Choosing Paper for Your Printing Project... Part 1

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 @ 12:30 PM

Paper comes in all colors, weights, and finishes; and sometimes our customers know EXACTLY what paper they want. More likely, we'll take in a project where the client won't have a clue what they want, or even need.

When choosing paper, we need to know some paper lingo. Let's start with the surface of the paper. Is it Coated or Uncoated? There are different types of coating, based on how shiny it is. Gloss is the smoothest and most reflective. It’s perfect for photos or flyers; anything that needs a quick visual POP. Matte is on the other end of the scale. It reflects very little light, so it’s easier on the eyes when reading text. Paper companies don’t have any rules for how they categorize coatings. There are a lot of in-between terms – Silk, Satin, Dull – but each is still coated and takes ink very well. Some papers are coated on one side and uncoated on the other, called C1S (for “coated 1 side”). With both sides coated it would be C2S, but it's generally just called Coated.

Uncoated sheets have different surfaces called Finish. Most common are Smooth, Vellum, Felt and Embossed. Again, some paper companies like to be fancy and come up names like “Super Smooth” or “Laser” to describe the finish of their paper. Ink lays down well on most of them, but you’ll want to be careful when using toner-based printers or copiers. This is especially true with Embossed papers like Linen (cross-hatched like fabric) or Laid (similar to corduroy) since the toner won’t sink into the deeper crevices of the paper.

Once you know what the surface is, you’ll want to figure out the thickness. This can get VERY confusing, since it involves three aspects: Caliper, Weight and Bulk.

Caliper is the actual thickness measured in mils (1/1000”) or points.  Paper that measures 0.010” thick is 10pt, 0.014” thick is 14pt, and so on.

Weight is the “basis weight,” which is how much 500 sheets weigh at a specific sheet size: 25” x 38” for text weights, and 20” x 26” for cover weights. If 500 sheets of 25”x38” paper weighs 80 lbs, that would be 80lb text and 500 sheets of 20”x26” cover weighing 100 lbs. would be 100lb cover. Often “lbs” is replaced with the “#” symbol, so 100 lbs = 100#. Get the idea? Good! Let’s move on.

Bulk is the overall density of the paper. Like how the metric system measures “mass” instead of weight (on the moon you would weigh less, but your mass still takes up the same amount of space.) It’s a formula that considers Caliper and Weight.  In simple terms, thicker sheets have more bulk. Also, coated sheets have less bulk then uncoated sheets, which helps explain why 100# coated cover feels much thinner and less stable than 100# uncoated cover.

Next, paper is classified into two categories: Text and Bond. Cardstock has more categories: Bristol, Index, Cover and Board. Bond or Writing is your general multipurpose paper. It ranges from copier-grade 20# bond all the way up to nice fancy resume-type papers like 28# writing. Text is what’s often used for books, newsletters, flyers, etc. Here’s where confusion starts… in terms of thickness 50# text is equal to 20# bond, 60# text equals 24# bond, 70# text equals 28# bond, and so on.

Bristol, also called Vellum Bristol, is a lightweight cardstock. The surface is a little rougher since it isn’t compressed when it gets made. It feels a little thicker, even though it’s not as dense. This makes it less expensive and is often used for mailers and single-use pieces. Index is smoother and feels thinner and is often used for tabs, file folders – and you guessed it – Index Cards!

Cover is the general usage term for most cardstock weights. It’s usually made to match their companion text weights, so it is usually used for newsletters and books so all the text and cover sheets in the same piece would match. Board is used mostly for display pieces, pocket folders, posters, etc. Unlike other stocks, which are listed by weight, Board is generally selected by thickness (10pt, 12 pt, etc.)

There are so many paper choices available and every single one of them is just waiting for a printer like us to start slapping some  ink on them. We love paper – we love, love, love it. If you need help picking paper for your project, please contact our helpful Sales or Customer Service Representatives or a member of our award-winning Graphic Design team. They’ll be more than happy to get you started.

Also check out Part 2: Opacity, Brightness, Shade and Grain.


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.


