Why you shouldn’t ignore the often-neglected material of your printed collateral.
Consider this scenario. You’re going through a stack of mail and reach an envelope that is dark blue, has a slight shimmer to it, and is heavyweight to the touch. You’re intrigued as you open it. Inside, the envelope has a gold finish and the card is cream colored, on a thick, textured paper. As you slide the card out of the envelope, you think it’s an impressive piece. Without knowing the envelope’s contents, you’re already eager to see more.
Why? Because paper quality matters—and paper choice matters. The extra attention to detail on the paper and finish deliver immediate impact—influencing the recipient before the message on the inside is even reached. This choice helps subconsciously signal that the content is important and different from the rest of the mail in the stack.
We’ve all experienced the above scenario, so why do such few marketers take the time to think through arguably the most important step (the paper) of printed collateral?
Before customers read copy or even view the full design of printed collateral, they first experience printed collateral by touch. You can have the edgiest graphic designer and a world-class copywriting team to deliver your message, but if the final product is displayed on standard, printer paper then the majority of people will toss it out. The standard paper choice indicates this piece is not worth the customer’s time or attention. Obviously, this result is the opposite of the desired outcome, and represents a vast waste of resources in both time and money. In a world where so many marketing communications are digital, it’s increasingly important to maximize impact when you take the time to actually print something.
To help differentiate your print collateral, consider the following:
- Think about your paper and finish at the onset of a project and challenge yourself to not go with a “default” option. The paper type and finish can have an impact on the design of the overall piece, which is why it needs to be addressed at the beginning of the project. Finishes such as spot gloss can enhance printed designs and paper types like synthetics absorb ink differently than traditional paper, which can cause a different color appearance. These considerations help you avoid the “default” paper option when delivering your file to the printer.
- Use different paper types and finishes. Canvas, metallic, polyester, cotton wove, linen, vellum, parchment, silk coated, and cast coated are just a few paper options and finishes. If you’re unfamiliar with these, the best way to acquaint yourself is to get a sample book to see (and feel) what these options can add to your designs.
- Have a good relationship with your printer. Talk to your printer about what you are trying to accomplish with each project being sure to cover texture, weight, and finish. Your printer can guide you with paper suggestions that fit your project needs, overall budget, and may even be able to provide you with samples.
- Create a reference library of paper resources. As mentioned above, the best way to know paper quality is to physically experience it. Many name-brand paper companies allow you to request material samples, larger sample books, or reference guides (try Neenah, Mohawk, or Pantone). With these samples, you can develop your own reference library to help guide future projects and provide inspiration.
- Consider adding paper selection best practices to your brand guidelines. These can create just as much of a feeling and impact as written word or visual design, so why not?
Paper and finish combinations not only help your printed collateral to stand out from the crowd, but also highlight the uniqueness of your brand and boost marketing ROI.
Senior Manager for ENC Strategy and digital marketing enthusiast. Born and raised in the great state of Maryland and graduate of Ithaca College. Slightly obsessed with her little dog, Moose. Will gladly cook you a delicious pasta dish, followed by five other courses. Loves cheering on her (now championship winning) sports teams — Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Eagles.