Formation: The hidden key to print quality

Print quality requires attention to detail from start to finish. Decisions made planning the job, selecting photos, retouching and correcting color files, conducting press approvals etc., all combine to make or break the final result.

At the same time, budget restraints inevitably force compromises. Designers have lots of variables to juggle as they set the budget. Choosing a photographer, writer or printer, as well as the size of the print run, dimensions and page count, use of special finishing or binding techniques, inks or coatings, etc. all have an impact.

Quite often, the quality and weight of the paper stock is an easy place to find cost savings. Dropping from a premium text and cover grade to an offset or opaque paper can make an immediate impact on the budget and is a tool printers sometimes use to submit attractive bids against competitors.

To the untrained eye, these commodity grades can appear just as white and smooth as a quality text paper, and printers can often work around their limitations to deliver a job that’s acceptable to the average client. However, there are hidden attributes in premium paper that create exceptional print fidelity. Over the next several posts, we intend to explain these characteristices and their impact. This first post focuses on the most important – formation.

HOW FORMATION IS ACHIEVED

Paper can be described as a web of highly-refined cellulose fibers formed on a continuous moving screen. In premium printing papers, these fibers are from a variety of different wood pulps, cleaned and refined and mixed with fillers and binders.

The way in which the fibers are dispersed throughout the paper web is affected by several factors, the most important being: a.)  the quality of the wood pulps used, b.) the speed of the moving screen, and c.) how well each fiber of wood pulp is softened and frayed before being formed into paper.

Better papers made carefully at specialty mills have a smooth, uniform formation that resembles ground glass while less expensive papers made at high speed on giant machines have a formation that appears clumpy and mottled. The very finest papers, referred to as premium text and cover, are extremely well-refined and uniform. (See above for a comparison of actual samples of Monadnock’s Astrolite and a well-known, less-expensive paper.)

HOW FORMATION AFFECTS QUALITY

TACTILITY – Just as a 600-thread bed sheet is different from a 200-thread sheet, papers with superior formation simply feel richer and more luxurious to the touch.

IMPROVED BLANKET CONTACT – More importantly, great formation creates a level printing surface, avoiding variations in thickness where fibers clump together. This allows the entire area of the offset blanket to come in contact with paper fibers with even pressure. Halftone dots print more cleanly and evenly.

UNIFORM INK LAY – An even distribution of fibers and fillers avoids a condition known as backtrap mottle, where press blankets on subsequent units wear away at the ink film. This increases in the dense areas where fibers have clustered, causing an unsightly, galvanized appearance, especially in dark solids.

IMPROVED OPACITY – Finally, because the fibers are spaced evenly through the paper web, light from the other side is blocked and diffused throughout the sheet. You can clearly see the difference between identical weight papers in the photograph above.

When comparing papers for a project, take a moment and hold both sheets up to the light at arm’s length. If there is a noticeable difference in the uniformity of the fibers, you can expect that variation to have an effect on the final printed piece.  If you’re serious about getting the best possible finished quality, ask your printer to make sure they quote the job on a “premium text and cover” grade.

To learn about Monadnock’s different grades in that category – Astrolite, Caress, Dulcet and Astrolite PC100 – visit mpm.com/products-and-capabilities

For more information on papermaking and print quality, go to mpm.com/resources.

 

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