Choosing Your Text Paper

There are so many factors that influence text stock selection: shade, weight, opacity, and caliper. First, you need to decide what criteria will guide your choice. Will the book be mailed, making weight a consideration? Do you need to thicken up a low page count? What about dense black bar charts obscuring type printed on the back of the sheet?

Shade

The easiest consideration is the shade of the paper: generally it’s a personal preference. At one time, white offset was used in text books and non-fiction, natural (cream colored) paper was used for novels and reading books.

Those guidelines have gradually eroded so that many publishers use their personal preference. Since natural paper is a few cents more per pound, I think many publishers adopted white paper to keep their prices low.

Printers will gladly send samples of the paper they stock for your inspection.

Alkaline Paper

Some years ago the country’s librarians discovered that their aging book collections were literally disintegrating on the shelves. During the Civil War, paper makers couldn’t get enough rags to make paper and had to convert to wood pulp. The acid was an unknown consequence of that change, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the problem was understood and addressed.

Most book printers only stock paper that is neutral pH or even slightly alkaline, but if it’s not specified as such, don’t be afraid to ask.

Special Order Paper

Paper is made in hundreds of shades and weights. Your printer stocks certain papers because they are popular with publishers, run well on the presses, and are economical for him to buy in enormous quantities.

If you ask your printer to match your a paper like your letterhead or a peice of parchment, when your book is printed it will cost you a lot of money, hurt your press schedule, and result in a book with weak binding, grain problems, or even inking anomalies.

Recycled Paper

The good news is that paper with a high percentage of post-consumer waste paper in it is getting less expensive. And while the demand is high, the availability just can’t match up, so expect to pay a premium if your printer stocks it.

Paper mills that make this type of recycled paper send trucks into metropolitan areas every day to collect office waste for their machine’s voracious appetite (paper machines run 24/365).

Recycling your newspapers gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, but that recycled paper isn’t going into your book. Recycling paper is possible and practical but upcycling paper is virtually impossible. So the trucks roll every day.

Paper Grain

One of the most important features of your book will be its “hand,” how it feels when its open in your hands. Do the pages try to snap shut?

All paper has a grain to it. The grain is the direction the paper roll was moving in to make the paper. Pick up any sheet of paper and tear it once long ways and then once the short way. The tear that was clean and straight followed the grain of the paper. The tear that was fuzzy and wandered off course was “cross grain”.

Your book will open much better if the grain runs parallel to the spine of the book. Most printers stock papers that provide that for common size books like 6 x 9" or 8 ½ x 11".

But if you design a book at an odd trim size, say 4 ½ x 7" the printer may not have a sheet that will produce a book with the right grain. If it’s very important, you can print the book as a larger size, and the printer will trim to the appropriate size when the book is finished.

Paper is Priced by the Pound

Printers have always called the paper they print on “stock”. They have text stock, cover stock, dust jacket stock etc. It’s not wrong to just call it paper.

What is confusing is the way paper is described by its weight. While the metric system has attempted to impose some sanity to the system, most American printers generally speak in terms of a paper’s basis weight.

Text Papers

Printers have always bought paper by the pound in somewhat standard sizes. The weight of the paper was determined by the actual weight of 500 sheets (ream) of a given size of paper. For instance, bond (aka ledger, duplicator) paper used for stationary or laser printers was sold in sheets 17 x 22" (a size that would yield 4 sheets of 8 1/2 x 11" when cut). 500 sheets of 17 x 22" bond paper that weighed 20 pounds was a 20# bond.

Offset paper (aka book, text) used a different size for its basis weight, 25 x 38": so 500 sheets of 25 x 38" paper that weigh 60 pounds is 60# offset. If the printer is buying a different size sheet, its weight is calculated in relation to the basis weight. For instance, 500 sheets of 60# offset 19 x 25" would weigh 30 pounds. If the sheet size was 38 x 50", 500 sheets of 60# would weigh 120 pounds.

Cover Papers

The only other basis weight publishers generally need to know is cover papers, which have a basis size of 20 x 26". 500 sheets of 20 x 26" paper that weighs 80 pounds is an 80# cover stock.

But much cover stock is sold on the basis of its thickness rather than its weight (although the printer still buys it by the pound). Some typical cover stocks are 8 point (aka .008 pt.), 10 point (aka .010 pt.), and 12 point (aka .012 pt.)

Cover stock described by its thickness rather than its weight is also a coated paper, generally a board basis (28 ½ x 20 ½") paper that has been coated for a smooth, even surface on one or both sides (coated one side is C1S or c1s, coated both sides is C2S or c2s). Because coatings tend to add more weight than thickness, a 12 pt c1s can vary in weight but still be 12 pts. thick.

These coated stocks are the more commonly seen covers of mass market and trade paper books. It prints, stamps, embosses, and die cuts well and with a protective coating (either UV coating or film lamination), provides a very durable cover.

The metric system does away with all the varied basis sizes and weights. It simply uses a calculation of paper weight based on grams per square meter of a certain standardized sheet, that is a sheet of paper sized 33.11 x 46.81 mm (size A0).

