Paper thoughts

By The Drum, Administrator

March 12, 2004 | 9 min read

Lewis McIntyre and Keith Dodds

Lewis MacIntyre, Senior Designer, 999

Putting pen to paper is usually the first manifestation of a creative thought, the most successful way of recording it so that it can be remembered, communicated to and understood by others. So it’s only natural that we as designers, artists and writers alike start any project by getting our ideas down on paper. We have all scribbled on the back of an envelope or a beer mat so that we don’t forget The Big Idea when we get into work the next day.

When we actually design the job there are so many things to consider – size, typography, imagery and colour – that paper is quite often further down the line in terms of priority.

The last thing you need when you have a tight deadline is a paper jam caused by forcing a sheet of 350gsm uncoated through the copier in an attempt to show the client what their business card will look like. That’s not to say paper is unimportant, far from it. By going the extra mile to get a dummy made and order some samples, a well-considered paper choice and a little gentle persuasion can make or break any job, or a client’s budget.

As far as the finished product goes, any well-designed piece should stimulate all the senses. Sight, touch, sound, smell (yes) and taste (well maybe). This is why paper is a vital tool for print designers to help communicate to their target audience. There are other effective ways but I think committing ourselves to paper and print helps us focus and think more carefully about what we are doing.

There is also something really satisfying about starting a new sketchbook or thumbing through a freshly printed annual report on the stock upon which you and, more importantly, the board‚ agreed.

It is true that, as well as good design, the tactile qualities and tangibility can bring the all-important X factor to our work and it is for that reason I believe paper and the design process will always be inextricably linked.

Keith Dodds, Senior Designer, D8

I had a visit from a paper rep the other day with a nice recycled range, made from 80 per cent post-consumer waste, without any noticeable difference in quality to most non-recycled stocks. I’ll definitely keep it in mind for when the right job comes around, and I’ll no doubt feel very pleased with myself at having “done my bit”.

The same day, the studio colour printer, evidently unhappy with what we were sending it, decided to take a stand and start churning out pages and pages of electronic stream of consciousness, possibly legible to the more techie amongst us but gibberish to the rest. This, of course, is exactly the sort of post-consumer waste that goes into the recycled paper I was talking about. But, aside from using it as scrap for taking notes and scribbling on, we won’t be recycling it.

D8 did try recycling our waste paper recently, using the council’s business recycling scheme. We hit a snag when we found that collection couldn’t be arranged until we’d collected 10 sacks of paper. Any of you who’ve been to D8’s studio will know that it’s not the most spacious around, and there are quite a lot of us in it. Add ten industrial-sized sacks of waste paper and you’ll begin to see the problem.

It’s not the council’s fault of course. They’re offering a service based on demand and there obviously isn’t enough demand to justify more regular collections. They’re aiming at much larger offices than most design companies. It’s not our fault either. We can’t give over a tenth of our studio to a load of waste paper, unless it starts paying rent. At least we’re trying, which is more than I can say for any other studio I’ve worked in.

But I reckon small design companies generate big quantities of waste paper. We all know the familiar routine before a presentation – colour not right? Print it again. Font a touch large? Print it again. Image a shade dark? Print it again – it all mounts up, in more ways than one. I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d welcome any suggestions anyone has. Because I reckon that until we start finding ways to re-use the paper we’re wasting, we might as well forget about using that nice recycled stock.

Matt Buchanan, Senior Designer, Teviot

I love it when you choose a paper that enhances and compliments your design.

I hate when clients buy their own print and produce your design on newsprint.

I love it when paper reps take you out for the day golfing.

I hate it when you don’t get an invite to visit the Munken paper mill in Sweden.

I love the feel of Mellotex CX22.

I hate it when you realise you should have used 300gsm instead of 200gsm.

I love it when paper reps leave you paper sample books with beautiful printing techniques in them.

I hate holographic paper.

I love foil blocking, embossing and laser cutting.

I hate it when clients use glossy paper because they think it looks expensive.

I love getting samples and dummys.

I hate when a gimmicky paper is used instead of a good idea.

I love 700gsm Colorplan.

I hate paper cuts.

I love a full colour image printed on an uncoated paper.

I hate when printers blame paper for poor reproduction.

I love paper that has at least 8 weights.

I hate transparent paper that can’t go through the colour copier.

I love metallic ink on gloss paper.

I hate it when you can only get paper in a B2 sheet size.

I love it when paper makes the difference between good and award winning design.

I hate paper company direct mail.

I love the smell of freshly printed paper.

Claire Cormack, Head of Design, Fifth Ring

Paper! What can I say? I’ve had a passion, my friends say more an obsession, with paper for most of my life. From origami as a child to papermaking, paper marbling, bookbinding and calligraphy at art school, I’ve always thought it played a key role in the creative arts.

So it will be no surprise to realise that I endeavour to use interesting paper whenever possible within the realms of graphic design. Often designers treat it as an afterthought and this is when the whole design process is wasted. A fantastic design is created then lost on bog-standard paper.

Paper plays as much of a role in good design as what is printed on to it. It can lift a rather ordinary design to a much higher level or can enhance an exclusive, intricately detailed project to an award-winning piece of work. With the wealth of text and cover papers available from the key paper mills and merchants throughout the UK, it makes my job a joy!

Clients presume that printing their job on unusual, or what might be deemed “fancy”, paper will blow their budget, but this is where clever and effective design comes into play. Often a one- or two-coloured job printed on an interesting stock can be more impressive and sometimes cheaper than a full colour job printed on plain stock – it’s all about being creative and clever with the budget you have.

With the advent of the internet, many said this would be the death of printed graphic design.

Thankfully, that is not the case. In fact, although some cheaper printed material, such as newsletters, has perhaps been replaced by e-newsletters, I think the internet has actually enhanced the higher end of the paper market – people like the “touchy feely” nature of a printed brochure and actually want to make them even more irresistible. Then again, maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part, as I never had an urge to become a web designer and would probably have had to have a total career change if the printed word had died.

After all, nothing beats the smell of fresh ink on paper ...

Current paper trends

We talk to designers by phone just about every day and you get an indication at the early stages of a design project of which materials are going to be specified.

Bulky, tactile, uncoated papers (like Imagine) are high in the popularity stakes because of their clean natural appearance.

Recycled/FSC papers are also moving well, as end users keep a sharp eye on new products with strong environmental credentials.

If designers opt for glossy then they want to see their face in it, although silky coateds are by far the most commonly used. In the majority of instances, the whiter the paper the better, encouraging us to prompt our suppliers to frequently review paper shade.

Whiteness, bulk and cost will often dictate the popularity of a product and, therefore, papers like X-Pression Silk have been specified when the designer has to consider dropping to a lower paper weight in order to meet his postage budget.

As the search continues for a designer to find “something new”, we have to react by constantly reviewing our portfolio of creative products, which will be updated (some time in the autumn this year) to contain strong brands in the non-paper sector, such as Perspex and Staufen PVC.

In addition, metallic materials have been used for packaging projects, such as the covers of whisky tube wraps. Shimmering polypropylenes are regularly seen in department stores for displaying jewellery and coloured papers are being re-visited for the back sections of annual reports.

Lynn Corrigan

Design Support Specialist

Robert Horne Group


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