Start with the right catalog paper

When it comes to choosing the right paper for your catalog, you have to consider the quality level, grade category and weight. Another factor that doesn’t get quite so much attention is the finish, or the surface texture of the paper..

There are several types of finishes in coated paper, including gloss, matte, dull and sometimes a mix between these finishes. A manufacturer may offer all three finishes for a given paper — especially higher-end grades.

Each of these finishes will offer the same brightness. What differentiates the finish within the same grade is the level of gloss. The gloss finish will have the highest amount, the matte the least, and dull is in between the two.


Most catalogs and magazines opt for a gloss finish, which has a shiny or lacquer visual effect. Images may appear to pop off the page with gloss more than with other finishes. Glossy finishes are often paired with a smooth paper sheet, which is an important element of the high-quality halftone printing process associated with the stock.

The chief concern with a gloss finish is readability. Due to the paper’s shiny surface, the reader may find it difficult or irritating to read. Also, gloss is typically the only finish available on #4 and #5 grades.

Instead of going with gloss as your default finish, you might look at some of the other options to differentiate your catalog from the pack. For instance, maybe a move to a matte, dull or hybrid finish would make sense.


A matte finish is a coated paper with a nongloss finish. Colors often appear to be softer than with a gloss grade. A matte sheet is highly readable in that it’s free of the viewing problems often associated with gloss grades.

Matte grades seem to be becoming more associated with a “younger” audience, and they sometimes give a book an environmentally friendly feel.

The stock is not actually greener, however. While matte paper grades can be recycled or offer sustainability, a matte finish does not in itself mean that the paper is any more recyclable or Earth-friendly than a gloss or dull grade.


A dull finish usually offers a smooth printing surface and is not nearly as shiny as a gloss paper, while not totally void of the glossy appearance in a matte finish. Dull could be considered a low-gloss grade.

Dull finishes may often constitute an elegant, upscale appearance. Depending on the paper manufacturer, dull may also be referred to as a satin, suede or velvet finish.


There are a few hybrid types of finishes in the market that offer a unique finish. One of these grades is Influence Soft-Gloss, manufactured by Verso Paper.

When this high-end, #3 grade is printed, it gives the effect of a matte finish in the copy area, rendering it easy to read. But the pictorial portion on the same printed page has a relative glossy look, almost as if this portion had received a spot-varnish in the printing process.


All of the above mentioned grades are coated grades, but various finishes are also offered in uncoated freesheet — higher-end uncoated paper that is “free” of groundwood content.

Different finishes available include laid, watermark or embossed finishes. Uncoated freesheet grades are also becoming more popular for catalog use, especially with marketers wishing to convey a youthful, green appeal.

Uncoated freesheet is typically offered with options to contain a high level of post-consumer waste recyclability. But uncoated freesheet grades have a rougher printing surface than do coated, making it harder to achieve the look of a coated paper. What’s more, because of the paper’s lack of a coating, inks have a tendency to be absorbed into the sheet.


Supercalendared, or SC, grades are lower-end grades used in some high-volume catalogs and publications. The supercalendaring process involves the use of a large steel and large cotton roll on an uncoated sheet of paper to give it a coated and glossy appearance.

The result is not the same as with the coating, but a certain sheen still results. SC papers offer an economical alternative to higher-priced groundwood grades. But if you’re considering an SC grade, make sure your printer has the expertise to print SC papers.

Dan Walsh was vice president of catalog papers for Chicago-based paper distributor Bradner Smith & Co.


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