Like it or not, we’re all judged based on the first impression we make – how we look, dress, and carry ourselves all impact judgments made by others.  The same is true for brands. A smart paper choice can make or break a brand’s perception; here are my top tips for specifying identity papers.





To me a business card is like a handshake, nobody likes a wimpy one. The first thing most people notice about a business card is its heft; this is when the weight of a paper really matters. I recommend looking at an uncoated stock in 130# cover.  It’s got a good feel to it, and unlike coated paper, isn’t prone to scuffing. If you’re doing a special print technique like embossing, foil stamping or painted edges, you may want to consider going heavier or doing a custom duplex sheet – after all you want to show off that bling.  The amount of paper needed for business cards is pretty minimal (just to give you an idea, I recently printed 750 cards and it only required 25 sheets), so don’t’ skimp – splurging on paper here won’t break the bank.





Since correspondence is the purpose of stationery, you want to select paper for your letterhead that not only compliments your logo design but also actually functions. This can be a paper in a typical writing or text weight, I’d steer clear of going too light (20# bond) or too heavy (100# text). As far as finish goes, smooth tends to be the most common but a little toothless, like a vellum or wove is a nice choice.  If opting for textured sheet in a text weight (lineal, felt, etc.) be sure to try it in the actual equipment that will be printing the letter – the last thing you want is to have issues with ink/toner adhesion.





Since this will be what your letterhead goes into, it should match or compliment it in color, weight and size. When it comes to business correspondence #10 envelopes tend to be the standard size, but that doesn’t have to mean boring – you can add interest by selecting a square flap or adding a pop of color. Another way to differentiate your correspondence is with size.  A monarch size envelope is a nice choice for executives for more personal correspondence stationery (just make sure to adjust the size of your letterhead accordingly). Since I’m a one-person show, I opted for a half-size letterhead and use an A-2 announcement envelope. I tend send more informal notes than professional letters, and find I get more mileage out the mini size stationery.


When it comes to catalog/booklet envelopes, brands have an opportunity to have a little fun.  No need to use the standard white wove option; since there’s likely to be a mailing label on it, why not use a brightly colored envelope?



Much like business cards, pocket folders make an impression based on their weight as much as how they look visually. You can take a beautifully embossed or foil stamped logo and diminish its visual impact by producing it on a light cover weight. For folders, I recommend 100# or 130# cover – proceed with caution if going heavier. Not to get all paper nerdy, but this is when paper characteristics come into play. In general uncoated papers tend to work best for pocket folders due to their high fiber content, so things like adhesives, folding and scoring are a cinch. Coated papers can be trickier due to their clay content, and coated sheets (especially gloss) with heavy ink coverage can show cracking on the fold. If you’re using a textured finish you’ll want to think about the final pattern of the texture (ex. lineal) and how it will look finished.


I have to say, as a spec rep identity systems are my favorite type of projects to work on. I love the way a way brand’s personality emerges, showing off its personality in the various elements of the visual identity. And in terms of papers, there are so many really great options available. I have to say Cougar is a staple for me because it’s readily available locally and comes in a wide range of finishes and basis weights – up to 160# cover! And don’t be afraid to mix and match paper grades, colors and finishes. When in doubt, request paper samples so you can see and feel the difference between stocks. When it comes to a brand’s identity that old saying holds true, you only have one chance to make a first impression – make it a memorable one.