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July 10th, 2009

How Paper Affects Color

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In printing we are often confronted with the problem of expectation versus reality. The color that you see on your monitor, your laser printer, your color proof, your press proof and the final printed product can look surprisingly different from one another. This is the reality. Of course the expectation is that they are all the same.

Reasons for these differences are many. RGB vs. CMYK. Inkjet vs. offset. Coated vs. uncoated. I could go on all day. So the printing process is not perfect and we’re going to have to do some work to arrive at pleasing color. But to start, we need to have a realistic expectation of the end result and an understanding of the limitations in the printing process.

One of the variables that is rarely considered with regard to color is paper, but paper affects color in a big way. Examining your paper options at the beginning of your next project can save wear and tear on your stressometer when your final product arrives. Going about choosing a paper is no big deal as long as you have a few bits of information.

For the most part you are going to have a choice of two types of paper. Coated or uncoated. Coated stocks are just as named, they have a coating applied on the paper’s surface that enhances their printability. Conversely, uncoated stocks lack this coating, but are generally less expensive and offer features that coated stocks can’t.

With coated stocks, the idea is to keep the ink on the surface of the paper until it dries. Their enhanced holdout reduces dot gain which in turn allows for higher ink density, finer line screens and faster drying. On the other hand, coated stocks are not offered in textured finishes such as linen or laid. Due to their extra processing, they are thinner at a given weight than their uncoated counterpart and they are susceptible to cracking when folded. And if your favorite paper color is white, you’re in luck, otherwise you’ll need to print a flood color over the sheet to arrive at another background tone.

So we can see, coated paper has a few downsides which is why uncoated stocks remain popular. You have a great many finish options and color choices when going uncoated and most of all you can save some money too. Just don’t forget that ink behaves differently here and most likely will result in color shifts, loss of density and possibly some loss of detail. Especially so when using a very thin or colored stock. Keeping these things in mind, when used properly, you can still have a great looking product on uncoated paper.

So we’ve touched on a few ways that paper affects color. There is ink holdout, absorbency, dry back, dot gain, ink density, line screens and the paper color itself. In future posts, I will give additional information on some of the other variables. We have yet to touch on texture, ink type, matte and gloss finishes, inline coatings, curing speed, opacity and paper brightness.