Paper and its properties

As we live in uncertain yet innovative times, new and unique recycled papers have emerged. Paper manufacturers are challenging the medium in a multitude of ways. Gmund Bier for example is made of chlorine free pulp and spent brewer’s grain. The names of the collection indicating their fermented origins: Lager, Pils and Ale. G . F Smith created Extract, a paper made out of 90% of the waste from a coffee cup. Every 380gsm sheet of Extract paper contains at least 5 upcycled coffee cups. Curious Matter by Arjowiggins has a unique texture, created from raw potato starch, the by-product of the processing of potatoes into chips and fries in the food industry, and transformed into a surface coating that is unexpected to the touch. Fenner Paper distributes Crush by Favini. An eco-friendly paper that has been given a distinctive flecked texture and appearance by adding residues from fruits and nuts that are taken from agricultural food waste.

This image shows G F Smith, Extract paper swatch book on top of empty paper cups
G F Smith, Extract – Paper swatch book

When choosing paper for your project you want to make sure to think about its properties, history and usage as well as how it can communicate your project.

I spoke with Vanessa Fletcher, Consultant and Student & Graduate Specialist from G . F Smith about paper and how to choose the best material for your project.

Vanessa, how do you find out what the ideal paper for a particular project is?

As a consultant for G . F Smith, I am privileged to be involved in lots of unique projects. To really help a customer though it’s important we know what the specific use is for. Are they creating something that will need a paper to work in a particular way, or are they looking for a very specific colour. I ask as many questions as possible so that I can start to suggest a more bespoke offering. G . F Smith has a huge collection of papers, it can often be overwhelming to know which paper will best suit your project without any guidance. Our papers are specified for all types of projects, from packaging to greetings cards. If we find out exactly what the client is using the paper for, we are better informed to let them know which papers will suit their job. One client once asked me for a paper that was lucky! They were designing all of the assets for a new hotel in Hong Kong, they wanted the paper to have some connection to luck and prosperity as that was an important guideline for all materials used in the hotel. I was able to suggest a few papers based on colour, provenance (a lot of our papers are made around the world in unique mills with a lot of history) and what the paper was made from. For other less demanding projects, I could be asked to select a paper based on its printability. Some books will require a paper that is more opaque, while others will want a paper that can reproduce incredibly vibrant colours. We have a paper for almost every purpose!

The papers at G . F Smith vary in texture and materiality. How do you examine and assess a paper sample?

It sounds obvious but feeling the paper is hugely important. You can gauge how it will suit your project by sometimes just feeling it’s texture. It’s often feeling the difference between gsm’s that will inform a choice too. Look at the paper under different lights, colour can seem very different in natural light compared to synthetic light. I always suggest asking yourself when assessing which paper to use: is this right for the project? If you’re designing a high end coffee table style book full of rich colour printing, but you love the idea of a heavily textured paper, this might be the wrong use for that paper.

When making a final choice between similar papers do you have any tips for making a decision?

This is often a common problem when choosing between white papers. G . F Smith carry a huge amount of coloured, textured and specialist papers which are usually very unique and if specified there aren’t too many alternatives. However, G . F Smith also carry many white papers in our “fine uncoated” and “fine coated” collection. The difference between one white paper and the next can be confusing, but there are a few things to consider when making a final choice between similar papers. Cost can be a huge consideration, a paper that is made from cotton content will be more expensive than a regular paper. Also, does your project require a paper that is made from recycled content? Many recycled papers look very clean and almost identical to those made from virgin fibres. Weight and bulk are also a consideration; a paper with a higher bulk can be a great way to reduce the weight of your book but keep the thickness. This is often a key consideration for books that are shipped internationally as it makes for cheaper shipping.

When choosing paper the cost inevitably plays an important part in the final decision, both as a total cost across a project and the cost per item produced. Our students usually only need small quantities and therefore this isn’t always the case but could you give us an example on how costs can be considered without scarifying the quality of paper when it comes to commercial projects?

Cost is inevitably a huge deciding factor when producing a project. We are lucky that at G . F Smith we have a range of papers to suit most budgets. We do also try and recommend that paper is thought about carefully in a budget, its often the case that compromising on the material can make a job very expensive as it can sometimes lead to unsatisfactory printing etc and result in a reprint with a better paper. 

Can you give a good example of when a cheap paper has been the best choice for a project?

Our affordable papers are used for so many jobs, probably for jobs you’d expect to be produced on far more expensive papers. Quite often big fashion house look books, high end magazines and books will specify lower price point papers because of the sheer volume. However, sometimes a paper will be too beautiful to pass up pn the opportunity to not use for a specific project – that’s where you can get creative with budget. It’s often the case that a more expensive paper can be used if you are think about alternative solutions. Can you use less paper by making it smaller? Can you mix paper types and instead of using lots of expensive paper, mix in some affordable ones? Also think about your printing process, can you use less colours, less special finishes etc. Some beautiful print has had as little as just black ink on an amazing paper.

Do you have any advice for our students on how to create something intriguing and special during lockdown without having access to any particular facilities?

It’s difficult to think of making when you aren’t surrounded by your usual facilities and resources. Home inkjet printers can be great though, and experimenting with papers in them can have some nice outcomes. Paper can be used for more than just printing on too. Cutting, tearing, scorching, sewing into, folding are all ways to create and make without any facilities. There are interesting print processes you can experiment with too at home. Creating designs from cardboard to print ink/paint onto paper. Cyanotype is also a great technique. Sometimes the best and most explorative design can come out of restriction. I’d suggest using the G . F Smith sample service to order some sheets that you like the look of…sometimes just having the paper there in-front of you can inspire something you hadn’t thought of.  

The sample service at G . F Smith is available for students to have up to 12 x A3 sheets sent to a home address. Send your request to: studentsamples@gfsmith with your name, address and course. If you can’t access a G . F Smith swatch book, take a look on their website where you can see a full size image (and you can download it) to get an idea of what you’d like to order. Also, have a look at G . F Smith’s student update for this month here:

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