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Sales and Marketing Collateral: A Guide to Printing Materials

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Print collateral is still an important sales and marketing medium. As a marketer, you need to know how to select from wide variety of printing materials so that you have control over how you present your company to the outside world.

Knowing what materials work best together (paper and ink, for example) enables you to produce strongly branded, high-impact print media for marketing and sales.

So, to get you started, here are must-know basics about printers, ink, paper, and collateral types.

Printers and Ink

In-house Printing


If you're printing in-house from your office inkjet printer, two types of ink are most common. An important consideration: when printing from your office inkjet, factor in the cost of ink, which can get steep if you're printing hundreds of color copies.

Dye-based inks are most popular for business- and budget-model inkjet printers. They are the go-to option to printing marketing collateral from the office. Dye-based inks are well known for their vibrant colors, but they aren't designed for the type of archival quality you'd associate with photographic printers. They do well when printed on semi-gloss or gloss coated paper, and they are more fade-resistant when printed on swellable or resin-coated paper.

Pigment-based inks are new to the scene and are commonly used in photography-grade printers. They last longer, upwards of 50-70 years or more, but they tend to be more fickle. Most pigment printers have more ink pots for truer tones and work well with matte and most textured fine art paper. A downside to pigment ink is that it's more expensive than dye-based ink.

Which ink type is best for your marketing media depends a lot on how much color precision and preservation your design requires; moreover, the ink needs to be compatible with the paper you'll be working with. (Archival quality is not relevant for marketing unless you expect your printed media to be around for decades.) Fortunately, most manufacturers now produce paper that works well with both dye- and pigment-based inks, but it always pays to double-check.

Laser toner. On the other hand, if all you have at your disposal is a laser printer, be aware that these printers use toner and they are designed primarily for the high-speed, high-volume printing of black and white documents. Apart from their inability to deliver vibrant images, most laser printers can't handle sheets with a paper weight of more than 43 lbs., which means yours probably doesn't print on cardstock. The only print media you can run are black and white flyers, letterheads, stationery, labels, and envelopes—anything that doesn't require professional color clarity and heavier stock.

Commercial Printing

If you are choosing a professional press for your print run, you should know that you'll encounter two types of commercial print techniques: digital and offset printing.

  1. Digital printing is similar to the type of printing you'd get from a high-grade personal inkjet printer. The quality is lower than you'd get from offset, and it's designed for midsize print runs that would be prohibitively expensive if you were to use offset.
  2. Offset printing offers higher quality for photos and complex graphics. When choosing offset printing, the number of colors in your design will affect your cost, as each ink is applied to a separate set of rollers rather than being applied to the medium via inkjet heads. Offset printing is a fascinating science; if you're interested in doing a larger run of prints, understanding it will help you get an idea of how to get the best results.

In-house vs. Commercial Printing

Not sure whether you should do the printing yourself or send it out? A lot depends both on the volume you need and on the kind of media you want.

For instance, if you have a pretty good inkjet printer and you need 200 business cards, then you can probably print them up in-house and get professional-looking results. However, the more prints you need and the more complicated your media becomes (does it need to be folded, or would you need perforation?), the more cost-effective it becomes to send your project out for commercial printing.

Determining up front which option is right for you can save a whole lot of time and effort, so be sure you do your homework.

Paper

Finishes

The finish of a paper can highlight certain qualities of your design. These are three of the most common finishes you'll encounter:

  1. Unfinished. Also referred to as "offset," "bond," or "text," unfinished paper is general-purpose uncoated paper. Standard office and copier paper is usually unfinished bond. It's not necessarily smooth to the touch, since it isn't textured for feel and aesthetics. Unfinished stock describes your basic everyday paper perfect for the pages of a basic catalog and is a cost-effective option for advertising flyers.
  2. Matte. Matte coated paper has a dull, flat finish. Popular for business cards and formal letterhead, matte coating suggests a clean and professional feel. Using matte paper gives formality to your print. It also makes text more readable, which is why it is commonly used for printed media with a lot of text, such as brochures, the back of postcards, and catalogs. Some commercial printers offer the option of a matte finish on one side and a gloss coating on the other to accommodate media that features color imagery as well as readable text.
  3. Glossy. Finished with a thin shiny coating, glossy paper reflects light from its surface and is designed to make colors stand out. Different degrees of glossiness are available, from subtle satin to high-gloss finishes that resemble photographs. Glossy papers are best for postcards, flyers, posters, and media with heavy imagery (or those that need a little color boost).

Weights

Paper weight varies widely; the weight you choose will depend on the needs of your print project. As a general rule, three categories of paper weight come into play for marketing materials:

  1. Book or bond. Lighter-weight paper that folds and bends easily is called book. Book paper is great for pamphlets, but it doesn't stand up on its own in larger sizes.
  2. Text. Text-weight paper stock is generally slightly heavier and made from better-quality paper than book weights are. They are also designed to better hold small details, such as text. The difference between book and text weight paper is noticeable when you thumb through a new hardcover book and then do the same with a budget supermarket paperback. Text paper is best used for letterheads and envelopes.
  3. Cover. Cover weight paper is thicker and more rigid than text paper. Card stock also falls in this category, but it is a heavier and stiffer form of cover stock. Business cards, brochures, catalog covers, and postcards use cover stock, since they are designed to have more "snap" and to hold up better against tearing.

Paper weights determine how rigid the paper is and how heavy it feels to the touch. For instance, 80 lb. cover paper will carry more heft than 80 lb. text paper. It will also most likely cost more.

