Graphic designers go to painstaking lengths to position a brand effectively and reach target markets. Designing a logo, identity and website that reinforce the brand’s messaging is a given. Thoughtful attention is paid to all the design details. Much like the right colors, fonts and photography can impact a brand’s message, so too does paper specification. Yet for many creatives this is a missed opportunity. When used effectively, paper specification can positively impact a print design; conversely, the wrong paper can detract from it.


Here’s how paper specification can reinforce branding:


Paper – The Secret Weapon in Print Design and Brand Identity

When it comes to producing print materials for a brand identity, paper specification is a designer’s secret weapon.

Paper’s strength lies in its ability to impart an emotional tie through its tactile nature. Consumers connect to a brand through their senses, and touch is the most powerful sense of all. This is an actual, proven thing. It’s called haptics and it refers to our brain’s ability to translate the actual sensation of touch into a feeling/emotion.

This effect is hugely important when designing for packaging and why so many of us purchase products based on packaging alone (guilty). One touch and we’re hooked. But haptics doesn’t only apply to packaging, this effect translates into all print elements of a brand.

So when it comes to producing a brand identity, take advantage of the power of paper. Match the feel of the brand to the paper – literally.


Finish, First

The feel of the paper is referred to as finish. Papers come in many types of finishes from coated gloss, to toothy uncoated vellum, to heavily textured embossed felt and many more in between. There are tons of paper finishes available on the market, and defaulting to a standard smooth finish leaves a lot on the table when it comes to conveying brand messaging.

Finish is the first attribute I advise designers to consider when specifying paper–especially when printing brand identity components.

Uncoated paper finishes have the ability to convey many messages. For example, if sophisticated and refined is what you want to convey look for uncoated papers, with a sleek to them like smooth, wove or super smooth. Perhaps the brand is about all-natural or handmade, consider  specifying papers with a slubby feel like a toothy vellum or eggshell, or maybe papers with inclusions like kraft.

What about color? There’s no denying color is hugely important here, as such it’s usually dictated in the brand standard guide. And I don’t recommend deviating from it with your paper specs. If by chance you find a dead on match with colored paper stock – by all means consider it. In terms of brand identity, most designers I know prefer a bright white and use PMS inks for color critical elements.


Use Paper Weight to Convey Strength and Stability

Basis weight has the ability to strengthen a brand’s message.

In my opinion, this is never more critical than when it comes to brand identity systems – especially business cards. You can read about the effect of basis weight on business cards in an earlier post titled Business Card Basics. Suffice it to say, basis weight conveys a message.

Long gone are the days when 80# cover was the standard basis weight option for print production – yes even with digital printing. The Cougar paper brand offers up to 160 lb. in the Smooth Finish, and up to 130 lb. in Super Smooth and Cougar Digital Color Copy. In the Lynx Opaque Ultra line, the offering goes up to 120 lb. in the smooth Finish and 100 lb. in the new Cream White shade.


Thoughtful Paper Choice = Unified Brand Elements

As a paper rep, one of my biggest customers was a home goods retail store. I worked with them on everything from brand identity elements like letterhead, envelopes, note cards, pocket folders and business cards; marketing collateral like catalogs as well as point of purchase materials.

They took full advantage of their paper specifications to convey their brand messaging – sustainability, hand-crafted artistry and inspiring design. Their letterhead, note cards and envelopes were produced on a bright white, subtly tactile vellum paper; while they specified a heavier weight, contrasting textured felt finish for their business cards and folders – they unified their brand by using the same bright white shade and print color palette.

Their product catalogs had a bit more restraint to them as the runs were significantly larger, with a good portion mailed to their customers. The papers specs needed to respect the budget yet still impart the same messaging as the rest of their identity. Since these were product catalogs that featured fabrics, they loved the idea of using a textured finish paper but struggled with it fitting their budget.

In the end, they chose to print the pages of the catalog on a matte coated, bright white paper to help keep costs down and printed the cover on the same felt finish they used in their identity system. By specifying a combination tactile, coated and uncoated papers, unified with the same imagery and color palette, all of their collateral successfully evoked the mission of their brand.


Remember, when crafting a brand, paper specification can be an effective tool in your print design arsenal.  Take advantage of all of its attributes to help to unify and reinforce brand messaging.

Hungry for more print design and branding tips? Be sure to request a complimentary copy of our latest promotion, Make Your Mark on Cougar®.