What the papers say

Textured, translucent or scented? Scott Billings discovers a new generation of special paper stocks that are spurring design ideas. They’re also a critical choice for clients as they convey a clear message about the brand

Have you ever asked what a brand ‘feels’ like? Not emotionally, but literally, tangibly. There are lots of ways to translate a brand’s attributes into effective – and affecting – communications and designers ask lots of questions to get there. What does a brand look like? Is it fast or slow, dynamic or solid? Is it modern or traditional, approachable and friendly or rigid and dependable? Qualities like these are reflected in corporate identities, colour palettes, typographic treatment and a whole range of design techniques. But how can the feel of a brand be represented in an organisation’s communications?

The answer is through paper: an essential component in almost any piece of physical communication, from product packaging to annual reports, direct mailers and invitations. With careful thought and research, the selection of the right paper stock for a business’ printed material can be as important as the choice of typography and colour. Texture, weight and finish all send out subtle signals about a brand’s characteristics. ‘Sourcing paper stock is a very important part of the design process for us,’ says Phil Costin, director of the design group Mode. ‘We’re trying to define how a brand physically feels.’

Along with graphics, colour and language, printed materials can also be made to stand out from the crowd through the choice of stock, with speciality papers able to deliver an interesting twist on a project brief. When working with fashion and luxury brand consultant Chris Connors, for example, Mode used a range of materials with high gloss or reflective finishes – including Fedrigoni’s Splendorlux Metal and Zanders’ Chromolux – to illustrate Connors’ method of ‘reflecting’ his client’s business back to itself.

As with fashion, high-end property communication demands something a little above and beyond a standard brochure. In creating promotional materials for a £30m, five-storey private property situated in London’s Belgrave Square, Ico Design Consultancy realised that something special was needed to close a sale. ‘We designed it twice,’ explains Ico senior designer Vivek Bhatia. ‘First, we produced a small book using coated and uncoated paper. A lot of businessmen came to see it, but couldn’t convince their wives.’

So the consultancy produced a second presentation using a paper-backed material called Flockage by Fenner, on to which were printed close-up photography from fabrics and materials used in the property’s furnishings. A box was handmade using these papers by Cathy Robert at Delta Design Studio. The resulting tactile ‘fabric’ of the box ‘brought the qualities of the house into the brochures’, says Bhatia. A book inside the box featured Arjowiggins’ Curious paper on its cover, giving a tactile, waxy finish.

While a certain combination of stock, colour and photography can be used to impart a sense of luxury and opulence, special papers can also be put to more unusual use. In two separate projects by design consultancy Purpose, a paper’s coating was used as a physical reference to the subject at hand. So, in a Christmas mailer for gourmet sausage manufacturer Simply Sausages, a fleshy Pyros Pink version of Marlmarque by GF Smith was chosen because the paper’s finish felt ‘sausagey’, says consultancy senior designer Piers Komlosy. Similarly, for Wounded – a portfolio book for photographer Jesse Marlow’s pictures of people with injuries – Plike stock from Cordenons was printed in pink to enhance the paper’s already skin-like qualities.

With this kind of careful research speciality papers can be turned to all kinds of treatments, says Komlosy. ‘A paper that may have been designed for one purpose can often be used differently to the manufacturer’s intentions. So something intended to be soft could be used to feel like skin.’ And as Bhatia notes, playing with paper stock can produce something effective from trial and error. ‘There’s often a lot of testing. Sometimes things happen by accident. It’s often a combination of materials and production techniques,’ he says. At the other end of the scale – away from high-gloss coating and tactile finishes – are untreated, rough and natural stocks, such as Paperback’s Cairn board and Redeem from Fenner. Redeem, for example, was used by design consultancy Ranch for print materials promoting film director Ken Loach’s It’s A Free World feature. The rough, gritty stock reflects Loach’s style and the film’s theme of immigrant labour, notes Ranch founder Paul Jenkins.

The other obvious appeal of uncoated, natural stock is its environmental credentials. Both Cairn and Redeem, for example, are 100 per cent recycled – a speciality in its own right and something that is starting to appeal to clients. Indeed, a rough, card-like stock may now be used where plush materials previously would have appealed. ‘Environmental awareness is something even luxury brands are pushing and it’s actually hard to find recycled stocks, but a lot of clients are happy if you use something that is recyclable,’ says Costin. ‘It’s becoming more of an issue not to recommend papers that look expensive just for the sake of it.’

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