Tags: printing, graphic design, commercial printing, Universal Printing, printing services, business solutions, direct mail, poster printing

Digital Image Editing | Removing an Image From It's Background

Posted by Universal Printing on Tue, Jan 25, 2011 @ 10:30 AM

Photoshop has come a long way since its original release back in 1991.  Sure... I know some of you hardcore Adobe fans will argue and say it first came out in 1988. But let's get real... Photoshop didn't REALLY become impressive until it's version 2.0 release. 

Like most commercial printing companies, we use Photoshop ALL the time.  Probably more than most, since we also offer in-house graphic design. Our art director, John Francis, has put together a super helpful and easy to follow tutorial that shows how to remove the background from an image.Mouse Image from Stock Photography

Once you go through this tutorial, you will be able to take any image and remove the subject from its background.  This will allow you to easily drop the image into another layout from Adobe Illustrator or InDesign without the need to spend a lot of time tracing or created complex clipping paths. This is also helpful if you need to replace the background with another Photoshop image.

Sample of Image placed into a layout


More tutorial videos like the one shown below, are featured on our YouTube channel.  Need help setting up a calendar, or samples of the latest tools and effects in Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, or Photoshop? Using CS4, or want to learn more about CS5? Maybe you just want to know the fastest way to get those special text effects. Let us know which tips and tricks you'd like to see!  Leave your suggestions in the comments field below, or leave a comment or video responce on any of our YouTube tutorial videos.

Watch the video below for step-by-step instructions!

Tags: graphic design, tips and tricks, commercial printing, Universal Printing, CS5 tutorials, Adobe Photoshop, training video, Photohop

More about Color: Digital Color | RGB vs. CMYK

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Jan 21, 2011 @ 10:30 AM

Universal Printing has been in business for over 30 years, and when you're doing something for so long it's easy to forget that things we deal with day-in and day-out are completely foreign and mysterious to other people.  This is the case with RGB and CMYK color spaces.

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten...

Color Wheel | RYB Color ModelMost of us first started to learn about color in school. We learned about the Primary Colors: Red, Yellow, and Blue. We learned that the secondary colors (Orange, Purple and Green) are made from mixing the primary colors: for example, "yellow and blue make green."   While this is generally a good starting point for teaching the basics of color, when it comes to color printing, we need to break color down a little further.

In commercial offset printing, digital printing, and even your inkjet printer at home, color is built from 4 pigments know as Process Colors:

C = Cyan
Y = Yellow

M = Magenta
K = Black

These colors in various combinations, and used at different tints and screen angles, can produce a wide range of color. Even the "primary colors" we were taught are base colors that can't be mixed, are made from mixing the process colors.  "Blue" is made by mixing Cyan and Magenta, and "Red" comes from combining Magenta and Yellow.  The addition of Black is used for darker shades, while lighter shades come from using lighter tints (also known as screens or halftones.)  When you look at any printed piece, it's CMYK.  This color model is considered "subtractive color" because if you start at 100% of all 4 colors, you have a deep rich "black" and you have to subtract color to get to "white."

Have you met Roy G. Biv?

RGB Color WheelAnother thing we were taught in school, is that white light is made from all colors. The example that's always used to demonstrate how this works is a rainbow.  The spectrum of light is arranged in the following order: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet (which is where the acronym ROYGBIV comes from.)  Using this principal the RGB color space uses Red, Green, and Blue light to create color. The RGB model is considered "additive color" because no light is "black" and you have to add color to get to "white."  The best example of this is your television or computer monitor. 

WYSIWYG? What you see isn't always what you get...

Since RGB color and CMYK color is made completely differently, there is often something lost in translation.  A lot of people will put together files for printing and see how it looks on screen, and wonder why it looks completely different when it's printed out. Sometimes people will print things on their inkjet printer and wonder why it looks different than the G7-calibrated Contract Proof we produce.

The whole RGB vs CMYK difference is also why most Commercial Printers will tend to cringe a little when we hear that files for output were originally created in Microsoft Office.  Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were all designed to be business software applications. Any time you chose a color in these programs, you're choosing and RGB color.  If you wanted your project to print as process color, colors will shift... ALWAYS.  Microsoft "red" is a very orange-red, and their "blue" is a deep purple.  The brilliant neon green that Microsoft shows on your screen, will always print like a dark almost forest green.  When we show a color proof of these files, people generally seem surprised. Adobe programs like InDesign and Illustrator will handle colors much better, allowing for RGB color for the web, but also CMYK and Pantone Spot colors.  Even still, computer monitors are never going to be an accurate preview of how printed colors will appear.

