A question we get asked all the time is “How do I choose between coated vs uncoated paper”. The answer to this starts with choosing the method we will use to print your project with – digital vs offset. OK, so “WHY is this going to make a difference” you ask? The answer is digital printing typically uses a toner based machine and offset presses use ink. The way that toner or ink is printed onto the sheet is the starting point that allows you to see the difference in appearance. But let’s get back to explaining what an uncoated vs coated sheet is first.
Coated paper comes in 4 basic options – cast coating, gloss coating, dull coating or matte coating.
What are the gloss values for the different finishes of coated paper? Here are the typical values on coated paper: gloss finish 55% and higher; dull finish 21% to 54%; and matte finish less than 20%. Uncoated papers are made with no coating at all. They are porous in feel and appearance.
Let’s start with factors to consider that will help you decide on how to choose between coated vs uncoated paper – when we use our short run digital presses that are toner based. Toner adheres to the paper with pressure and heat. This heat and pressure gives the toner a shiny appearance. The more pressure and heat, the shiner the appearance. So even when we’re printing on an uncoated sheet, the printed areas can have some “shine” to it. The larger the printed area, the more noticeable this will be. If there’s not a lot of printing on the sheet, on jobs such as forms, reply cards, envelopes or note sheets, the uncoated paper is the choice to make. Unfortunately, this does not hold true for letterhead printing since the toner that was adhered to the sheet with heat will melt when you put the sheet back into your laser printer. For this reason, we always print letterheads using our offset presses.
But what happens when you have large solids or photographs and want a short run that requires printing digitally? The toner based digital press will produce a slightly more muted look where fine details can get lost. What’s interesting is that our fashion design clients who ask us to print their look-books really like the uncoated paper for its “cool” factor and brighter white finish. It’s something unique that makes their job look and feel different from their competitors. Printing digitally on the uncoated sheet using our X1000 press keeps the images looking sharp too. But when compared to the same image on a coated sheet side by side, you can see a difference. How much difference is difficult to quantify since everyone has their own subjective opinion. Considering the number of look- books, postcards and brochures we’re still printing on uncoated paper, we feel the choice is really up to how you like the way the paper feels in your hand and the images look to your eyes.
On longer press runs of 1,000 or more, the choice to run on a digital press instead of a conventional offset press gets expensive. However, the decision how to choose between coated vs uncoated paper becomes much easier to make. Ink needs to dry by absorption into the paper or contact with air and a dryer. When using an uncoated sheet that will “absorb” the ink, there is a much greater loss of detail and a higher chance of images looking muddy. For this reason, we always suggest some type of coated sheet for large solids and detailed images. The coated sheets allow the ink to sit on top of the sheet and not get absorbed into the fibers keeping details crisp and clean. The cast coated sheets are rarely used anymore due to their high cost and high probability of cracking when folded, the gloss & dull coated papers are still the most popular option followed by matte coating. Catalogs, brochures, postcards, mini-posters and comic books are just a few of the items we print on coated sheets.
I also have to get a word in on our ability to print on 50# newsprint. It’s an uncoated paper that when printed digitally, produces a job with the characteristics and feel of a conventional newspaper but with a much higher quality reproduction of images. However, just like any newsprint, the paper starts to yellow with time and exposure to light and air. There are several “zines” we print on this 50# newsprint that people just love. It’s also great to use on comic books too when you want that vintage aged look.
Come visit our print shop and we will be happy to show you some samples of prints we have done on various print job orders using coated and uncoated paper stock. In the end, it all boils down to your preference, vision and the type of print job you have. You can rely on us for the technical input as we are here to help get you the best printing job you envision.