Designers love to obsess over paper quality, but financial pressures are beginning to rein in the wilder excesses of over-specification. Suzanne Hinchliffe looks at how print professionals are still managing to produce engaging results

Never judge a book by its cover, it’s said, though people usually do. But do they consider the choice of materials, their touch and feel, as well? Designers like to think so, and are often caught waxing lyrical when describing the properties of a paper for a new project, whether driven by the physical qualities, costs or the ethics of the material. We asked three print specialists about the importance of paper.

Bryan Edmondson, Partner, Sea Design
Choosing a paper stock is not an afterthought – it is an essential part of the design process. When I’m in bookshops like Magma, I’m drawn to the covers of magazines like Self Service. Having picked them up, you realise the choice of stock is part of the cover experience. Ask yourself – have you ever stroked and sniffed a piece of paper? Of course you have.

The preference for any paper is driven mainly by touch. If it is a coated stock, how smooth is it? If it is an uncoated stock, how textured is it? You will also consider other papers which are semi-coated or semi-uncoated, such as Phoenix Motion from GF Smith.

Phoenix Motion has been one of my papers of choice for many years. When GF Smith decided to stock this paper, I was asked to promote it – primarily to display its surface. With images by photographer Rankin, the dot reproduction on the surface of Phoenix is so precise, but the paper also tends to react like an uncoated sheet, leaving a slight texture in the dark areas. UV and machine varnishes were used to lift certain images – an ‘offline’ varnish gave the best result.

Georgia Fendley, Managing director, Construct London
I’m a bit of a nerd. I love paper. I always have and can be really obsessive about what we choose for each project. It’s amazing how much papers can differ internationally, especially packaging materials, so I often bring things back from my travels and then torture the team and our suppliers to find something similar.

I usually have a really strong idea about what feel I want. As I start to work on a project, I’ll call in everything I think might be suitable. Obviously, there are loads of practical considerations – price for one, and I’m really bad at falling in love with something, only to discover it blows our budget. Process limitations are also a consideration, as some papers simply perform better than others. We also look at how Green they are, picking papers with the lowest environmental impact.

We’re currently working on some really challenging projects. Our Mulberry Christmas packaging features super-sized, apple-shaped tags in ‘high card quadrax’ from Fedrigoni, with ruby red Mirri film and a silk laminate over the top. It’s been a nightmare working out how to get the finish we want, but it’s gorgeous.

The Mirri film is at one moment a dark, dusty, dangerous red, and then, when the light catches it, it’s really bright and vivid. We loved this so much that, because it’s complex and expensive, we decided to drop other packaging elements we’d usually produce for the season just so we could keep the spec and not have to adjust the costs.

Alan Herron, Creative director, True North
Sadly, I feel that the days of the designer having the luxury of being able to specify the most luscious papers are becoming a thing of the past. More often than not, the choice of paper is now driven by the budget and by the client.

The days of becoming dreamily orgasmic at the feel of the sheet are a distant memory. I have spent many an hour researching and pouring over ‘woves’, parchments, boards and tissues, but in the end it all boils down to one thing – is it cheap? It is rare nowadays for the material originally envisaged by the designer to be the one that the job is printed on. Standards in print specification, like those in other very commercially sensitive areas of design, are slipping all the time.
I produced a stationery range for Harris Talent, a high-end headhunter in the design and advertising business. I had total freedom to choose whatever material I wanted. Bliss.

Kate Harris provides a very hands-on personal service and listens to both candidate and client. So I wanted something tactile and out-of-the-ordinary to work with those qualities – qualities I was also trying to get across in the typography on the letterheading and business card.

The card is actually die-stamped on to ‘beermat board’ – not a reflection of my client’s interests, but an ideal medium to accept die-stamping. It’s soft in colour and feel, and conveys a bit of what Harris is all about. The letterheading is printed self-indulgently on a paper usually used for Bibles. It’s a paper I’ve always wanted to print on, but have never been able to find a client who would go with it. When all is said and done, it’s a well-considered, well-rounded choice of materials without cost compromise, almost exclusively because the client trusted me.

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  • Trevy November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Re: Alan Herron, Creative director, True North
    “Sadly, I feel that the days of the designer having the luxury of being able to specify the most luscious papers are becoming a thing of the past.”

    Finland specializes in paper. They have no import costs and quality is high.(
    Therefore, if you want to impress your clients, keep your designers happy and give considerations to budget then go to the source. Speak to someone in Finland about paper and printing technologies. Language is no problem as many are fluent in English. For instance, try Harri Hellen at Trust Creative Society. (

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