It's important to simply understand that color is very complicated, but you can always contact your Customer Service or Sales Representative and they will gladly walk you through the process of getting the best possible color printing for your project.  If color is critical for your project, you'll always want to request a calibrated contract proof (like the proofs WE use) and in some cases you may even want to arrange a Press Proof to see your project while it's being run.

If you've found this article helpful, or if you have any other questions about RGB or CMYK color, please leave a comment below.


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.


Tags: printing, graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, setting up your files, commercial printing

Choosing Inks for Color Printing - Metallics and other Specialty Inks

Posted by Universal Printing on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 @ 10:20 AM

So far our previous blog posts have talked about Spot Colors, Process Colors, and how the difference between coated and uncoated paper impacts the color and appearance of the ink. Sometimes you might want to get a little more POP from your printed pieces. For some people, metallic ink has great appeal.

Pantone Metallic Ink FormulasOriginally, Pantone offered 7 metallic inks. PANTONE 871 through PANTONE 876 are a range of hues moving from gold to copper, with PANTONE 877 being silver.  Commercial Offset Printers, like us, would occasionally mix these metallic with colored inks to create metallic tints.  By the late 1990's, Pantone issued their first office Formula guide of tinted metallics and currently they offer 300 variations of tinted metallic formulations.

There are a few things to consider if you are working with metallic ink. First of all, unlike process and spot colors, metallic inks are more opaque.  They are less affected by the color or brightness of the paper stock they are printed on, but are still very much impacted by the finish of the paper.  Since metallic inks contain particles of metal (or sometimes synthetic pigments made to resemble metal) they need to knockout from other colors, rather than over printing.  Overprinting can sometimes dramatically change the appearance of the metallic, especially depending on the order in which the inks are printed on the sheet. 

Also, since these metal particles are what give metallic inks their shiny appearance, it's generally a good idea to use them for larger areas. Delicate line art, thin rules, or small type don't make sense for metallic ink, since you wouldn't get the full impact.  Screen and tints wouldn't really show off the benefits either.  Generally, to maximize the effect of metallic inks, you should use larger solid areas and coated paper. This gives the metal particles the best shot at rising to the surface of the ink where they can catch the light and really shine!Metallic Ink | Gold and Silver Bars

Maybe I want use Invisible Ink!

So you've spent a lot of time and energy creating your artwork and setting up your files.  Why would anyone want to use invisible ink?  The truth is, there's a time and place for specialty inks.  And while there's no real "invisible" ink, there are certain types of ink designed to be seen under special circumstances.  UV Fluorescent inks only show up under a UV light. 

There are also "reactive inks" which laydown essentially clear or lightly translucent but will react to special pens or when rubbed with a coin.  The chemical reaction causes the ink to change color and become visible.  Thermochromatic inks will change color or visibility when exposed to heat from friction, like being rubbed with your finger.  Most of these various ink options would only be used when trying to maintain the security or authenticity of a printed project ( for example, checks, official documents, certificates, or special event tickets.)  Scratch-off inks are another type of specialty ink, which can be used for promotional pieces, special giveaways, or hidden messages on direct mail pieces.

If you'd like to learn more about how specialty inks can be used to make your project unique, feel free to contact one of our Customer Service or Sales Representatives. Also, if there are any questions about this article, or information you'd like to see covered in more detail, please feel free to leave a comment below.


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.

