When it comes to paper finishes, should you use a coat, a varnish or metallic? Here are the questions to ask.

Q: My designer is asking whether I want the paper to be coated or uncoated. What should I choose?

A: Coating adds a nice luster and makes the paper smoother and less porous, so that it doesn’t absorb as much ink. The result is crisper text and sharper photos. Go with coated paper for bright and colorful brochures, mailers and sell sheets. But consider uncoated if your brand is better served by an earthy, organic, all-natural look.

Always choose uncoated for letterhead, note cards or any other piece that will need to be signed or written on. It will absorb the ink from a pen or marker without smearing. Uncoated also can be the better choice for a piece with lots of text, such as a manual, since coated paper can have a glare that makes prolonged reading more difficult.

Paper finishes example: varnishQ: I just saw a beautiful annual report and the cover had some super shiny areas and some duller areas. Not only did it look fabulous, but it felt good to touch. How did they get that effect?

A: What you’re seeing (and touching) is called a varnish. Think of it as a clear ink placed on top of the other inks. Varnishes can be dull, satin, glossy or even feel soft like suede.

The hardcover edition of The Psychopath Test uses spot varnish in a very effective way. Only the scary wildcat side of the book cover is bright and shiny, while the bunny side is a nice subdued matte. The end result is the appearance that someone has ripped away the cover of an academic journal to reveal the cover of a more frightening and sensational book underneath.

Using varnishes adds to the cost of printing, but can also add a lot of impact.

metallic paper finishes exampleQ: I love the metallic look on paper, but my designer says I shouldn’t use metallic for the text on my business card. Why?

A: Metallic ink or foil stamping can look sophisticated and upscale when used properly. But these techniques also present some challenges.

The ink or foil will offer varying levels of contrast with the paper, depending on the angle at which the light hits it. If you’re using a large area of metallic ink for a big block of color, that shimmery shine can be sublime.

But avoid using metallic inks or foils on small type because it can be very difficult to read. The recipients of your business card may twist it and turn it this way and that, hoping for the perfect angle that will catch the light and render your contact information readable. But alas, most will give up and toss it in the trash.

Need help with your marketing materials design? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].


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