Mobile navigation


Paper choices

Look, feel and aesthetics are all trump cards for the printed word. A large part of the tactile appeal of magazines is clearly down to the paper choice and finishing, and publishers have a wide variety of options in this area, depending on budget and desired effect. Darrel Crowley outlines the choices.

By Darrel Crowley

In all of the years I’ve worked in publishing and the print arena, there’s often an element missing from the magazine production brief – paper – or to be more specific, the type, coating and weight / thickness of paper for the publication in question. Considering that paper contributes anything up to 50% of the total production costs, it’s a significant element that needs to be fully addressed at the earliest possible stage. Equally, publishers can be unaware that the print / finishing process may limit the type of papers available to them, so forward planning is absolutely essential to prevent any nasty surprises later on down the production schedule.

It’s been a difficult time for magazine printed paper manufacturers in the last decade, with the sector undergoing consolidation, UK production mills closing and demand decreasing - in part, due to the emergence of new communication channels – and, at the time of writing, there have been three price increases this year that have impacted paper materials by 15% to 33%. Therefore, the correct selection and ongoing review of magazine printing papers is more important than ever, to control those publishing budgets.

So where do we begin? At the end…!

Give serious thought to the key end results you wish to obtain for your publication.

Are you looking for great opacity, high quality reproduction, brightness of paper, longevity? All of these factors will have a great bearing on your paper selection and need to be given careful consideration.

Are your target audience newsstand and / or subscription based?

If it’s the latter, efficient management of mailing expenditure is the key. By switching your publication to a lower weight of paper will make all the difference to your mailing costs, with the additional benefit of reducing the total amount of paper purchased.

Sky Magazine was a perfect example of this. It’s currently the largest circulated magazine in the UK with a total circulation of 7,041,602 copies (ABC, Jan-June 2010). During the time I spent on this publication, we reduced the weight of paper by 8%, providing a significant impact on postage costs and paper consumption, without impacting the overall quality of the magazine.

Selection should also be based on your target audience and publication longevity.

When I worked on Eye Magazine the subscriber was a totally different demographic profile to one of our other titles, British Baker and this needed to be reflected in the choice of paper. The former, being a B2C publication targeted at creative consumers, consisted of a mix of sections printed on heavier stocks and finishes and differing print processes, was printed quarterly and became a collectors’ edition. The latter was a B2B publication mailed to subscribers on a weekly basis and as such the publication reflected this, with a lighter weight of paper.

Choosing paper type

Generally in the UK, magazine paper types are separated into four categories, each with their own unique properties and benefits.

* Supercalendered (SC). Key benefits are: they are economical and bright, used for large volume print quantities on lightweight paper, typically in the 39gsm to 60gsm range.

* Lightweight coated (LWC). Paper weights tend to be in the 35gsm to 70gsm range; better range of brightness on heavier weights; reasonably priced and single-coated.

* Medium weight coated (MWC). 60gsm to 100gsm – these handle full colour reproduction exceptionally well, while maintaining good opacity, bulk and reasonable longevity; most grades are double-coated.

* Woodfree coated (WFC). 80gsm to 400gsm – main benefits are their strength, brightness, high bulk, longevity and opacity (on heavier weights), high quality reproduction, and available in double and triple-coated options.

Paper coating

Magazines, like most things in life, follow trends.

During the early nineties, many magazine publishers produced magazines on gloss papers; conversely in today’s market, there are more printing on silk, matt and even uncoated papers.

* Gloss papers. These have a high reflection and high ink lift, offering vibrant colour and intensity to printed images.

* Matt papers. Matt papers offer no surface reflection and feel smooth and dull to the touch, albeit rougher than a gloss paper. The ink lift is not as pronounced as gloss paper and therefore images appear slightly flatter in appearance, although readability is improved.

* Silk papers. Like matt paper, these have no surface reflection and feel incredibly smooth to the touch. Silk paper provides a good compromise between gloss and matt, with high readability and quality reproduction. One point to note is, when using silk and matt papers for colour reproduction, specify that your print supplier use a seal to prevent ink rub when the magazine is handled, as ink does not dry as effectively as it would on gloss paper.

