paper, we’re talking about the look of its surface. The paper we use is always gloss coated on both sides because this coating brings a slick, professional look to anything that is printed on it. Gloss coating is added to paper during the milling process, and is considered to be a finish for a high grade of paper. A gloss finish results in paper that is smooth and hard as opposed to rough and porous.

Our cover and text stocks are gloss finished during paper making to take ink without absorbing it. This is called a high holdout rate, and it is a sign of a high grade paper with excellent runnability.

Other finishes, such as vellum or parchment, have low holdout rates, which means they absorb ink, and words and images imprinted thereon tend to be less sharp and clear. Good for those hand-lettered greeting cards, maybe, but not for a print ad campaign.

Often, individuals working on a personal project will attempt to use a glossy paper in their printer, but the paper just comes out all smeared. This doesn’t happen in offset printing because of the way sheets of paper run through the printer.

Basis Weight

The basis weight is the weight of a ream, or 500-sheet unit of paper. A sheet as defined by a paper manufacturer or printer might be several times the size of a “sheet” the way most people think of it (e.g. 25” x 38” vs. 8.5” x 11”). Still, a single sheet of paper will be referred to as “60 lb stock” because it comes from a ream of that weight.

Offset printer cover paper that has been gloss coated on two sides, such as that used by Hotcards, can weigh anywhere from 100 to almost 300 lbs. As a rule, desktop printer paper will weigh between 50 and 100 lbs. This is due to the thickness and density of the paper. Offset printing paper is much thicker, more durable, and less susceptible to creasing than regular desktop printer paper. All these factors help to determine a paper’s grade, and should definitely be taken into account when considering your next printing job.


This refers to a paper’s tendency to allow light to pass through it. On a regular piece of desktop printer paper, you’ve probably noticed that printing on both sides tends to show through, especially when it’s held up to the light. However, this doesn’t have as much to do with the thinness of the paper as it does with the density of the material. Even a thick sign can be see through if it is made of a non-opaque material like polyblend, and a thin piece of paper with a dense fiber count can be very opaque.

Paper stock chosen by a printer is selected for its high opacity. It’s often important to have detailed, full color printing on both sides of a print item, such as a brochure, a poster, or a club card. And even if a printing job is only one-sided, it never looks good to have light shining through a piece of paper and fading out the design and message.

Keeping Up Appearances

In the end, it’s all about appearance – the way your printing looks when it’s out there in the world. What kind of paper will make your advertising, information, design, or message look as good as it possibly can? For do-it-yourselfers, finding the right paper can be a nightmare of trial and error, but for the print buyers that use Hotcards and other professional printing houses, the work is done, and now you know why.

A lot of thought goes into the paper that a printer chooses. After all, that choice can make or break a design, can amplify or obscure a message, and can even leave a subconcious impression of quality (or lack thereof). Hotcards uses two sided, gloss-coated paper because it is the standard in quality and runnability, and it is easy to provide large amounts for our customers at the lowest prices in the nation.