Paper School

Why Paper?

Let’s face facts: our world is digital. Whether you’re a writer, advertiser, restaurateur, or zookeeper, digital ink plays a big part in your business. And outside the office, pixels dominate your world too. 

That being said, paper still has its place, with over four million tonnes being used per year. But not all papers are created equal.

With this article, learn the basics of how paper works, what kind of paper suits each job, and how to make paper work for you and your business. 

From Pulp to Page 

Paper manufacturing is no new thing. It had its roots in ancient Egypt, and played a big role from the courts of Chinese emperors to the monasteries of Europe.

But how exactly is it made? That’s a simple question with a complicated answer, but it can be broken down into a few simple concepts.

First off, paper is usually made from a cellulose pulp. This can come from wood, but can also be made from cotton, rice, or wheat fibres. The kind of material used in making the pulp affects its properties (which we’ll get into in a bit) drastically. Depending on your purpose, you’ll need paper made from different materials

Usually, paper is made from wood. Chips of softwood, such as spruce and pine, are turned into pulp using chemical or mechanical means. Chemical methods rely on breaking down the structure of the wood using chemicals like sodium hydroxide and sodium sulphide. Mechanically, they are pulped by rotating steel discs. 

In either case, the resulting pulp is turned into continuous rolls, usually with the Fourdrinier paper machine. This is the most commonly used, be it for a newspaper, wrapping paper, or writing paper. 

To put it in the simplest of terms, paper manufacturing can be broken up into two general parts. First is the treatment of the raw material, which includes not only pulping, but also washing, resizing, dyeing, and bleaching. The second involves turning the paper into sheets.

Little tweaks in this process cause big changes that affect paper performance and ultimately, how useful a kind of paper will be for you. 

Terms to Know

There are some terms when it comes to evaluating papers that you ought to know. These come in two groups

Some of these terms can tell you about how a paper reacts to stresses. This is an important factor if you’re looking to make something particularly sturdy. Look out for terms like tensile strength, compression strength, bending stiffness, tear resistance, and burst resistance. Some of these require specialized equipment to measure. For example, a Taber Instrument is needed to test bending stiffness, while pressurised air is needed to test burst resistance. 

You would also do well to pay attention to certain properties. Some key ones include whiteness, opacity, substance (a fancy word for thickness), as well as the weight of the paper, be it expressed in poundage or in GSM (grams per square meter.)

Know what properties and qualities you want in the paper when you shop, and you’re likely to get what you need.

Basic Paper Types

Now that we have the foundations, let’s dive into some of the basic kinds of specialty paper you might need.

Specialty Paper

Speciality paper” is a funny term. Think of it as a broad class of papers, an umbrella term to cover all papers designed for a special purpose. You might use this kind of paper for calling cards, menus, invitations, or personal stationery. This can include specially textured papers made to imitate the look and feel of linen or parchment. Specially made cotton-based paper would also fall under this category. Archival paper is a particularly useful type of specialty paper. Being 100% wood-free, it does not crumble, making it useful for long-term record keeping.

NCR Paper

NCR paper refers to carbonless copy paper. This is usually used for receipts, be they handwritten or machine-printed. NCR paper is unique in that it doesn’t fade, making it useful for accounting archives. Dot-matrix printers and on typewriters can print on this kind of paper.

Digilabel Stock

Digilabel stock, to put it simply, are labels. They come in sheets with holes on each side or standard laser printing format. These can be fed into a matrix or laser printer. In a pinch, a felt-tip pen would do just fine. At the end of the day, they’re stickers, useful for labelling everything from drawers to your kid’s notebooks.

Digital Printing Paper

Digital printing papers are high-quality papers, generally quite opaque, and come in thicknesses ranging from substance 18 to 25. These can be either glossy or matte. While laser and inkjet printers can do the job on these papers, laser is generally recommended between the two. 

Coated & Uncoated Paper

Coated and uncoated paper comes in handy when you’re making glossy magazines, calendars and coffee table books. These papers are of high quality, and are either mirror or chrome coated. When shopping for papers, make sure to take note of poundage and size, as these can come in odd measurements like 31 x 43 in.

Synthetic Papers

Synthetic papers are polymer-based, as opposed to being made up of wood or other organic fibres. They are high in plastic components, giving them good tear strength. These perform best with lithograph, offset, and laser printers. But take note: it is made of plastic, and it’ll take a while to dry. 


In summary, there’s a whole lot more to paper than size and colour. Each kind of specialty paper has different properties, allowing it to fulfil specific purposes. When using paper, be it for your home and personal use, or for your business, there’s a paper for each of your needs. We understand that the array of choices can make picking out a paper daunting. 

That’s why we’re here to help.

Feel free to contact us at Arrow Printing Supplies to learn more.

A few important tips to get the best from your paper

Before you start your project there are a few important tips to get the best from your paper.

GSM and thickness have no correlation.  

GSM is one of the most misunderstood of all the paper terms.   GSM stands for “grams per square meter”.  Put simply a sheet of paper 1 meter by 1 meter,  weighing 200 grams would be 200 GSM.  It is often thought that all papers of the same GSM would therefore be the same thickness.  This is not the case.  Paper is made up of tiny cellulose fibers.   The weight of the paper depends on how densely packed these fibers are.

Let’s look at a 300GSM gloss art paper and compare it to a 280GSM drink coaster board.  The gloss art paper is 230 um (0.25mm) thick. It has a special clay coating called “titanium dioxide” added to it to make the ink sit on top of the sheet to give that magazine quality print.  The process to make the sheet shiny involves passing it through two steel rollers that are rotating very quickly.  This not only buffs the sheet to a glossy finish but compacts the fibers and makes the sheet much more dense.
The 280 GSM drink coaster board is 524um or 0.524 mm,  more that twice as thick as the art paper. It’s made up of a fluffier batch of pulp with lots of space between the fibers. It has no titanium dioxide added, which is much heavier than paper pulp. This gives it the ability to absorb lots of liquid, perfect for its roll in life.

Many printer specifications advise a maximum GSM for use in their machines.  As you can see this is completely wrong and should be changed to a maximum thickness.

 Grain Direction

Grain direction is another misunderstood term.
When paper is produced, a “soup” of water and cellulose fibers is sprayed on to a moving screen conveyor belt.  While the fibers are mixed with the water the fibers align themselves with the direction of water flow.  A lot like a canoe in a river floats parallel to the rivers flow.  When the water is removed the fibers are left with the majority running parallel to the direction the conveyor belt was moving.  This is the grain direction.

Now imagine you have a placemat made of bamboo strips sewn together.  You would be able to roll up the place matt, but only in one direction.  The stiffness of the bamboo prevents you from rolling it up in the other direction.

The paper fibers work in the same way but to a lesser extent.  Where this becomes a problem is when you are trying to fold or print the paper or card.

 When printing thicker cards consider using “short grain” cards so the card will mold more easily around the printers rollers.

You will also get a much cleaner fold if the grain runs parallel to the fold.   If the wrong grain direction is used in a booklet the pages will tend to spring open rather than lying flat.

Lastly leave your paper wrapped up and airtight.

Unwrapped, the edges of the paper start to absorb humidity and expand. This makes the paper become wavy and unusable.