Many people invest thousands of dollars and countless hours to become proficient at desktop publishing. They use the best tools, including a personal computer, a laser or inkjet printer, a page layout program and, most important of all, their imaginations. And then they print their creations on boring white paper.
Granted, remarkable things can be done with basic copier paper, and white laser printer stock is perfectly fine for most jobs.
There are times, however, when a special laser-quality paper can make a big difference in the way a document is received.
A parchment look can impart dignity, a marble finish elegance, a recycled-paper watermark political correctness, and so on. Businesses can establish a strong identity by printing their correspondence on a distinctive but tasteful paper.
Paper intended for use in laser printers must have special characteristics. It has to have a low moisture content to avoid curling in the extreme heat of a laser printer, where the "ink" is literally melted onto the page. It must have a special smoothness to hold laser toner particles to the paper until they are melted. And it has to be of a weight and flexibility that allow it to pass through the rollers of the printer.
The trouble is that office supply stores typically have a limited selection of specialty papers that are designed expressly for laser and inkjet printers.
One can spend all day visiting paper stores to find just the right stock for a special job, or one can approach a paper distributor who typically sells paper in quantities measured in cartons or pallets. (There are 500 sheets of paper in a ream, 10 reams in a carton and 40 cartons in a pallet).
A quick calculation reveals that a single pallet of paper would allow us to write a stern Letter to the Editor every day for the next 547 years, or to send a letter to every resident of Des Moines, Iowa, neither of which is in our current plans. One hundred sheets of a specialty paper would be more manageable, easier to store and far less costly.
Paper Direct, telephone (800) A-PAPERS, or (800) 272-7377, is a nationwide distributor of papers designed for laser printers, copiers and other desktop publishing jobs.
The Lyndhurst, N.J., company stocks the broadest selection of papers, envelopes and labels we have seen for desktop publishing, and it sells directly to customers in relatively small quantities.
The minimum order is $30, plus $5 for United Parcel ground delivery. Orders received by 3 p.m. go out the same day. For $10, orders under 20 pounds will be sent Federal Express for first-day or second-day delivery. A catalog is free.
Paper Direct also offers, for $19.95 plus $2.50 for shipping and handling, a delightful sampler kit that contains more than 100 different papers in a variety of colors, styles and weights, plus an assortment of envelopes. Best of all, the $19.95 cost of the kit is deducted from the first order of $30 or more.
The computer gives the user the ability to design an elegant letterhead for business or personal use, but seeing the same fTC design on a finely speckled gray granite paper or a subtle blue pinstripe is quite different from seeing it on standard laser white.
A flier to be posted on office bulletin boards will really leap out when printed on fluorescent orange, Maui Magenta or a multicolored confetti print.
As with many mail order office suppliers, the convenience of shopping Paper Direct by phone, fax or mail comes at a price premium.
If one could find similar papers in a local store, especially an Office Depot or Staples or some other discounter, one might pay as little as half the cost of Paper Direct stock. However, we simply have not seen most of these papers in these stores.
An alternative is to print a design on a standard white sheet and take it to a professional printer for reprinting on a specialty paper. In many cases this is a cheaper and more convenient route, given the cost in time and materials in printing larger orders on a laser printer.
But one of the main advantages of desktop publishing is publishing on demand, when a rush order can be completed in minutes, instead of in hours or days at the local printer. The convenience of instantly printing a limited number of brochures or a single sheet of custom stationery is quite compelling.
There is a great deal of interest in recycled paper these days, and Paper Direct offers about 50 styles and colors for laser printers.
Perversely, consumers are really penalized for being socially conscious enough to buy recycled paper; paper mills charge more for paper the second time around, arguing that it is a more intricate process to recover waste paper than to grind trees to pulp.
However, the good news, besides saving trees, is that "many recycled papers work even better in laser printers because the fibers are more flexible and they run through the paper path easier," said Warren Struhl, president of Paper Direct.