Tags: printing, graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, setting up your files, commercial printing

Choosing Inks for Color Printing - Coated vs. Uncoated

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Jan 14, 2011 @ 12:30 PM

If you read our previous blog post, you should know the difference between Spot Colors and Process Colors and the role they play in commercial printing. Just to recap a few points:

  • Spot Colors are blended from any of 15 different base inks
  • Process Colors are made by using different percentages of the four process inks
    (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) to build colors
  • Even when used as a solid, ink is slightly translucent, not opaque

Coated vs. Uncoated

If you have a Pantone Formula Guide, or if you've used any design programs like the Adobe applications, you know that Pantone colors are listed by number. For example, PANTONE 185 is a bright red, while PANTONE 355 is kelly green.  These colors have a letter after the number, C or U. Older programs might tag these colors as CVC or CVU (for "Computer Video Coated" and "Computer Video Uncoated"), but this has largely been abandoned. Either way, when you see these letters they refer to the type of paper. C stands for "coated" and U stands for "uncoated." In some rare instances you might see an M for "matte," which is still technically a coated stock. In the world of Pantone though "coated" means GLOSS coated... as in, shiny paper. In this post, when you see "coated" you'll know we mean "gloss coated." 

Coated papers have a smooth finish, where the paper is pressed and polished while hot or steamed during the manufacturing process. This coating makes the paper less absorbent and takes ink better. Think of it as the coat of primer you'd use before painting your walls.

Pantone Coated and Uncoated chipsUncoated paper is just that; paper without the coated layer. It's often used for letterhead, printer paper, copy machine paper, etc.  Sometimes it will be classified as "bond" or "writing," but those are  just other ways of saying "uncoated." it's fair to say, if coated paper is less absorbent (like a wall with primer) than uncoated paper is MORE absorbent (like a wall WITHOUT primer!)

Regardless of whether a color is C or U, the ink is made the same. The image to the right shows that PANTONE 293 C and PANTONE 293 U look very different, but are made from the same formula (equal parts of Reflex Blue and Process Blue.) Since coated papers allow the ink to sit on the surface, it remains rich and vibrant. The uncoated sheet allows more ink to be absorbed into the paper.  Sometimes the minerals used as pigment to color the inks effect how it will absorbed and also effects the color.

Notice PANTONE 290 C and PANTONE 290 U are closer in color.  This color is made mostly from Transparent White (which you'll remember is essentially "clear" and allows more paper to show though the ink.) Since only 3.2% of the mixture is actual pigmented ink, it's less affected by the coated and uncoated paper. As a result, coated and uncoated versions of lighter colors like yellow and light shades of blue, red, or green, will match more closely, while darker shades and colors will look different... sometimes VERY different.

In fact, some designers will go as far as to choose different spot colors for their files, depending on the stock that's used.  PANTONE 710 U don't really match PANTONE 710 C very well, but PANTONE 185 U does match fairly well.

The color difference in coated and uncoated stocks is also true for Process Colors, though for slightly different reasons.  Process color allows a wider array of colors due to using halftones and blending tints of each process color.  Everything is made up of dots; big dots, little dots, but dots nonetheless (if you need a visual, check our previous blog Spot Color vs Process Color.)  These dots of varying sizes are more likely to be effected by something called "dot gain."  Remember how uncoated stocks are more absorbent, which means they will be more likely to cause the ink dots to swell slightly? This is dot gain. Most everyone knows the Bounty Paper Towel commercials, where the paper towel is used on a small spill and as the towel absorbs it, the spot on the towel spreads out.  Ink on uncoated paper does a similar thing, so a halftone dot of magenta that's set for 50%, could swell up to 55% on some stocks and causing the color to shift slightly.

The bottom line is, whether you choose a coated paper or an uncoated paper for your project, you'll want to work closely with your Customer Service or Sales Representative. They can always provide you with coated or uncoated chips of different Pantone colors.  You can also request a Press Proof, where you can see your job running on press and review the final version for yourself. 


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.

Tags: printing, graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, setting up your files, commercial printing

Choosing Inks for Color Printing - Spot Color vs. Process Color

Posted by Universal Printing on Wed, Jan 12, 2011 @ 11:29 AM

COLOR PRINTING: For those who aren't trained in printing or graphic design, it can all get very confusing.  Most people who are taking the "Do It Yourself" approach to setting up files just look at colors on the computer screen, with maybe a handful that have access to a Pantone guide, but not really understanding it.  If you're not familiar with how ink works and how colors are made, you could end up with some very UNEXPECTED results. This is the first of a series of blog posts that will hopefully help make sense of color, and how color is made in the world of commercial printing.

