If scarlet is the new black and the 1980s are, well, back again, then as far as designer paper trends go, uncoated is definitely the new coated. But like fashion, developments in paper are cyclical, so the current fondness among designers for uncoated stock could be short-lived.
“Uncoated paper has been extremely popular since a more refined stock was introduced from the US a few years ago,” says Very Interesting Paper Company “guru” Marnix Zetteler. He then lists many properties of uncoated stock that make it the designers’ favourite: it is easier to read, more cost-effective, stylish, contemporary and modest.
It stands out because the market is still crowded with shiny coated paper, adds Paul Sudron, senior designer at Edinburgh-based design consultancy Graphic Partners. He says clients often associate gloss with quality, when the reality is most consumers see it as lower class, not least because they equate it with throwaway mailshots printed on coated paper.
Most designers are united in praise of uncoated paper’s most redeeming feature – its tactility. “The feel of a paper is as vital as its look,” says Sue Skeen, managing director of Skeen & Co, which designed the new Habitat catalogue, printed entirely on uncoated stock. “It has a natural, unpretentious quality, and despite being bulkier is actually light,” she adds.
Skeen refutes the conventional view that uncoated paper is unkind to photographs and images by draining the colour. “Uncoated stock does soften extremely bright colour and the sharpness of some images, but it accentuates light and dark. It was highly effective with the editorial-type images we used for the catalogue, which were romanticised and given visual cohesion throughout.” But uncoated paper is not just preferred for its aesthetic properties. Clients are increasingly choosing uncoated paper because it sends out environmentally friendly messages.
In fact, many coated stocks are equally Green, but do not appear socially aware because of the high-gloss factor. Annual and environmental reports for the charity and utility sectors in particular are increasingly printed on uncoated stock for this reason, says Sudron. But this is a fast-diminishing print sector, due to the continual growth in on-line annual reports.
Educating clients, who are often unreceptive to new developments in paper, is designers’ greatest challenge, says Zetteler. “Designers are slowly getting across the uncoated message to Mr Unilever and Mr Boots the Chemists – they are my sales people,” he says. As for the future, Natasha Hornsey, Paperlink manager at paper manufacturer Robert Horne, believes the industry is heading for a surge of interest in alternative papers, such as transparent, fluorescent and metallic stocks. “Weird and wonderful papers will hit the market over the next few years,” she says. “Many will sink, but some will swim and enter the mainstream.” Skeen at Habitat is already considering a move away from uncoated paper.
Whatever paper is currently in vogue, designers must treat it with due respect, says Jane Milroy, Curtis Fine Papers marketing manager. “Uncoated paper is used as part of the design process. We encourage designers to think early on about their choice of paper,” she says. Sudron agrees. “Paper stock should be a graphic device, not an afterthought.”