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A Definitive Guide to Uncoated and Coated Paper in Print Marketing

Even with the digital proliferation, good ol’ fashioned paper never goes out of style. On the contrary, businesses are seeing remarkable results from print marketing campaigns and sales pieces, and they are combining digital and print for an even more robust approach. Knowing when to use the right type of paper for your project can be a challenge.  That is why we want to help make the difference between uncoated and coated paper less mysterious.  As far as marketing trends to watch, direct mail still remains top of the list. Having spent the past year or more staring at screens, consumers have become unfazed by digital advertising. People are getting out and businesses need to offer physical, tangible touchpoints to grab consumers' attention. Print marketing is important because it puts your business in your customers’ and prospects’ hands.  Regardless of what you are creating or who is designing it,  the question of paper will come up. The choice of paper matters because it impacts everything from the design and printing cost to the impact it makes on your target audience.  Knowing your paper options for print materials and understanding the properties of each type will help guide your decisions. Each paper type has pros and cons and one type of paper isn’t inherently “better” than another. However, knowing when to use the right paper can make a significant impact on your print results. Here’s a simple paper guide for choosing the right paper for your next print marketing, sales pieces, and more. 

The Difference Between Coated and Uncoated Paper Stock

Paper is a lot like buying a vehicle, most serve the purpose of transporting you from point A to point B. But the type of vehicle you have will dictate how you use it.  For example, you can bring your Mazzaratie to pick up your order at AlphaGraphics Kansas City, but you’re not going to fit a large sign in the back seat (seriously, someone tried). So like choosing the best car, choosing the right paper helps you achieve your goals in more ways than just putting ink on paper.  Most consumers put paper in just a couple of categories.  Typically we think about types of paper based on its thickness or how it feels. However, the main difference between most papers is how they are manufactured.  We have found that our clients get most confused by the difference between coated versus uncoated paper.   Papers are graded by their quality, brightness, and finish. Brightness is a measurement of how much light is reflected back towards your eyes. The higher the level of brightness, the more light that reaches your eye and the brighter colors and graphics appear. When evaluating the paper, understanding its appeal, function, and budget will help you choose just the right one.  Coated paper, like the name implies, has a coating (typically clay) that seals the surface, preventing inks from seeping into the paper. Most people think printing means you want the ink to penetrate the paper. Printing on coated paper puts the toner on top of the coating which gives a clean, sharp appearance to the images. Brightness is less of an issue for coated paper as the coating allows more light to reflect through the ink.  We believe coated paper is perfect for printing photos, color gradients, or detailed images and graphics. Coating types or finishes (think paint finishes for the visual) affect how the printed colors reflect off the paper. The higher the gloss the more reflective and sharper the colors.  The most common finishes for coated paper stock are:
  • Gloss, - Shiniest with the least ink absorption
  • Satin - Moderately glossy
  • Matte - Most opaque option with no glossiness to the coating
  • Dull - Very smooth coating but sheen varies by manufacturer.
A glossy or matte finish is the most popular. Glossy paper is a great option for high detail imagery, photos, and lots of color coverage. Matte coating is a good call for pieces that have a lot of text and graphics.  You will get a sharper text on the matte and still have a nice boost on the graphics and colors. Coated paper is also a great option for additional finishing techniques. Varnishes, UV, and foil stamping design elements hold up well against a coated paper.  When you use floods of color, metallics, and other unique inks or toners high gloss paper gives the appearance of the image popping off the paper. Coated papers aren't always the right choice. They are not easy to write on with a pen. Text can be hard to read if the paper produces a lot of glare. Projects that require a fold have specific considerations that need to be reviewed to prevent cracking or tearing. Uncoated paper is more absorbent and comes in more and diverse options from coated stock. Since uncoated paper is absorbent, the ink penetrates the paper and graphics lose their crispness. Because there are so many uncoated options, understanding the quality and finish of the paper is extremely important. The smoother the paper the more even the ink lays out. Using a paper with a unique finish can enhance the look and feel of the final piece. The most common finishes (or textures) for uncoated paper are:
  • smooth and super smooth - just what the name implies
  • linen - think woven fabric
  • laid - hand made paper feel with textured lines
  • vellum - slightly rough texture similar to parchment
  • felt - looks like felted wool was pressed into the paper
  • modern textures include; techweave, woodgrain, stipple, diamond, pebble etc.
Because of its enhanced haptics (how it feels), uncoated paper gives a greater impression of trust, warmth, and authenticity.  Uncoated paper is widely used by professional firms, non-profit organizations, and in educational institutions. Finishing uncoated paper has many options. While coatings like varnish and UV sink into uncoated paper, foils, embossing and debossing, folding and die-cutting are great options for enhancing your printed piece.  Because of the diverse quality in uncoated papers, using high ink coverage requires a high-quality sheet with a high brightness and smooth even fiber distribution.  Otherwise, you end up with an image that is blotchy or uneven.  You also want to ensure that the thickness or opacity of the paper prevents the imagery from showing through if you will be using both sides of the paper.  

You Don’t Have to be an Expert on Paper, That’s Why Our Experts are Here

Your print marketing and sales pieces reflect your business. Understanding paper options and quality is key to printing materials that meet your goals. There’s much more to know about paper than you may want to learn. That’s why our experts are here. We can work with you and your team to recommend paper for a single project, a campaign, or your brand.  AlphaGraphics Kansas City is has stock books samples more to help you choose just the right paper.   

About AlphaGraphics Kansas City

Located in the creative Crossroads Arts District, AlphaGraphics Kansas City is a certified Women-Owned business that specializes in helping Kansas City businesses solve marketing problems. The printing company’s production specialties include G7 Certified digital color and large format printing.

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