Printed Collateral – paper types, sizes, finishes

When starting to consider a marketing campaign including printed collateral, there are some basic elements to think about such as size, paper type, environmental impact, format and shape.

Paper sizes

Let’s start at the beginning with size. Generally we all tend to use items based upon the ‘A’ series of paper sizes, these are all multiples or fractions of a basic sheet size with the most well known being good old ‘A4’.

Below are the size options most likely to be appropriate in general usage:

‘A’ Series Paper Sizes Chart  

Size  Height x Width (mm)  Height x Width (in) 
A2  594 x 420 mm  23.4 x 16.5 in 
A3  420 x 297 mm  16.5 x 11.7 in 
A4  297 x 210 mm  11.7 x 8.3 in 
A5  210 x 148 mm  8.3 x 5.8 in 
A6  148 x 105 mm  5.8 x 4.1 in 
A7  105 x 74 mm  4.1 x. 2.9 in 

Now, just to confuse things slightly, when your printer is actually producing your items, they will be using an oversized version of these sheet sizes. This allows them to print the required image and have enough extra all around it to handle without marking it and trim off the excess once it has been stapled together (or wire stitched as they would say).  The most common series of these larger sizes are ‘SR’ and ‘B’. For example SRA4 is 225mm x 320mm rather than the 210x297mm of A4 (‘B’ sizes are larger still).

Different types of paper

There are three main types of paper to choose from when planning the production of your printed items – Gloss, Silk/Satin and Uncoated. Somewhat obviously these describe the surface finish. There are some other variations, but their usage is very limited so we can ignore them here.

The ‘gloss’ and ‘silk/satin’ sheets are achieved by applying a fine layer of china clay ‘coating’ to surface paper fibres, and therefore you may sometimes hear them described as ‘coated’.

‘Uncoated’ papers (letterheads for example) do not have this surface finish. You might hear these sometimes described incorrectly as ‘Matt’. Whilst they appear matt/matte and have no sheen/shine, they are correctly described as uncoated. ‘Matt/Matte’ papers exist, but they do have an element of coating applied to them and are not therefore technically uncoated. Clear as mud?

Additional surface finishes

On-press coating

– most print suppliers will offer or do this as standard practice when printing on coated papers. A clear aqueous polymer varnish is applied on top of the just printed sheets; it will then be instantly dried using Infra-red lamps. This allows the sheets to be handled, folded and cut without the wet ink marking the sheets above and below.

After printing has taken place there are a number of ways that an item can be enhanced:


– a thin layer of plastic applied to one or both sides of the paper or board (Gloss, Matt, Silk, Soft-Touch). Ideal for adding weight, durability, and a quality feel to brochure covers or folders.

UV Varnish

– as the name suggests, a varnish (usually gloss) applied then cured using ultra-violet light. This allows fine detail to be picked out in gloss on a matt laminated sheet and when used correctly can really ‘lift’ a design or image. Works well over a dark solid block of colour that has been matt laminated.


– the application under pressure of a very thin layer of foil to the surface of a sheet. A number of different colours are available and this finish can really add a special ‘something’ to your collateral, but always keep in mind that ‘less is more’.

Blind Embossing / Debossing

– images can be blind embossed or debossed into the surface of paper and board. The technique uses ‘Dies’ which imprint the image under pressure. ‘Blind Embossing’ raises the design whereas ‘Debossing’ produces an indented image. The ‘Blind’ element denotes that it is inkless with no printed image. Great for a subtle quality feel to a brochure cover!

Binding Options

When planning a brochure or multi-page item, it is important to consider how it is to be bound. Some of the options might include:

Wire- stitched (stapled)

– probably the most common and most cost effective method but there is an upper maximum number of pages before other methods have to be used.

Perfect Bound (glued spine)

– produces a nice square spine, but text leaves need to be over a certain quantity/thickness. More expensive that wire-stitching.

Wire-O/Wiro Bound

(wire rings through holes punched in the text leaves) – ideal for publications that need to be durable and fold flat, but more expensive than the other two options.

Don’t forget that even though all these differing options might seem confusing over complicated, when “all I need is a new brochure…”, your design agency or print supplier will be more than happy to discuss your requirements and advise you as to the most appropriate choices!