Choosing the Right Paper Stock: Uncoated vs. Matte Paper

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Being a commercial printer, I receive quote requests for a variety of print projects every day. One thing I have noticed is that when a low-luster paper stock is desired, the quote request will frequently describe the paper as "Matte." But once I have further discussions with the client, we often determine that an "Uncoated" paper is a better choice for their particular project.

So over the years, I have come to realize that the term "Matte" is often used on quote requests as a generic term for paper that has minimal sheen. In other words, the client prefers a non-glossy stock.

That said, the person requesting the quote may very well indeed want a true Matte paper stock. Or, they may want an Uncoated stock and are referring to it as a Matte stock.

Therefore, it is my job to determine which paper characteristics are actually being requested and, in more cases than not, explain the ways Matte paper differs from Uncoated Paper so the client's project achieves the best possible result.

What is Matte Paper?

Matte Paper is a type of coated paper stock. Coated stocks have a surface sealant applied at the paper mill during the manufacturing process.

The more coating applied to the paper, the smoother the surface becomes and the more light it will reflect. Consequently, the more light it will reflect, the higher the sheen level.

For example, a heavy layer of surface coating gives the paper a highly-reflective surface, known as a Gloss finish. A medium layer of coating yields a semi-reflective surface, known as a Semi-Gloss, Satin, or Silk finish. A light layer of coating produces a minimally-reflective surface, known as a Matte finish.

The coating acts as a barrier to help keep the ink on the surface of a printed sheet, as opposed to allowing it to freely seep into the paper fibers. Basically, the more coating applied to the paper, the less ink absorption and the more brilliant and vivid the ink colors will appear when printed. Conversely, the less coating applied to the paper, the more ink absorption and the more subdued the ink colors will appear.

Now, because Matte paper receives a light layer of coating, it is not as smooth or reflective as its gloss or semi-gloss counterparts. Hence, images printed on Matte coated stock will appear softer than those printed on glossier coated stocks. However, because Matte paper does have some coating, images printed on it will still appear sharper than those printed on Uncoated paper.

What is Uncoated Paper?

As you have likely surmised, Uncoated Paper is paper not coated with a surface sealant. Because it has no coating, Uncoated paper maintains a relatively rough texture, which causes its surface to disperse light in varying directions. Because it does not reflect light well, it has hardly any sheen (notice the lack of sheen from basic copy paper, which is a widely-used example of uncoated paper).

Also, the lack of a coating means that Uncoated stocks are more porous and readily absorb ink. Traditional ink solutions will seep into the paper fibers and spread slightly. This is why images appear even softer on uncoated paper than on Matte coated paper.

When to use Matte Paper vs Uncoated Paper?

When a print project calls for paper with minimal sheen, knowing whether to use Matte or Uncoated stock depends on several factors-�

1) Will the printed piece contain lots of photos or illustrations?

Compared to Uncoated paper, Matte paper is generally the better choice for projects that contain photos, such as promotional pieces like brochures, flyers or sell sheets. Also, printed pieces that are illustration-heavy, such as comic books and graphic novels, are often printed on Matte paper. This is because the coating on a Matte paper stock helps slow the absorption of ink and provides more defined images than if Uncoated paper was used.

2) Is the printed piece intended to be written upon?

Uncoated paper is the better choice for printed pieces that will be written or drawn upon, such as notepads, workbooks, forms, checks, coloring books, envelopes, stationery, appointment cards and so on. The porous surface of Uncoated paper seizes the markings of a pen, pencil, crayon, etc. whereas the coated surface of a Matte stock may allow smearing in certain situations.

3) Is the project a book with many pages of text?

Because the glare is minimal for both Matte and Uncoated stocks, either is suitable for displaying blocks of text. However, if the project is a bound book or other multi-page document, the rougher texture of an Uncoated stock makes the pages easier to grip and turn by hand. This is one reason why Offset text stock, a very common type of Uncoated paper, is the most popular paper choice for the pages of books.

4) Will the printed piece see frequent handling?

Compared to Uncoated paper, Matte paper tends to last longer because its coating helps resist wear and tear. Also, because of its smoother surface, Matte paper is less susceptible to dirt and moisture. This makes Matte paper a good choice for theatre programs, pamphlets, brochures, newsletters or other pieces that will see frequent handling.

5) Is the printed piece meant to convey elegance and prestige?

Certain Uncoated stocks, especially those with a unique texture, are often used to provide a touch of style and class to printed pieces. For example, invitations, letterhead, presentation folders, and high-end restaurant menus often exhibit sophistication through the use of a textured stock, such as an uncoated Laid or Linen paper. Uncoated stocks also work better for embossing or foil stamping.

If you have any print-related questions or need help deciding which paper type to choose for your particular project, give Formax Printing a call at 866-367-6221. Or, if you already know your specs and would like a quote, click here to submit our easy quote request form. As always, we look forward to assisting with your printing needs!

Take care! Rick

About the Author

Rick Stallings is the owner of Formax Printing Solutions in St. Louis, MO. Formax provides a complete array of offset and digital printing services. Specialty areas include book printing, full-color printing, laminated printing, map printing and mailing services. If you ever have a printing question or project you would like to discuss, Rick is always happy to help. He can be reached at 866-367-6221 or by submitting our easy quote request form. Rick and the Formax team have been providing worry-free printing and related services since 1985.

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