Think 'paper' before ink hits it

Appearance: Different uses require different grades of pages.

June 28, 1999|By Phillip Robinson | Phillip Robinson,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Paper is easy to write off as an obsolete tag-along in the high-tech home or small business.

But those same homes and businesses are probably spending more than they need to, and getting less performance than they could, from all that paper feeding through their laser and inkjet printers.

"Performance"? From paper?

You bet. Paper isn't simply a one-size-fits-all, take-it-or-leave-it freebie like the air we breathe. A lot of technology goes into paper, and a lot of marketing, from companies hoping to, A) serve you better through improved print results, and/or B) squeeze more money from you for fancy-named computer "consumables" that constantly need replenishing.

Here's how to, A) take advantage of the latest paper technology while, B) avoiding being "consumed" by greedy consumable makers.

Start by not printing unless you have to. There are times -- official presentations, sentimental occasions -- when paper is the perfect medium. But the times when bits will do the job fine -- e-mailed memos, disk-filed documents, Web-sent electronic greeting cards -- is increasing. Then, when you must print, "preview" things on screen first. Finally, recycle as much as possible. Push your other home mates and your office colleagues to do the same.

When you must print, use the right paper. Each printer works a little differently from others; you'll need to practice with yours to see how its driver software settings, ink and kinds of paper interact.

Kinds of paper are defined by:

Brightness: All white isn't equal. The more light that bounces back to your eye, the higher the brightness value, with 87 (on the standard ISO scale) merely white, 94 very bright and 99+ almost dazzling. A higher brightness value will mean greater contrast with the colors of a photo. But don't assume you always want the highest number. If you're printing just text, a lower brightness may be easier to read from.

Finish: The surface of the paper has texture, smoothness, glossiness and water resistance that come from original pulp used; the various dyes, inks, waxes, starches and additives (the "furnish" and "sizing"); the "filler" stuff (such as clay) added to it to smooth out spaces between wood fibers; and the finishing processes. You don't need the smoothest stuff for memos, but it can make for vivid photos.

Feathering, wicking and ink holdout: Inkjet printers squirt droplets of ink at the page. Some papers are better at preventing droplets from traveling along fibers (wicking), and spreading out on the page ("bleed-through"). In theory, any paper sold as "made for inkjets" should do better than paper sold as "best for lasers."

Opacity: Can you see through the paper? This matters mainly if you print on both sides. Then, you'll want a minimum of "show-through" because of a high (92 percent good, 95 percent better) opacity rating.

Weight, thickness: Thicker paper (measured in "mils" -- thousandths of an inch -- or in the weight of a standard stack of sheets) is generally more opaque. It's also stiffer, making it better for report covers. Even within a report or on a single-page resume, thicker paper feels more sophisticated.

Twenty-pound is inexpensive and OK for drafts. Twenty-four-pound is better for regular correspondence; 28-and 32-pound for presentations; 38-pound for color photographs; 60-pound and up for covers (also known as "card stock"). Your printer won't deftly handle paper over a certain thickness, so check before stocking up.

"Runability": Few things are more annoying than pages that jam the printer. Many makers promise great "runability," but experiment to make up your own mind. In my experience, the lightest, cheapest stuff jams the most.

Permanence: If the paper isn't "acid-free", with a pH of 7 or higher, it will yellow or dim with age. This doesn't matter for memos, but you'll care for photos and possibly for some reports.

I put four kinds of paper in my on-hand bins, plus occasional specialty papers as for banners, stickers, cards or transparencies:

Draft paper: 20-pound "multiuse" cheap stuff; $28 for 10 reams (5,000 sheets), or about a half-cent a page, with a brightness of only 84.

Document paper: 24-pound "laser" paper; $6.50 per ream or 1.3 cents per page, for business correspondence from my laser printer, with a brightness of 94.

Color image paper: 32-pound or more; 94 brightness or more, high opacity, semigloss finish, great for quick photos and great color charts from my inkjet. It costs $20 for 200 sheets, or 10 cents a page.

Photo paper: 48-pound or more; 94 brightness or more, high opacity, acid-free, glossy finish, great inkjet holdout for photos. This runs from 50 cents to $1 per sheet.

You can compare papers in office-supply or computer stores or at Web sites such as Office Depot (, PaperDirect ( Hew- lett-Packard (www.hpshopping .com) or Epson (

When possible, I buy paper with as much recycled content as I can find. Great White (www.gwpaper .com or 888-GR8WHITE) uses 30 percent or more post-consumer recycled fiber, while TreeCycle ( or 406-586-5287) advertises 50 percent.

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