Paper Glossary
Make the correct paper choice selections

When you are choosing a paper for your project,
what do all the paper terms mean? We are going to try and sort that out for you.

Weight in Pounds
Pounds is one of the most common paper measurements we use in the U.S. It refers to
how many pounds 500 parent sheets (1 ream) weighs.
Text weight parent sheets are typically 25×38”, while cover weight parent sheet are usually 20x26”.
That means that text and cover paper weights aren’t exactly measured on the same scale.
Most of what we print for business cards, invites and posters are cover weights,
while text weight comes in handy for letterhead and other marketing material.

Weight in Grams

GSM (g/m²) or grams per square meter is the paper weight in grams for 1 sheet that is 1×1 meter.
This is more common outside of the U.S. It is a great system since it’s the same for every paper grade.

Thickness in Points

Point are a caliber measurement of the actual thickness of the paper. For example
44pt chipboard measures at .044 inches thick.

Uses of Cover Weight Paper

Announcements, Brochures, Cards, Covers, Folders, Invitations, Proposals, Reply Cards, Table Tents etc...

Uses of Bond / Text / Writing Weight Paper

Brochures, Certificates, Envelopes, Flyers, Letterhead, Mailers, Newsletters, Posters, Product Sheets etc...

Coated - Gloss Finished Paper

Gloss-Coated Paper - treated with a layer of pigment designed to improve the paper's finish,
typically clay, to impart certain qualities to the paper, including weight, surface gloss,
smoothness or reduced ink absorbency. The coating on the paper reduces dot gain
by not allowing the ink to absorb into the paper. This allows for cleaner crisper printing,
especially in photos, blends and fine details.

Coated - Silk Finished Paper

A Silk-Coated paper is a non-glossy, flat looking paper with very smooth surface. Silk papers
are more opaque, it has a micro-textured surface that scatters the light reflecting off of it.
The coating still keeps much of the ink from being absorbed by the paper,
which produces excellent, vibrant color. Also called satin, matte, dull & velvet.

Uncoated Paper

Uncoated paper stock is paper that has not been coated with a surface sealant.
Inks dry by absorbing into the paper. This paper type can dull the colors that
are printed. Uncoated papers comprise a vast number of paper types and
are available in a variety of surfaces, both smooth and textured,
laid and linen etc... Some of the common types are wove or smooth.

Recycled Paper

Paper manufactured from the waste paper stream. All Micro Format recycled products
contain a minimum of 100% recycled material including 40% post consumer waste.

Carbonless Paper

Paper coated with special encapsulated chemicals that produce a duplicate copy
without the use of carbon paper.


Paper Types and Finishes

A description of the kind of surface of a paper sheet, including gloss or silk and any
special patterns placed in the paper, such as wove or linen.

Silk paper reflects light less uniformly, making it easier to read lots of text (think books).

Gloss finishes produce better holdout and contrast, making images look 
more vivid and

increasing the brightness of the paper.
 Finishes include silk, satin, matte, dull, glossy and UV.

25% Cotton Paper                        
A unique and impressively comprehensive selection of 25% cotton fiber paper that
provides a rich look and feel to business documents.

Laid Finished Paper
Laid paper is created with textured lines on its surface. This finish is used mostly for
business stationery elements, like letterhead, envelopes and business cards.

Linen Finished Paper

Similar to a laid finish, this paper has textured lines on the surface of the sheet, but they
are finer and more regular than those that appear on a laid finish stock. This paper is
also used frequently for business stationery.


The degree of uniform surface consistency for a given sheet. Smoothness affects
how well a sheet of paper will hold ink.


The ability of a paper to equally reflect colors; a measure of the uniformity of reflection of light.


A measure of the amount of light diffusely reflected to the eye from the paper surface.
There are five standard grades of brightness. Cast-Coated Paper. High gloss papers
on which a thick layer of coating is applied over the specially prepared base stock.
The coated surface is then pressed tightly against a heated, highly-polished, chrome-plated
drum and dried. In this way, the gloss of the drum is cast into the paper's surface.


A lack of transparency. The higher the opacity, the lower the show-through, where you can
see through a sheet to what is printed on its reverse or on the next sheet below.

Holdout / Absorbency
The extent to which wet ink is absorbed into the paper.
How well a paper holds ink on its surface instead of absorbing the ink.
If a paper has poor holdout, your images will have a lot of dot gain.
Newsprint, for instance, has relatively poor holdout capabilities.
The more the ink soaks in, the higher the dot gain, and less crisp the printed image.

Trim Size
The final size of a printed piece after all bleeds and folds have been cut off.

Thermal (Raise Print)
A paper coated with special chemicals that produce an image when heat is applied.


The grain direction is indicated by underscoring the dimension along which the grain lines,
or by changing the order of the numbers.

For example:
a 23"x35" sheet 35" is the grain direction (grain long)
a 35"x23" sheet 23" is the grain direction (grain short)

For books and other bound work, the grain direction should always run parallel with the binding.

What is paper grain?
A paper's grain is the direction in which most of the fibers lie. Grain is determined during the papermaking process, when fibers tend to align in one direction or the other. Paper is identified as either grain short (grain is parallel to paper's short side) or grain long (grain is parallel
to the paper's long side), depending on how the paper is cut. 

A paper mill may indicate paper grain on carton and ream labels, product brochures, swatch books and price lists in several ways:
May see the words Grain Long or Grain Short.

The dimension parallel to the grain may be underscored.
For example, 8.5x11 indicates long grain, while 11x17
indicates short grain.

"M" may be used to indicate machine direction, for example,
11Mx17 indicates short grain.

Folded Documents

Fold paper parallel to the grain direction. Paper folded against the grain may be rough and crack along the folded edge. The heavier the paper, the more likely roughness and cracking will occur. We always score* heavier papers prior to folding. 

(*Score: To compress paper along a straight line so it folds better.
Also called a crease.) 

Signature Booklets

When producing a signature booklet, the grain direction is always parallel to the folded edge of the signature. Do against mixing long grain and short grain paper in a signature*. Why? When the booklet is trimmed it may get uneven or stepped edges. 

(*Signature: Printed sheets that are folded at least once, possibly many times, to become part of a book, magazine or other publication.) 


Book Binding
When binding a book, the paper grain of every page should always parallel to the binding edge of the book. Never mix grain directions in book pages. Why? It could encounter any or all of these problems: 

  1. Pages resist turning
  2. Paper edges are wavy
  3. Binding edge is bulky and distorted
  4. Pages flare outward
  5. Book snaps closed when you try to open it
Laser Printers / Copiers Printing
When running papers heavier than 120g/m2 in a laser printer, direction is critical! The grain direction is always parallel to the lead paper when loading heavier papers into printers / copiers example, the 8.5-inch side of the paper should be the lead edge* paper.