Your guide to Printing Lingo: Part 1

For those that are unfamiliar with the print industry, some of the terminology that your average printer uses when they ask you about your project can be confusing. We are here to help you understand what we are talking about when we ask you if you want your Publication or Direct Mail piece on "60 pound", or if you want it "Gloss UV" or if you want it printed "Digital" or "Offset". See below for some terms that you will hear thrown around often. Let's start with paper, where any good project begins:

Basis Weight: For paper, basis weight is a measurement of the weight of a ream (500 equally-sized sheets) of paper. There are 6 common measures of basis weight, but we will only be discussing the types we would commonly use to print your publication:

Book (or Text): 25” x 38”

Bond: 17” x 22”

Cover: 20” x 26”

For example, typical 50 lb offset paper is measured in Book Weight, also called Text Weight, since it will often make up the text portion of the book or magazine; it weighs 50 lbs for every 500 sheets sized 25” x 38”. Similarly, 500 sheets that measure 17” x 22” and weigh 20 lbs are called 20 lb Bond. Ironically, 20 lb bond is very similar in weight (though not exact) to 50 lb offset, and are often used interchangeably. Understanding basis weight is critical to the print process. If a print quote calls for 60 lb paper and the publisher wants text weight and the printer uses cover weight, the entire process can be changed, leaving you with an extra heavy text portion and an extra expensive bill!


Brightness is a common term in measuring the amount of impurity (lignin) that has been removed from the paper stock, on a scale of 0-100. Paper mills use many techniques, such as bleaching and using additives to achieve brighter paper. Common brightness for our paper is between 82-87, while newsprint can be as low as 65 bright. Coated and specialty papers can vary based on the grade, so if brightness is critical to the campaign, it is important to specify in your estimate request.

Coated vs Uncoated:

Coated paper uses the same basis weight measuring system as uncoated paper. The primary difference is the coating that is applied to one or both sides of the paper. The coating offers enhancement to the printing surface; ink tends to sit on top of a coating rather than soaking into the paper fibers, causing the image to “pop”. Other characteristics, depending on the finish, can also be improved or augmented. When coating is applied to paper, a certain amount of that paper’s basis weight is referred to as “coat weight”. This means that it takes less pulp to make coated paper than it does to make uncoated, when comparing the same basis weight. For example, 50 lb offset (uncoated) is a thicker, more rigid sheet than a 50 lb coated sheet. All the same, 500 sheets of each weigh the same 50 lbs. Coated papers come in a range of finishes from very glossy to very rough (called matte).


Whether specified or not, all papers are “finished” to some degree, coated and uncoated alike. Coated papers are most commonly associated with different finishes, with matte and gloss being the most common. Within those two finishes there are a few others that are more loosely defined, like satin and dull.

Coated Grades:

Coated papers are graded on a scale from 1-5, with 5 containing the most impurities, the lowest brightness, and lowest quality and cost. #3's and #4’s are more common in the magazine market, while grades 2 and 3 are more common in the direct mail market. #1 grades are premium papers and are very bright, opaque, and of the highest quality. These are most common in sheetfed and digital applications. Specifying a grade in a bid request is a common way to standardize the bidding process, allowing the printer to get the look you want in your piece.

#paper #coatedvsuncoated #basisweight #coatedgrades #paperbrightness

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