Here are some additional production tips for using colored paper:

Batch color may vary slightly among the mill’s production runs. If it’s important for you to match paper colors exactly from one press run to the next, you might have to buy enough paper for your entire campaign and store it until you’re ready to use it all.

Readability may suffer on colored paper. Make sure your type contrasts against the background of the paper well enough to be legible.

The pigments in colored paper can fade with exposure to light. This is especially true for orange and fluorescent dyes. If your designs require a significant shelf life, ask your supplier about the stability of the paper dyes.

Flecks of color can interfere with detail in fine-screened halftones and in thin serifs of type, so it’s best not to use color-flecked paper for these designs. Also be aware that you can’t control where the flecks appear. Results can sometimes be embarrassing (as when a blotch shows up on a model’s nose), depending on the nature of the design.

If you hate the way transparent inks look on your colored paper, try using opaque inks. They’re thicker than transparent inks and may require a different printing process (flexography, screen printing or waterless printing, for example).

You can prime the colored paper ahead of time. This is done by laying down a coat of opaque white ink, letting it dry, then overprinting with transparent inks. This technique is expensive, because it involves two passes through the press. It also requires the printer to achieve pinpoint registration, but the effect can look spectacular.

Go for special effects. Embossing, thermography, foil-stamping and varnishing on colored paper can all work without conventional printing.

Many of these papers require strict humidity control. If your printer can’t maintain the proper relative humidity, then ask the mill to deliver the paper early so it can be acclimatized to the pressroom conditions before the job is scheduled to print. 1300

Availability of some colored papers can be a hassle, especially for certain sizes of cut sheets or web rolls. Either buy your paper well ahead of time, or write a clause into your purchase contract that guarantees delivery in time for printing. And then order ahead of time anyway. Even with the best intentions in the world, mills cannot keep up with demand for some of these papers. In addition, many mills make these special stocks only at certain times of the year. When they run out, they’re out. And you’re out of luck.

Designing with colored papers

None of these colored papers are appropriate for projects that require productcolor matching-the paper color itself is too overwhelming. But they’re spectacular for designs that involve unexpected techniques, such as embossing, debossing, thermography, opaque printing and varnishing.

Colored papers are well-suited for stationery systems, in which the deeper hues can be used for business cards, and the pater shades for companion letterhead sheets and envelopes. Strathmore relaunched its Writing System line in 2000 with this palette of complementary Light and dark colors.

When designing with these colorful papers, it’s very tempting to use the paper color itself in lieu of paying for a second color on press. Resist the temptation. Designing with colored paper is a far more subtle process than simply slapping one-color ink on a colored background and calling the job done.

Rather, you should think of paper color as a pure design element in its own right, almost as though you were painting with the paper itself. Just as you mix oil paints on a palette to create new colors, so can you apply inks to colored paper to create new effects. The paper color works with the ink to bend light in new ways. Here’s why:

Paper is more than a substrate for your creativity. It actually reflects light back to the eye. When you lay transparent ink over paper, light passes through the ink layers, hits the paper and bounces back to your eye, allowing you to see color. White paper reflects the entire visual spectrum of white light. Colored paper, however, absorbs some of the wavelengths of light, depriving the ink films of the full spectrum. As a result, the ink colors laid on top of colored paper are skewed. For example,

yellow paper absorbs blue light, rendering process-color skin tones much warmer. A blue sky printed on a yellow sheet appears green; neutral grays look yellow. In the same way, match ink colors printed on colored paper become skewed, too. If you print a royal purple on yellow paper, for example, the purple comes out brown.

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid printing custom inks or four-color process on colored paper. It does mean that you should check ahead of time to see exactly how your designs will appear. For custom inks, ask your printer to do an ink drawdown with your match color. The printer will smear a swash of ink onto your specified paper, and you’ll be able to preview the results before the job goes to press.

Dewdrops on a spiderweb appear touchably real when they’re printed on a holographic paper that’s made up of tiny, circular prisms. The droplets were reversed out of the background image, printed on Proma Technologies’ HoloPRISM sheet.

