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The nerve-racking choice of paper

Posted on Mar 20 2013 in Letters

As someone who frets big decisions, being in the publishing business can be a real pain sometimes. I was reminded of that in the last few days as I needed to make a final call on ordering several tons of paper for the next three issues.

After running into a few minor consistency and quality problems with the last issue, I felt a bit let down by our paper supplier. IGEPA’s Circle offset, the stock we had used up to that point, was my all-time favourite choice of paper. Using 100% recycling material, it boasted a superior quality with an unusually smooth finish. Unfortunately, it lost that superior quality when the manufacturer recently changed paper mills.

Since launching issue No4 I’ve been discussing alternatives with our printer. Again, the environmental impact was my main filter. I only considered 100% recycling papers with no whitening bleach used. After a few test prints on two different stock options, I decided to go with EnviroTop.

The next step turned out to be more nerve-racking. When selecting a stock type, its grammage will determine how heavy your magazine turns out to be – and in turn, how much you’ll end up spending on shipping. This is measured in grams per square meter (gsm). A standard office paper usually has somewhere between 70gsm and 90gsm.

The weight itself however doesn’t determine its perceived thickness. That’s where the paper volume comes in. A paper with a volume of 1.3 contains 30% more air and is therefore less compressed. Higher volume means thicker but not necessarily heavier paper.

Both variables define how thick and heavy a paper feels. The challenge is to find the best fit for your specific publication. Thicker, high-volume papers often convey quality, but depending on the format and binding technique, more solid papers make it difficult to keep the magazine open (my German printer calls this Klammerwirkung, the ‘peg effect’).

It eventually came down to making a decision between EnviroTop 100gsm and the next heavier option, 120gsm – both with a volume of 1.3. In the end I opted for the heavier version which will make Offscreen about 2.5mm thicker and around 50gm heavier. I’m aware that it will add to the Klammerwirkung, something I’m a little concerned about but the 100gsm version just didn’t have the same superior feel to it.

And that is what’s so nerve-racking about choosing good stock. There are many variables that need consideration. Due to our small magazine format, we print on larger sheets to be most efficient. These larger sheets are custom-cut by the paper mill and therefore need to be ordered several weeks in advance, and in large quantities.

In moments like this I really miss the transient nature of making things for web.

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