Paper Basics – Weight, Opacity, Texture, Brightness

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Generally when speaking about paper the experts will divide the field into two categories – photo paper and non-photo, general-purpose paper. This article will address the latter kind, which can be graded according to four different criteria:

Brightness. Brightness is how white or reflective a paper is. Brightness matters because it affects the contrast between the ink and the paper. A low brightness will diminish contrast between the typeface and the page – the paper looks off-white and so the blacks don’t look as a deep or dark as they should. In general, brightness is measured on a scale of 1-100, with 80 being the lowest commercial grade and 100 the highest. Most photocopy paper will land somewhere around 92, premium papers at 96 or 97. Some manufacturers avoid the system and opt for less standardized descriptions, like “UltraBright” or “Superbright.”

Opacity. When you hold a page up to the light, how translucent is the paper? Opacity is a measurement of this translucency. Better paper will be less translucent (more opaque) and is recommended for double-sided print jobs, especially.

Weight. Weight is how heavy or thick a paper is. Weight includes considerations of opacity in that a heavier paper will be less translucent. Generally a heavier paper indicates to the handler that it is of a higher quality and more expensive, making it more appropriate for reports or for materials that will be handled by customers.

Texture. Texture is also known as smoothness or surface and it refers to how the paper looks and feels. A paper’s texture is the product of how it’s manufacturing. Some paper will be slick, grained or pebbled, matte or silk. Generally the smoother a paper is the better it will work for inkjet or laser printers. More textured papers are appropriate for special occasions and for tactile, handwritten typography.

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