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The (nerve-wracking) choice of paper

As someone that frets big decisions, being in the publishing business can be a real pain sometimes. I was reminded of that in the last few weeks and days as I needed to make a final call on ordering several tons of paper for the next three issues.

After running into a few minor consistency and quality problems with the last issue, I felt a bit let down by our paper supplier. IGEPA’s Circleoffset, the stock we had used up to that point, was my all-time favourite choice of paper. For being based on 100% recycling material and therefore as environmentally friendly as a paper can get, it boasted a superior quality with an unusually smooth finish. Unfortunately, it lost that high-quality haptic when the manufacturer changed paper mills.

Since launching issue No4 I’ve been discussing alternatives with our printer. Again, the environmental impact was the first and biggest filter. I only considered 100% recycling papers with no whitening bleach used. After a few test prints on two different stock options, I decided to go with EnviroTop from Papier Union.

The next step turned out to be more nerve-wracking. When selecting a paper type, you need to consider not just what it looks like and how ink behaves on it, its grammage will determine how heavy your magazine turns out to be — and in turn, how much you’ll end up spending on shipping. This is measured in grams per square meter (or short “gsm”). A standard office paper usually has something between 70gsm and 90gsm.

However, the weight itself doesn’t determine its perceived thickness. That’s where the paper volume comes in. A paper with a volume of 1.3 contains 30% more air and is therefore less compressed. Higher volume means thicker paper, but not necessarily heavier paper.

Both variables define how thick and heavy a paper feels. The challenge is to find the best fit for your specific publication. Thicker, high-volume papers often convey quality, but depending on your product, this paper — when perfectly bound — may make it difficult to keep the magazine open (my German printer calls this Klammerwirkung, the “peg effect”).

It eventually came down to making a decision between EnviroTop 100gsm and the next heavier option, 120gsm — both with a volume of 1.3. After much thinking, I opted for the heavier version which will make Offscreen about 2.5mm thicker and around 50gm heavier. I’m aware that it will add to the Klammerwirkung, something I’m a little concerned about, to be honest, but the 100gsm version just didn’t have the same superior feel to it.

And that is what’s so nerve-wracking about choosing good stock. There are many variables that need consideration. Due to our small magazine format, we print on larger sheets to be most efficient with paper and ink and avoid wastage. These larger sheets are custom-made by the paper mill and therefore need to be ordered several weeks in advance and in large amounts covering the next three issues of Offscreen.

At moments like this, I really miss the transient nature of making things for web.

  1. offscreenmag posted this

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