It’s a hard choice to make—more than 40 flavors.
Which one should I pick? As we stand in line at
the local Häagen-Dazs store, all these wonderful
ice cream flavors scream at us to be tasted. Crème
brûlée, English toffee, pineapple coconut. …
But for 9-year-old Emily, the choice is clear:
“Vanilla.” No other flavor ever makes the cut. Every
time we come into the store, vanilla it is. With that
same certainty, Emily could also successfully predict
the paper choice of most designers: White.
More than 80 percent of jobs printed in North
America are printed on some form of white paper.
But they don’t look boring. Not one bit. We flood
the sheets with color—bleeding on all four sides.
We spend hours simulating textures with printing
processes. Double and triple hit colors. But no matter
how much ink we use, we never truly achieve the
saturated feel of a hued, textured paper.
There are times when only a color sheet can lift
your design that extra notch from good to outstanding.
So what is it that stops us from printing on these
wonderful sheets? Is it the fear of venturing into
I’ve got nothing against vanilla. The flavor goes
with just about every dessert offering under the sun.
It’s “nice,” and it’s safe.
Many designers shy away from a new choice,
but with a little planning, color papers can open up
a new realm of design. Remember when you excitedly
“oohed” and “aahed” over the latest swatchbooks
and the amazing colors and textures being
offered? Let’s just take some of them for a spin
and see what remarkable effects we can create and
explore how to achieve them.
MORE THAN A ONE-COLOR JOB
Much more than a neutral background, color stocks
can play an intricate part in the creative mix of your
design. Beyond just supplying a second color to your
piece, the texture of the paper you choose easily
adds another dimension to your design.
Instead of simply “beige,” your paper now
speaks “suede.” Instead of slick, your black sheet
now has a rubberlike feel to it. From embossed
finishes—such as felt and linen—to distinctive
and unusual surfaces, there is a variety of paper options now available. Try to achieve this effect with
a coated sheet. …
In the case of a lighter to medium-color sheet,
a single or double hit of the color of your choice
will be sufficient. If your project includes single- or
full-color images on a medium to dark stock, underprinting
an opaque ink will help you keep the colors
vibrant. White inks, as well as all metallic inks, are
by nature opaque and allow offset inks to sit on top
of them—literally. Two hits of white or silver ink give
you the best support for your images.
“Designers should keep in mind there are several
techniques that are effective when printing or decorating
dark-color stocks, including foil stamping and
printing with metallic inks, as well as silk screening
and engraving,” says Phyllis Custer, product marketing
manager at FiberMark. “Printing a spot UV gloss
varnish on an uncoated or matte-coated dark sheet
can also achieve a distinctive, dramatic effect.”
MIX AND MATCH
Color papers are often used in annual reports or
corporate capability material, and it seems to be a
natural fit. Text and cover papers suggest an understated
company image and add warmth to what can
appear to be impersonal printed matter.
For Kelly Kubisiak, marketing communications
manager at Wausau Paper, the choice is clear: “A simple
cover of a color, textured paper can look elegant
without being flashy or over the top. It says quality
in an understated way.” Color papers can be warmer,
more human and easily complement the high gloss of
four-color process work on coated paper.
“The key is to make the color and texture part
of the original concept and tie it in to existing colors
used by the company,” says Kubisiak. The most
popular way to keep your colors true is foil stamping.
Because the process can create a completely opaque
image, foil stamping is often used to apply a lightcolor
image against a dark-color paper. Perfect.
This above suggested opacity and crispness cannot
be accomplished on an offset press. But there are
limits to consider when foil stamping. A foil-stamped
letterhead, for example, meets a terrible fate in a laser
printer, because the printer’s intense heat will cause
the foil to discolor, pit and even lift off the page. Some foil manufacturers are developing heat-resistant
foils that can survive a laser printer, but we’re not
SUBTLE YET DISTINCT
I cannot count the number of times I’ve worked
in studios where we used a double hit of black to
achieve a rich black, and toned down certain areas
to 90 percent to achieve a watermarked effect. You
can reach an even classier look with less ink and
paper waste simply by spot-glossing an image onto a
medium or dark paper.
Alternatively, you can achieve the same effect by
foil stamping the image onto the cover with a clear
foil. There are more than 200 foils—from trusted
opaques and pearlized foils to holographic, matte and
glossy clear foils.
For Jean Rarick, regional sales manager for the
specialty mill Gruppo Cordenons, a color sheet is
an easy way to enhance your design. “A color stock
will most certainly amplify [presence], particularly
in direct mail. Since you don’t necessarily need to
print four-color, it can also expand the possibilities
for other processes. A gorgeous color sheet printed
with a single color or foil stamp is quite elegant,”
Another subtle option that has become increasingly
popular is printing an image just one or two
tones darker than the actual paper color. By printing
the same image and color on different-color stock,
you can literally create a series of pieces that each
Remembering your color training: You know the
same ink printed on varying color stocks will look
quite different, and create the illusion that you have
slaved for hours and exhausted several print runs to
find just the right color combinations. Not.
You can create a subtle look by printing offset,
even foil stamping, but my personal favorite is running
a design on a letterpress. Not only does it give
you the perceived color variation, it also gives the
slight deboss letterpress-look that makes your design
even more outstanding.
Considering the digital world we are surrounded
by every day, the resurgence of letterpress is no surprise.
The slight indent of the printed areas, combined
with vivid colors, literally screams handcrafted,
and this is exactly what we are craving.
INSTANT COLOR COMBINATIONS
Be bold in your color choices and don’t even worry
about dry back after the press run. Color sheets keep
their colors—and finishes.
Combine a shiny metallic cover with a matte vellum
or textured wraparound. Instant success. “Paper
textures and colors make people actually feel the
piece—it draws them to the design and involves them
in it,” says Judith Berliner, owner of Full Circle Press.
No double hits, dry backs or color variations on
press. No smudging. You can create stunning effects
with one press run of one color. To achieve the same
look on a coated sheet, you would need to—let’s
see—double hit the metallic blue, double hit the
brown and put a protective coating on the piece.
Wait, make that two coatings—one gloss, one matte.
You do the math.
We have talked a lot about printing limited colors
on color stock, but this does not mean that you can’t
go all the way and print full-color pieces as well. If
your project includes full-color images on a medium
to dark stock, underprinting a white opaque ink will
help you keep the colors vibrant.
For a subtle look, run the opaque inks in line
with your CMYK. Be aware that wet-trapping, as this
process is called, is really subtle and will not give you
vibrancy in the colors if that’s what you are looking
for. Dry-trapping, on the other hand—waiting for
the opaque inks to dry before running the CMYK
inks—allows for maximum “pop” or contrast in your
images and is preferred by printers.
If underprinting is not an option, and you are
printing on a light or medium color stock, add a
small percentage of silver ink to one of your colors.
It will enhance the opacity of this specific color and
give your images more hold.
Play with the colors. Enhance certain hues by
substituting one of the CM or Ys with a metallic ink.
Swap process yellow for chrome yellow, for example.
Or choose fluorescent ink instead. This will create a
Many mills offer printed sample sheets of their
color stock. This will give you a great idea of the
effect various printing processes have on this specific
sheet and color—from embossing to engraving and
CMYK to duotones. The information is available;
you just have to ask for it.
“The key, as with any print job, is to get your
vision of the project in line with what is possible with
prepress and on press,” says Allen Strohmeier, a senior
account executive at Cenveo Anderson Lithograph in
San Francisco. “Choose a printer that has experience
with the kind of effect you want to achieve, and that
believes in your project as much as you do.”