The ABC’s of Paper

Many variables must be considered when selecting the right paper for your publication such as the overall look of the printed piece, ink coverage, the shelf-life, or if it mails. Talk to your sales representative as they can provide further recommendations and options for your publication.

Paper Options:

There are many different paper grades, weights and brands on the market from a variety of mills. Publishers select the type of paper that not only meets their customers’ requirements, but also works well in their machinery.


Paper is categorized by weight in pounds of a ream (500 sheets) of paper cut to a standard size, 25″ x 38″ for text paper, 20″ x 26″ for cover weight papers. For example – 500 sheets 25″ x 38″ of 70# coated paper will weigh 70 pounds.
Weight has not only an effect on the feel of the magazine (heavier paper will generally be thicker and less easy to fold) but also shipping/mailing costs of the final magazine. More weight costs more to ship/mail.

Grade Specifications

A grade is a way of ranking paper by certain composition and characteristics. For example, brightness is one of the characteristics used to determine a paper’s grade. A number 5 paper grade has the lowest brightness (less white and uniform texture), from 69-73. A number 3 grade paper has a brightness from 81-84.5. Number 1 grade paper has 89-96 brightness. Most magazines run on #3-#5 grade stock.

Uncoated Offset Paper

Uncoated Paper is designed to generally run in offset presses and is a non-coated sheet of #50 or 60#. Also- return card offset stock is usually run on a 75# uncoated stock to meet postal requirements.

Freesheet Paper

Freesheet paper is free of groundwood pulp and has a bit higher brightness (whiter) than groundwood paper. Freesheet starts at a number 3 grade. Magazines commonly use 50#, 60#, 70# text weight freesheet options on the interior and 80#, 100# text weight or 66# cover weight freesheet stock on cover options. Freesheet paper is more costly than Groundwood.

Groundwood Paper

Characteristics of groundwood paper are higher bulk, smooth feel, lower brightness (whiteness) and good printability. It is usually lower in cost than freesheet paper. Magazines commonly use 36#, 40#, 45#, 50# and 60# groundwood paper. Groundwood is available in number 4 or number 5 grade.

Coated Offset Paper

Coated papers are described by their finish: matte, dull, or gloss.

Gloss- The majority of magazines today use gloss paper, the property responsible for coated paper’s shiny or lustrous appearance. Gloss papers are less opaque and have less bulk and are less expensive than Dull and Matte papers.

Dull- Smooth surface paper that is low in gloss. Dull coated paper falls between matte and glossy paper.

Matte- A non-glossy, flat looking paper. Matte papers are higher in cost and in bulk.

Paper Making – The Process:

Most people can tell you that paper (or stock) is made from wood, but many don’t know how a tree is transformed into a sheet of paper. The basics are pretty simple and perhaps you have made paper for a science project or craft project before. While all paper starts out as wood, the end result, be it high gloss freesheet or uncoated offset paper, is determined during the manufacturing process of the paper.

Perhaps a brief overview and education of paper and the paper making process will enable you to better understand the differences in paper.

Logs are stripped of their bark, then chipped into very small and thin pieces. The small pieces of stripped logs are placed in a large cooker with chemicals and steamed under pressure until the wood fibers are removed from the lignin (the glue that holds the individual wood fibers together). The resulting pulp is then processed through several machines which will separate the fibers, remove the chemicals, and bleach to proper shade of whiteness. (See grade specifications later in the article)

After the pulp has been refined and other additives added to give the finished paper the desired properties, water is added. The result is called furnish. The furnish is spread over a mesh screen which forms the paper and lets the water be extracted. The paper then travels through different processes and machines designed to remove the water from the paper.

After the paper is dry, it is run between steel drums to give the desired smoothness. This process is called calendering the paper. The more times paper is calendered the less bulk it has but the smoother it gets. To create glossy paper, uncoated paper is coated with a paint-like product and buffed by rollers under very high pressure, to create a shiny appearance. This process is called supercalendering. Coated paper is used for magazines.