The paper weight you choose comes down to more than just heft and feel, however. Functionality is important, and the type of marketing media you are producing will determine what type of paper is ideal.

For example, lighter-weight paper folds easier, but doesn't hold the same sense of prestige. Heavier cover paper has a better feel and prevents text from showing through, but it can crease unevenly and so produce an unprofessional visual effect. When you're producing a brochure with a folded edge, finding a middle ground between the two is key.

(Okidata has a great explainer on some of the more technical elements of paper weight, if you're curious about learning more.)

Commonly Used Marketing Collateral

What paper is best for your most commonly used marketing collateral?

Brochures

Brochures are a great way to give customers the marketing information they need, all in one easy-to-read print. Brochures are sturdier than flyers and they are meant to be used as reference material to customers and come in a variety of folding options: bi-fold, tri-fold, gatefold, accordion, z-fold... to name a few.

Folded brochures are usually printed on heavier card stock to help them keep their form. You can print much less rigid brochures on 70 or 80 lb. stock, but if you want stiff brochures with that rich heft and feel, go with 100 lb. cover or 10 pt. card stock. All card stocks mentioned do well when scored for folding.

Choosing the right finish for your brochures depends on what element of your design needs to stand out—the colors and imagery, or the messaging. A glossy finish will boost the colors; matte, on the other hand, makes text more readable.

Catalogs

Few marketing materials work better for displaying your products than a catalog. Even in the digital age, catalogs connect with consumers and drive them toward your website. In many cases, the cover and product pages are of the same weight paper, but often companies will decide to make the cover paper sturdier, to give it a more formal feel.

Your catalog toolkit will likely involve some combination of the following:

  • 100 lb. text matte
  • 80 lb. cover
  • 80 lb. text matte
  • 80 lb. cardstock cover (100 lb. text is comparable in weight to 80 lb. card).

Flyers

Flyers are usually unfolded and have a shorter lifespan than brochures. Whether you're making flyers for direct mail or a tradeshow, they are an inexpensive way to get the word out about your event or product to a lot of people quickly. Lightweight paper stock, such as 70-80 lb. uncoated or matte paper, works great if you are making flyers to put inside swag bags or to slip under windshield wipers.

Business Cards

Few print mediums offer up more options to accommodate personal style than business cards.

As a rule, business cards should be printed on nothing less than 13 pt. cardstock for the crisp, heavy feel you associate with a good-quality card. Business card papers come in a range of textures and patterns to suit your personal aesthetic, as well as a variety of non-paper options such as metal, plastic, and even wood. Of all marketing media, business cards really offer up the most creative space to show off your branding.

So long as you choose a heavier-grade paper and design your card professionally, there's a lot you can do with them. Choosing a classic matte finish card is the traditional look, but pairing strong colors and imagery/photos with a semi-gloss or glossy finish will attract attention.

Posters

The weight of paper you choose for a poster will depend, among other factors, on the size of the poster you are printing. As a general rule, the larger the print, the heavier the paper you will need to print on. Other factors you'll want to consider include the longevity of the print and the cost, as large prints can get expensive quickly.

Generally, selecting a 45-60 lb. weight paper is a great start. The type of visual effect you want to create with your poster will rely heavily on the type of paper you choose. Glossy prints have the look and appeal you expect from movie posters, whereas matte finishes will lend an air of sophistication to the look of the poster.

Letterhead and Stationery

While we're talking paper, let's talk about getting better results from your stationery. Business stationery is usually in a white, off-white, or cream color printed on a matte text paper. Depending on your industry, you can choose a textured or plain text or bond paper and get great results. Premium 24 lb. is a great start.

A Final Word

If you're not printing your materials yourself, be sure to see the paper before you commit to a print run. Nothing is worse than spending a bundle of money on printing, then getting results that just aren't up to your standards. Check out the paper and request a proof print of your design to make sure it transfers cleanly to the sheet you've selected. (Paperworks has a quick reference guide to help you navigate paper weights.)

Knowing the materials that will compliment and amplify your design will help you produce more powerful printed media. Use this knowledge to get high-quality results every time and free yourself to expand your creative branding. Also, knowing the best materials for your print marketing will help you control printing costs; you can then focus your finances on getting better print for less.


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Nicholas Brown writes for InkCartridges.com, an online retailer of printing supplies.

LinkedIn: Nicholas David Brown

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  • by Michele Engel Wed Sep 14, 2016 via web

    Excellent article and wonderfully useful. I'm definitely saving this!

    I would quibble a bit with just one conclusion, though. I am using an OKI color laser printer (price range about $500), and it is one of the best investments in office equipment I have ever made. The printouts are noticeably nice looking when I print on 28lb office paper (the kind you get at Office Max/Staples), and I use that paper to print professional-looking fact sheets about my services or presentation materials for a workshop. The text is sharp and so are the images and the colors (if you're using graphic design elements to liven things up but don't need photographs replicated perfectly). People always comment on the quality of the visuals, the weight of the paper, and the smoothness of the writing surface. Makes a great impression for materials that don't need mass distribution or a more formal look. The printer is also a real workhorse and eats up far fewer toner replacements than I expected (I replace each color about once a year, but it depends on how much you print). Just suggesting it as a nice middle ground solution for in-house jobs for a small business or just a department. I've used the printer for a good five years, so that's about $100/year for the printer and about $100/year for the toner replacements (brand knockoffs on Amazon work just as well as the branded toners). And it's been 98% jam free!

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