You can tell a lot about a business by the quality of the junk mail it produces.
If someone tries to sell you goods or services with a flimsy flier that looks like it was printed with one of those kiddie programs that does party invitations, chances are you'll toss it in the trash without a second glance.
But when someone sends you a colorful brochure, with typeset-quality printing and graphics on heavy, coated stock -- with a Rolodex punch-out -- chances are you'll at least look at it before you throw it in the trash. And from a marketing standpoint, that's half the battle.
Unfortunately, small businesses and folks who work from their homes have been at a disadvantage when it comes to looking good in print. Chances are they don't have the money, expertise or resources to produce the slick promotional materials that separate the big boys from the little leaguers.
But if you already own a laser printer and a decent word processor or low-end desktop publishing software, all you need is the right paper to make yourself look like a million bucks.
That's why I was fascinated by a catalog and samples that came in the door from Paper Direct of Lyndhurst, N.J. These folks have an incredible collection of exotic papers and other printing aids that they're happy to sell in small quantities to ordinary people.
You won't find most of this stuff at your local office supply warehouse, or even in many specialty paper shops that deal with the printing trade. And unlike many high-quality papers available elsewhere, these are all designed to tolerate the high heat that laser printers and office copiers generate when they bind toner to the paper surface.
The bulk of Paper Direct's offerings fall into two categories -- regular stationery products and papers designed specifically for brochures. They come in a wide variety of weights and finishes, with a dizzying array of colored washes, borders, frames and designs.
The key to looking good here is color. Normally, custom color printing requires expensive and time consuming separations on your end, and four passes through a printing press -- one for each color -- at the print shop. This makes the cost prohibitive for home or small business users. But if you put color designs on the paper beforehand and let your laser printer produce the type and graphics in black, you can get the same upscale effect at a fraction of the cost.
Paper Direct's inventory includes elegant, heavyweight "deckled" papers with ragged edges in colored accents, papers with marbleized finishes, bright fluorescent eye-catchers, color-accented invoices and forms, and a variety of specialized and novelty items.
For example, there are five different papers with certificate borders, three different semitransparent parchment papers, and 10 different kinds of note cards -- half size papers for printing invitations -- with matching envelopes.
If you're producing a folded brochure, you can choose from two dozen colorful designs, including several that include die-cut punch-out for return mail postcards or Rolodex cards.
You'll need a desktop publishing program or an advanced word processor to take advantage of most of these, since they require software that will produce multiple columns and in some cases, rotate text 90 degrees. But you don't have to spend a bundle here, either. Low-end desktop publishing programs such as Microsoft Publish and PFS: Publish are available for less than $150.
Paper Direct is also starting to work with software publishers to create "templates" for their programs that will automatically set up a document for use with the firm's brochure stock.
The catalog has all kinds of other goodies, such as laser mechanical paper, an extremely white stock with removable adhesive backing for pasting up layouts. There's a wide variety of laser mailing labels, including hard-to-find single labels that don't require you to blow a full sheet every time you have to mail something.
You'll also find an eye-catching collection of laser foil -- one of the neatest little inventions I've seen in years. This is thin metallic foil that you tack down over an image you've already printed, using little adhesive dots.
When you run the paper through a printer or copier a second time, the foil binds to the paper wherever there's toner. The result is shimmering type or graphics that look like expensive, embossed printing.
Paper Direct will credit the price of the paper kit to your account when you place an order worth $30 or more. For information, contact Paper Direct, P.O. Box 618, 205 Chubb Ave., Lyndhurst, N.J., 07071.