* Uncoated papers. These papers have made inroads within the publishing sector and are popular with publishers who are looking to push the boundaries of conventional printing and publishing. Although once difficult for printers to reproduce images effectively - due to the absorbency of the ink on uncoated paper – with the correct adjustments made to tonal images at the pre-press stage, combined with a knowledgeable and quality print supplier, superior image reproduction is achievable. However, do expect to pay a premium on your print costs, as these grades tend to run more slowly on press than conventional papers.

Environmental considerations when selecting paper

There has been a great deal of scare-mongering in recent times that the use of printing papers increases carbon footprint, depletes forests and overall is environmentally unfriendly. However quite the opposite is true. Paper is a renewable, sustainable and recyclable product. In Europe, where the majority of UK magazine papers originate, managed forests replace each felled tree with 3-4 replanted trees. In addition, as these trees grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and continue to store carbon when they evolve into a paper product.

European forests have embraced the need for paper to derive from a sustainable source and as a consequence, there are many certification schemes in place.

The two primary recognised and audited certifications are the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification). The FSC system provides a way of tracking the path of forest products through an independently verified Chain of Custody certification. This has to cover each and every stage in processing, conversion, distribution and printing before the final product can carry the FSC label. If your printer does not have FSC Chain of Custody certification, you cannot use the FSC label in your magazine, regardless of whether the paper is from an FSC source. There are a whole range of FSC papers available, ranging from papers with recycled, part recycled and non recycled (virgin fibre).

The PEFC certification is similar to FSC, in that it promotes sustainable forest management by tracking certified material from the forest to the final product to ensure that the wood, wood fibre or non-wood forest produce contained in the product or product line can be traced back to certified forests.

Equally, magazine printing papers undergo a level of bleaching to achieve whiteness and therefore attention should be focused on the methods employed. Up until the late 1990s, the traditional method of using chlorine gas to whiten paper pulp was a very toxic process. However, nowadays the following two methods are employed to whiten paper pulp - Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) and Totally Chlorine Free (TCF).

Elemental Chlorine Free paper defines that the pulp has been whitened using certain chlorine compounds, but not chlorine gas. This in turn leads to reduced toxicity levels and reduced environmental impact.

Totally Chlorine Free indicates that the pulp has been bleached without the use of any chlorine chemicals. The whitening agents used are a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and oxygen which do not generate any harmful toxins.

Finishing options

So, you have decided on the paper type, weight and coating, but what about that extra something for the covers? Do you opt for a machine varnish, UV varnish, lamination? Bear in mind that the best results are achieved on gloss or silk coated papers, with uncoated and rough matt papers being the most problematic. If you are unsure, it’s always worthwhile consulting your print supplier / manager and asking their advice early in the production schedule, to avoid any costly or time consuming technical problems later on. Cover finishes have practical uses to protect the magazine, but also offer that additional decorative quality. Generally, the trend for most UK magazine publishers, is to opt for a UV gloss finish or gloss lamination, with the latter offering the benefit of additional thickness to the cover, although with a little creative initiative, a whole range of decorative finishes can be applied to add that special touch to the reading experience. For instance, a combination of overall matt laminate with a UV spot gloss varnish on selected text / graphic elements to make them stand out can really add the ‘wow’ factor for your reader. Equally, embossing or foil blocking the magazine title can have a positive tactile effect. I’ve mentioned just a few options, however with a combination of creative thinking and thorough research, there are many possibilities available for that stunning cover appearance.

Purchasing solutions (printer, merchant, mill)

The selection of paper supplier should be a realistic and measured choice, based on a number of elements that include (but are not limited to): annual consumption, administrative resource available to forecast, manage and order stock, ability to efficiently utilise stock levels. If you decide to purchase directly from the printer, expect to pay handling costs and face a limited choice of papers - although on the plus side, it does reduce the administrative hassle. A few of the benefits of using a merchant, is that they do stock a wide range of grades and coatings from various mills and provide the advantage of a sample service to boot.

In the hustle and bustle of our technological age, it’s warming to see that the use of a carefully selected magazine paper combined with engaging editorial, beautiful design, quality pre-press and print reproduction, can deliver the aesthetic elegance and tactile nature that new technologies just don’t provide.