Paper (or 'stock' as printing geeks insist on calling it) takes many forms. So which type should you choose for your project?
Firstly, I should probably explain the difference between the various paper types:
Coated vs Uncoated
As the name suggests, coated paper has a coating, usually of china clay, which gives it a smooth finish. Coated papers are available in a gloss, silk (sometimes called satin) or matt finish and are used for projects requiring a fine finish, which is why coated paper is sometimes referred to as 'art' paper. Most of the leaflets you get through your letterbox, the glossy brochures you pick up from the travel agent and the fancy programmes you buy at concerts are printed onto coated paper.
Uncoated paper doesn't have a coating and is therefore not as smooth as coated paper. You will use uncoated paper in your laser printer and photocopier. Premium quality uncoated papers are used for business stationery and are becoming increasingly popular for use in prestigious brochures and catalogues as an alternative to the more commonly used coated papers. Uncoated papers are available in a range of finishes:
Laid paper is a premium quality paper with a textured pattern of parallel lines, similar to hand made paper. Commonly used for business stationery.
Wove paper is a premium quality paper with a uniform surface, not ribbed or textured like laid paper. Again, used mostly for business stationery.
Bond paper is a term commonly used to describe economical uncoated wove papers. You will probably use bond paper in your photocopier and fax machine.
It is normal practice to specify the 'thickness' of paper by its weight in grams per square metre (GM or GSM). A low quality photocopier paper is usually around 80gsm; a good quality letterhead around 120gsm; a fast food menu around 130gsm, a postcard around 300gsm; and a business card around 350gsm.
As papers are graded by weight, one manufacturer's 150gsm paper may seem slightly bulkier or thicker than a competitor's product. Also uncoated papers tend to be bulkier than their coated counterparts, whilst matt and silk coated papers tend to be bulkier than their gloss coated counterparts. That said, a paper's GSM rating is a good guide to how 'thick' or 'stiff' the paper will feel but always ask for paper samples if you're unsure. Card (or 'board' as it is usually called in the industry) is sometimes measured in microns (a micron is 1000th of a millimetre).
Selecting the paper for your project
So, now that you know your 'business laids' from your 'matt coateds' - which one should you choose for your project?
Well, if you're creating a full colour document featuring photographs or colourful illustrations, you'll get the most vibrant colours if you opt for a coated paper. Whether you choose a gloss, silk or matt finish is mostly down to your personal preference, although gloss paper will produce the most vibrant colour reproduction. Some people think that gloss is classy, others consider it to be a bit tacky. Something to consider if your document is being printed conventionally is that silk and matt papers should normally be machine sealed (a sealant is applied to the printed image to avoid it being smudged). This may add to the cost of printing - check with your print contractor. Uncoated paper can be used for full colour projects but colours tend to be less vibrant and unless you use a low quality bond paper, it could end up costing considerably more than if you'd selected a coated stock.
Due to its glossly finish, you should avoid using coated papers if your document is designed to be written on. You're probably best opting for an uncoated stock instead.
Letterheads, compliment slips etc are almost always printed onto uncoated paper - 100gsm is normal, 120gsm adds prestige. There are literally hundreds of different brands of paper to choose from and individual printing contractors will tend to stock and promote a handful of their favourite ranges. If you plan to overprint your stationery using a desktop printer, make sure the paper is inkjet and/or laser compatible. It's also worth noting at this point that some printing and finishing processes are not inkjet/laser compatible. Ensure you double check before placing your order.
If you're simply after something cheap and cheerful most people think that a low quality uncoated paper is going to be the most economical option. Not always the case! Printing companies tend to buy coated stock by the truck load and therefore get very good rates. If you're after the lowest possible price, ask your printer to use his cheapest stock but ask to see a sample first to avoid any nasty surprises.
Finally, be aware that colour reproduction will differ depending upon the type of paper the ink is printed on. If you need accurate colour reproduction across a range of different documents, you may wish to use the same type of stock throughout. For instance, if your letterheads and compliment slips are printed onto an uncoated paper, you will probably want to choose an uncoated board for your business cards.
Related article: UK Paper Size Guide