When working on a project in print, you will decided on a typeface or more. This choice can depend on the overall aesthetic of a project, its historical context or any other conceptual reasons. There are endless design decisions that can influence it. The same is true for the choice of paper. Its texture and surface play an important role, and so does content. Colour photography may look more brilliant on coated stock, but uncoated paper can emphasize monochrome imagery just as well. But there is also a decision that can be made regarding the combination of type and paper.
Not every paper stock suits every typeface. On the contrary – often, typefaces for letterpress would have been designed to compensate for relief impression into paper. Nowadays it is rare that typefaces are designed taking this compensation into account, but optical considerations remain the same.
One way to go is to group old with old, and modern with modern, based on historical usage:
“(…) that Transitionals and Didone groups of ‘moderns’ are best printed on the calendered surfaces which were developed to show off their elegance when they were first designed during the 18th century; and that art paper is not generally suitable for highly refined Didone faces because it accentuates the stroke contrast of these ‘moderns’, producing an effect of ‘dazzle’ which reduces their legibility.” (Warford, 1971) It is also worthy to note that some typefaces were only designed when more modern, precise printing presses were available. In the example of Didot, its very fine hairline strokes are prone to crack when printing is not done very carefully without any excess pressure.
Letterpress is meant to be printed with a ‘kiss impression’, which means there is no actual relief impression left in the paper. An uneven surface will not result in an even, flat print. This includes uncoated paper, printmaking and handmade papers as well as book cloth. On those surfaces, small type and thin strokes will vanish. Bolder, larger sizes are more forgiving. Plates are often more suitable as a slightly stronger impression will leave a more even ink coverage, but would potentially damage type. Even with those materials, details will blur and larger, bolder type will bring better results.
Sources and further reading:
Design for Print Production
H. S. Warford
London Focal Press (1971)
Available at the LCC Library