However, ink drawdowns are not effective with four-color process inks, because you can’t really see how the process inks will trap on the colored paper. Ask your printer to run a few sheets of your spec’ed paper at the end of a press run on another job. This will cost you a modest sum, but it’ll give you a fair representation of how the job will print.


For maximum impact, the current crop of shiny papers attracts the eye as relentlessly as a lure attracts bass. One of the most stunning papers on the market today is Appleton Papers Currency line, an aqueous-coated metallic paper that really looks metallic. Because these papers are metallized in the manufacturing process, the bronzes, golds, silvers and opalescents really do shine. Best of all, you can print on them with both transparent and opaque inks, creating effects both subtle and bold.

Even glitzier are pearlescent papers by the Curious Paper Collection. Like Currency, these sheets can be printed with offset ink. The effect is shiny but subdued, perfect for elegant designs that scream quality-in the most discreet way, of course.

For the glitziest papers of all, check out holographic papers from Proma Technologies. These sheets also can be overprinted with commercial inks, so you can cover up the holograms completely, leave them totally bare, or use transparent inks combined with the holographic refractions to create distinctive effects.

All these lines of shiny paper are interactive, in the sense that they literally demand to be picked up and turned from side to side so viewers can see different colors and effects. They’re especially effective for packaging or any other handheld designs such as greeting cards, business cards and brochures.

Painting with paper

Can your print project be interactive? It can when you spec a colored paper that catches the eye and invites the touch. Here’s how to get the most out of these special stocks.

As graphics professionals, we would do well to acknowledge a truism that the marketing experts at mass-retailers have known for years: People buy with their eyes. And nothing appeals to the visual sense more than color.

So it’s good news for us that paper mills are introducing new colored sheets that will make even the most jaded reader linger over your project. Many of these new colors tie into national trends in fashion and home decorating.

One of the hottest of these trends is related to people’s yearning for a return to the home. (Whether it’s the chicken or the egg that’s at fault, the desire for a renewal of the home seems to happen whenever Republicans come into the White House.)

In any case, mills are focusing on using earth-tone pigments in their pulps, especially for uncoated papers. Strathmore, for example, makes a slateblue paper that manages to appear warm and accessible, even though it’s on the cold side of the palette. GeorgiaPacific’s brick browns and rich beiges evoke the coziness of the hearth.

Some of these colors are softened even further with an applied texture. Neenah Paper’s Columns line, for example, is manufactured with alternating concave and convex ridges running vertically through the sheet. One especially effective color in this line is a black that literally feels soft to the touch and is also easy on the eyes.

Screaming fluorescents aren’t just for quick-copy jobs and school projects; they’re as popular as they’ve ever been. Foil-stamping holds its own against a neon-blue background on the left page of this spread from Wausau’s Astrobrights promo. The right-hand page, surprisingly, is printed on Stardust White, a sheet with brightly colored speckles throughout. The page was printed in four-color process using fluorescent inks and a spot varnish.

On the other end of the scale, bright color still sells, too, just as it did during the last Republican reign, almost two decades ago. (Remember Nancy Reagan Red?) Tapping into this trend is Wausau Papers’ Astrobrights line, a collection of fluorescent papers so bright that they almost make a reader reach for sunglasses.

Sometimes, to attract attention, it’s more effective to whisper than to shout. For this reason, many mills are offering more muted colors. Green Field Paper Co., for example, makes organic-cotton sheets from naturally colored cotton. Coyote Brown and Sage Green have no color additives-their hues come from the cotton bolls themselves.

Another way that mills add muted color is with flecks of material in the paper pulp itself. Green Field’s Junk Mail, for example, gets its flecks from ground-up pieces of that stuff that usually ends up in your trash at home. Neptune by Le Desktop gets its speckles from seaweed harvested from the weedchoked canals of Venice. Golf Paper, also by Le Desktop, derives its flecks from grass clippings collected from golf courses.