Spot Color vs. Process Color 

When you're talking about Spot Color you're pretty much talking about the Pantone Matching System. Pantone created their Color Mixing and Color Matching system back in the 1960's and it's largely been accepted as the worldwide standard.  All colors are mixed using the 14 mixing inks below.  If you have a Pantone Formula Guide, they'll be on the first 2 pages. In most Adobe applications, it's the first 14 colors listed in their Pantone Swatches.

PANTONE Yellow 012
PANTONE Orange 021
PANTONE Reflex Blue
PANTONE Process Blue
PANTONE Rubine Red
PANTONE Blue 072
PANTONE Rhodamine Red

Pantone Formula Guide imageCombinations of these colors, with the occasional use of PANTONE Transparent White, make up all the colors of the Pantone series. Kind of like paint chips at the hardware store, each color has a specific formula or recipe. A few key points to keep in mind:
  • Printing Inks are NOT opaque! They are slightly translucent, which means the color of the paper effects the color. So PANTONE Blue 072 looks one way on white paper, but on natural, off-white, or colored papers it would pick up some of the color of the paper.
  • Transparent White is NOT "white" ink.... but is actually CLEAR. As mentioned before, ink is translucent, so when you add "clear" it allows more of the paper to come through. This makes the color look like a lighter shade.
  • Each different color is a different ink, including Black. So if your project is PANTONE 286, PANTONE Red 032, and Black, than it is a 3 color job and requires 3 plates.




Process Color works a little differently. For "full color" printing, it uses 4 inks (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) to produce a variety of other colors.Calvin and Hobbs process color halftone 

If you own an inkjet printer, or have ever used a color copier, you might already be familiar with this.  With Process Color, the inks aren't mixed together to produce different colors as with Spot Colors. These colors are created with a series of half-tone dots in each of the 4 inks as needed to create the desired color.  The inset to the right helps illustrate this point, and can generally be seen in any color older comic strip or comic book.  Some magazines and art prints show it too, though the resolution tends to be higher, so you might need a magnifying glass of some sort.

Hopefully this clears up a few questions regarding the way Spot Colors and Process Colors are used in commercial offset printing. Future blogs will continue to explore other ink and color topics, such as Coated vs Uncoated, RGB vs CMYK, metallic inks and more.  If you'd like to see any specific questions answered about inks used in printing, please leave a comment below.


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.

Tags: printing, graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, setting up your files, commercial printing

How to Save PDF files for better printing!

Posted by Universal Printing on Wed, Jan 05, 2011 @ 11:30 AM

20 years ago a very wise man named John Warnock came up with a GENUIS idea for a system that would allow files from any computer or application to be viewed or printed on any other computer regardless of whether the other machine had the original software application, fonts, graphics, or anything else. This system which he named Camelot, went on to become the Portable Document File Format released by Adobe in 1993. Since then PDFs have become not only the standard, but in many cases a REQUIREMENT for graphic design and commercial printing professional worldwide.

PDF-based workflows are simply the BEST!

They are quick, robust, efficient; you just never want to go back to the OLD days of traditional postscript or linotype, bristol boards and wax paste-ups, or shooting negatives way back when. 

So yes... PDFs are amazing! They're self-contained, compact, and as the name suggests, PORTABLE.  Of course, there's a downside: PDFs have to be created properly!  Even though Acrobat has gotten much more robust, and programs like PitStop allow some pretty intensive editing capabilities, it's tricky business to try to fix files that weren't made correctly.  Creating bleeds that don't exist are difficult and sometimes impossible. You can't simply add resolution to a photo that was compressed too much.

Quality PDFs depend on choosing the right settings. 

Our Acrobat Distiller Settings page contains all the information needed to properly set up your PDF print drivers, or your Acrobat Distiller defaults for any files you wish to send us for production.  Also, the video below shows how to create your PDF presets for any Adobe product step-by-step.  We used InDesign for the tutorial, but it works the same in any Adobe program, and is very similar in almost any other software application.

If you have any other questions about setting up your files, please contact any of our Customer Service Representatives or any other member of our Universal Printing staff


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.

Tags: printing, graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, commercial printing, printing services, CS5 tutorials