What is Paper Formation and How Will it Effect Your Printing?

If you have been a print designer or printer long enough, you have probably had this happen to you. The dreaded mottle on a solid flood of color when printing on an uncoated sheet. You know… that blotchy, splotchy look instead of a consistent and even coverage of ink. While there are many factors that can be attributed to mottled printing, such as ink color, press conditions and ink sequence, it also could be the paper’s fault. More specifically, the formation of the paper.

When paper is made, the pulp is distributed onto a moving belt of mesh screen called a fourdrinier wire. This wire belt shimmies back and forth to remove excess water and to move the fibers into an even pattern, or formation. Paper formation refers to the uniformity and distribution of the fibers within a sheet of paper.

Below are two sheets of paper showing one with bad formation (fibers are blotchy and uneven) and one with good formation (uniform fiber alignment). Sometimes your printing is mottled because you started with a paper that has blotchy formation. Many people think that since they are going to flood sheet with ink, the paper choice doesn’t really matter, but nothing could be further from the truth. When ink lays on paper, that is when every flaw in the sheet becomes apparent so paper choice is actually MOST critical when printing a full coverage.

GOOD FORMATION                            POOR FORMATION

A good rule of thumb…blotchy paper
results in blotchy printing.

Two main factors affect formation. One, is the quality of the wood pulp and “ingredients” used and the second is the speed of the moving wire.

For example, text and cover mills such as Neenah, Mohawk and French use very high quality ingredients for their pulp. Their paper machines are also smaller and run at slower speeds giving the paper fibers on the fourdrinier wire a chance to line up in even formation. Both the ingredients and the slower making time cost more which is reflected in their higher price.

Paper machine operator next to the fourdrinier wire of a smaller paper machine used in text and cover mills such as Mohawk, Neenah and French.

On the other hand, opaque papers such as Cougar, Lynx, Husky, Finch Fine, Finch Opaque and Accent Opaque are made with lesser quality ingredients and made on huge machines that are run at very high speeds. The higher speed doesn’t allow time for the fibers to line up as evenly as text and cover papers. These commodity opaque papers are made in very large volume and  economy, so in turn, the cost of their ingredients and paper making processes reflect their lower price ranges. (Paper makers have budgets, too!)

The paper machines used to make commodity opaque papers are huge! Sometimes to get to one and of the machine from the other, the operators ride bikes.

It depends on the type of job you are printing and what you are printing. There are different types of papers for different reasons. The key is to find the right paper for your print job. If the run is large, the paper cost is a bigger percentage of the overall print price, so the lower priced opaque papers can help control costs. Opaque sheets are also a good choice when budget and availability are two key factors of your project because these sheets are more economically priced and commonly stocked on the paper merchant’s floor for fast delivery.  If it is a print job where quality is of the utmost importance or full of 4-color builds, photography or floods of ink coverage, then a text and cover sheet is a much better fit. Or in instances where paper color and texture are needed (opaque papers are only available in white and natural with smooth or vellum finishes). It’s all a matter of matching the design, print technique, budget, deadline, intended use and your expectations to the right paper.

Many times, paper is the easiest and the first place to find cost savings. Dropping from a premium text and cover sheet to an opaque paper can make an impact on the overall cost of the print job and is a tool printers sometimes use to submit attractive bids against competitors. To the inexperienced and untrained eye, these commodity grades can appear just as white and smooth as quality text paper, and printers can often work around their limitations to deliver a job that is acceptable to the average client. However, that is not always the case and we offer these words of advice…”Never put a Cadillac of a design on a Toyota Corolla quality of paper and expect it to come out looking like a Cadillac.”

Your paper merchant or Spec Rep can help you choose the right paper for your job. They will ask the right questions about quantity, deadline, printing, design and budget and make recommendations accordingly. They can also make dummies of the job so you can compare different sheets in a finished format or provide printed samples so you see how the different papers print.

Interested in some more paper education? We have the following posts available, too:
1.  Paper Whiteness & Brightness: What you need to know about these two paper traits and    how they affect your printing
2.  How Paper Availability Can Affect Your Print Job
3.  When Should You Score a Folder Brochure
4.  Why Making Dummies is the Smart Move
5.  7 Tips to End Your Envelope Struggles