Print Material

How to Choose the best paper for your next print job

Every magazine and catalog is a brand that can be enhanced by balancing its high-qualityand high-impact look and feel with production efficiencies and cost-containment concerns. Magazine and catalog publishers can realize substantial savings by evaluating carefully the paper grades and basis weights they currently use to deliver the publication’s desired brand image.

Paper grade considerations

Frequently, inaugural issues of magazines and catalogs are printed on bright, heavyweight coated papers that grab the attention of potential readers and advertisers. While these papers help the new publication stand out among its competition, they also add to the tactile quality and overall aesthetics of the publication. This does not go

As the publication matures, costs and revenue growth can become a concern.
At this point, many magazine and catalog publishers consider switching to lighter-weight papers that maintain a quality image, yet significantly reduce overall publishing costs. The selection of lighter-weight papers includes coated freesheet , lightweight coated groundwood and supercalendared papers that are available in a range of basis weights and finishes. Before making any significant changes, however, publishers should determine the affect that a change in paper stock will have on the customer satisfaction, advertising effectiveness and brand identity.

Coated freesheet papers

As the highest-quality coated papers available on the market, coated freesheet papers are ideal for high-end fashion, design, lifestyle and coffee-table-style magazines. These include Architectural Digest, Vogue and National Geographic, which appeal to upscale audiences and provide advertising space to companies whose products are rich in color, texture and beauty. High-end fashion, design and lifestyle catalogs also are printed on these papers and include Calyx and Carolla, Martha by Mail and Tiffany’s. For these magazines and catalogs, image quality is paramount; the finest details must be reproduced to near-photographic quality.

To fulfill these requirements, coated freesheet papers offer brightness, opacity, a wide range of finishes, exceptional smoothness, and superior image clarity and sharpness. High-end publications also have an extended shelf life because they are frequently kept by the reader for an extended length of time. Due to their archival quality, coated freesheet papers offer definite advantages for extended-life and reference-type publications.

Top-of-the-line coated freesheet papers are purchased at a premium and produce printed pieces with a substantially higher cost than other paper grades.

Coated groundwood papers

Coated groundwood papers are an excellent option for lightweight, highly portable publications that are text-heavy, and have full ink coverage and minimal white space. Many magazines, particularly those with limited shelf lives, have successfully migrated from coated freesheet to coated groundwood papers, including business-to-business, trade, hobby and special-interest magazines.

Publications such as Time and Newsweek are excellent examples of highly successful titles that are published on lightweight coated groundwood stock. Examples of catalogs produced on coated groundwood paper include those from Avon, Lands’ End and Victoria’s Secret. Coated groundwood papers offer publishers a high-quality look and feel by providing increased opacity at the selected weight, high paper and print gloss for vibrant printed images, excellent sheet smoothness and enhanced ink coverage.

Although there are trade-offs in quality, lighter-weight groundwood papers generally provide significant postal savings while maintaining a high quaility look and feel. True cost savings depend upon the basis weight used, but can easily amount to double-digit savings of up to 30 percent vs. coated freesheet papers.

Basis weight

A switch to lighter basis weight papers can mean purchasing and distribution savings that can amount to millions of dollars to publishers of large-run magazines or catalogs. Because lighter basis weight papers deliver the same number of printed pages with fewer tons of paper, publishers are able to purchase less paper but deliver the same number of issues, which results in net financial savings. In addition, because distribution costs are related to weight and fewer tons of lighter-weight papers are shipped, lighter basis weight papers also save on overall distribution costs. Magazines distributed through circulation sales will benefit more from a reduction in basis weight, due to savings in postal costs. Catalog mailing costs also will be substantially decreased as a result of basis weight reductions.

Lower basis weight papers generally exhibit less bulk and opacity than heavier papers-qualities that change the look and feel of the magazine or catalog. Publishers who experience problems with opacity as a result of their decision to use lighter basis weight papers can rely upon layout techniques to limit image transparency and production devices to minimize show-through.

By targeting appropriate SWOP ink densities, print providers can match the paper’s capacity to hold out ink. Printers should also use the highest-tack inks that do not pick, so sharp dots are printed with minimum ink absorption.

To make lightweight papers more attractive to magazine and catalog publishers, paper manufacturers have increased the brightness of some coated products and have worked to improve the paper’s print quality. Unique cost-saving products also have been introduced to the marketplace. Examples of these include ultralightweight coated groundwood papers with 30-lb. and lower basis weights and high-bulk products that provide the look, feel and opacity of heavier-weight papers.


Managing paper weights and grades is a natural way for magazine and catalog publishers to save on production costs while maintaining and even building their publications’ brand image over the long run. However, too dramatic a change in grade or basis weight could affect loyal readers’ and advertisers’ perceptions of the quality of the publication. Paper grade changes and basis weight reductions can be almost invisible if the new paper is designed to emulate some of the qualities of heavier-weight paper. Magazine and catalog publishers and printers should work directly with their paper suppliers to determine appropriate paper grades for a successful transition.