 

 

--
Bond
Ledger


 

-
Offset
Text


 

-
Cover
-


 

--
Tag
--


 

-
Index
-


 

-
Points
-


 

-
*Caliper
(inches)


 

--
millimeters
--


 

-
Metric
(grams/sq meter)


 

Equivalent

16

40

22

37

33

3.2

.0032

0.081

60.2 gsm

Weight

18

45

24

41

37

3.6

.0036

0.092

67.72 gsm

 

20

50

28

46

42

3.8

.0038

0.097

75.2 gsm

 

24

60

33

56

50

4.8

.0048

0.12

90.3 gsm

 

28

70

39

64

58

5.8

.0058

0.147

105.35 gsm

 

29

73

40

62

60

6

.0060

0.152

109.11 gsm

 

31

81

45

73

66

6.1

.0061

0.155

116.63 gsm

 

35

90

48

80

74

6.2

.0062

0.157

131.68 gsm

 

36

90

50

82

75

6.8

.0068

0.173

135.45 gsm

 

39

100

54

90

81

7.2

.0072

0.183

146.73 gsm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

40

100

56

93

83

7.3

.0073

0.185

150.5 gsm

 

43

110

60

100

90

7.4

.0074

0.188

161.78 gsm

 

44

110

61

102

92

7.6

.0076

0.193

165.55 gsm

 

47

120

65

108

97

8

.0078

0.198

176.83 gsm

 

53

135

74

122

110

9

.0085

0.216

199.41 gsm

 

54

137

75

125

113

9

.009

0.229

203.17 gsm

 

58

146

80

134

120

9.5

.0092

0.234

218.22 gsm

 

65

165

90

150

135

10

.0095

0.241

244.56 gsm

 

67

170

93

156

140

10.5

.010

0.25

252.08 gsm

 

72

183

100

166

150

11

.011

0.289

270.9 gsm

 

76

192

105

175

158

13

.013

0.33

285.95 gsm

 

82

208

114

189

170

14

.014

0.356

308.52 gsm

 

87

220

120

200

180

15

.015

0.38

312 gsm

 

105

267

146

244

220

18

.0175

0.445

385.06 gsm

So in general, it represents a simpler paper scale of weights. A 90.3 gsm paper is heavier than a 75.2 gsm paper because all the paper uses the same basis.

In America, an 80# text stock is much lighter than a 65# cover stock simply because their weights are standardized by 500 sheets of two different basis sizes.

Remember, paper weight has a lot to do with the manufacturing price of your book, but it doesn’t provide any real information about how thick your book will be or how much type will show through from the other side of the sheet.

Paper “Show Through” is Measured by its Opacity

Most quality book papers have few problems with show through. Still, pages with bold type or bar charts can present challenges.

Paper opacity has a calculated number arrived at by measuring the reflected light off of a sheet laid over a black background. While that’s an oversimplification, you need to know that a paper with an opacity of 88 would have less show through than a paper rated at 78.

It would seem logical that the heavier a paper is, the more opaque it must be, and there’s a certain amount of truth to that. But because paper is made with different fillers and brighteners, finished with different surfaces and made from a variety of hard and softwood trees, the opacity of a 60# book text paper can vary by a number of points.

Book printers have access to the opacity ratings of most of their papers, but so do you. For instance go to a website like glatfelter.com or finchpaper.com, and the opacity of their sheets is listed.

Paper that is formulated specifically for opacity (Finch Opaque, etc.) tends to cost more than regular book papers, but counter-intuitively, they are usually a thinner sheet because the fillers that make the paper opaque are very heavy but don’t add much thickness.

Since all opacity ratings are relative, if opacity is a concern, get a sample sheet whose opacity is known. If you would prefer less show through, you need to go up to a higher opacity rating. If you think the opacity is more than sufficient, you may be able to save money by going down a point or two.

Sometimes, a heavier sheet will provide sufficient opacity, but you’ll use more pounds of paper to make your book, not good if mailing is an issue.

An opaque sheet of the same basis weight won’t make a heavier book, but its cost per pound will be higher, so the price will increase.

If opacity is an issue, find the least expensive option that factors in other concerns about weight, bulk (thickness), and the ready availability of alternate papers.

A Book’s Thickness is Determined by the Text Paper’s Caliper (Bulk)

While most printing specialties don’t rely on knowing the bulking characteristics of all the papers they use, book manufacturers rely on accurate caliper (bulk) measurements for all of their text stocks.

What determines the final thickness of your book? It’s the caliper of your text paper, known commonly as its bulk. Paper bulk is generally expressed as “pages per inch” or PPI. (Note pages...not sheets.) A 200 page book printed on 512 ppi stock will be .39" thick, generally rounded up to 13/32" or .40". The same book on a 360ppi paper will be .55" thick, rounded to 9/16", .56".

As with most paper choices, there are trade-offs in selecting the appropriate bulk for your book.

Ignoring the finish of the paper would pretty much mean a paper’s bulk would be a direct relationship to its weight, i.e. a 50# paper would be thicker than a 40# but thinner than a 60# paper.

But all papers have a finish, described by adjectives like eggshell, antique, wove, smooth, etc. Most printers stock a variety of papers with a smooth finish, making their bulk relatively predictable.

Printers also stock a few papers with unique finishes. Many printers stock a 55# antique finish sheet that is thicker than their smooth 60# and often bulks similar to a 70# smooth. How? The antique finish is slightly coarse. Not exactly ideal for printing 150 line per inch halftones, but it may be just the ticket for fattening up your 88 page monograph!

Light weight papers (generally 45# and lighter) have the same relationship to finish as other papers. But some presses run faster with lighter papers, the lighter the better. Other presses have feeding and delivering problems that make running the paper all but impossible. The finish and formation of the paper can enable some presses to run lightweight stocks.

Basing paper selection on bulk alone can create a book of the appropriate thickness but raise opacity, weight, and cost issues.

If bulk is truly an issue, do your homework, and ask your printer the right questions.