In the commercial printing world, the vast majority of printing projects are produced on coated vs uncoated paper.
Each type of paper has its advantages and disadvantages in relation to the project. One type of paper is not necessarily “better” than the other, but knowing when to use coated vs uncoated paper can make a difference to the print results.
Coated vs uncoated paper – what’s the difference?
The main difference between coated vs uncoated paper is the way the paper is manufactured. Coated papers have a coating (usually clay), so they are “sealed”. This restricts the amount of ink that is absorbed into the paper, allowing the ink to sit on top of the paper, in a crisp, defined spot.
Uncoated paper does not have this coating and is therefore more porous. The ink penetrates the paper and has a softer and warmer appearance. Uncoated papers are classified by type: offset, opaque and text and cover. Domtar’s line of papers fall into the offset and opaque categories, with Cougar being a premium opaque sheet.
Coated papers are classified in two ways; by their finish: glossy, matt, silk or matt or by their quality (gloss and price): Premium, No.1, No.2, No.3, No.4, No.5. A coated paper with a brightness of 88+ is classified as Premium paper. The higher the gloss level, the more light bounces off the sheet. Most inks are transparent, so the reflection gives the appearance of a vivid, glossy image. In the case of coated papers, the glossier the finish, the lower the ink absorption.
White uncoated papers are also defined by their gloss levels: the glossier the sheet, the more light is reflected to the eye. For example, Cougar paper is a 98 Bright white, which means that 98% of the light is reflected back to the viewer’s eye. This brightness level helps four-colour or CMYK images “pop” on the paper when light is reflected through the ink.
Uncoated papers can have many finishes: smooth, linen, laid, vellum, vellum and super smooth, to name a few. The level of smoothness is an important factor when considering uncoated papers, as it is not only what gives the paper its feel, but also affects ink retention.
The smoother the sheet, the more uniform the ink placement. This is especially important when printing areas of heavy solids or metallic inks.
Coated or uncoated? Which should I choose?
When it comes to printing your project, there is always the question of which type of paper to choose. The right choice will depend on aesthetics, functionality and your budget. You should take these into account when choosing between coated vs uncoated paper options.
Coated papers deliver crisp, sharp results, with high contrast between printed image and white space and a cool, slick feel. Their coated surface provides an excellent canvas for images with fine details and offers a higher contrast between the printed image and the white space (known as “ink snap”).
These are often used for magazines and catalogues of high-end products that require “glossy” optics, such as automobiles, jewellery and household appliances.
Uncoated papers have an inherent warmth and feel. Their feel implies a sense of trust, authenticity and responsibility. These characteristics make them well suited for projects in the educational, non-profit and environmental sectors.
They are also excellent choices for identity systems, publications, direct mail and catalogues. Depending on the finish, uncoated papers can give a 3D quality to images with textiles, think home furnishings, clothing and fine art.
Coated papers offer excellent ink retention and work well with areas of deep solid colour and metallic inks. Their surface, regardless of finish, works well with techniques such as varnishes, UV coatings and embossing as design elements, even with a subtle transparent foil.
Some of the drawbacks of coated papers are that you can’t write on them easily with a biro. If the project requires a lot of text, the glare of glossy coated papers can make them difficult to read.
Although coated papers offer excellent ink gloss, they often require an overall coating to protect the surface from scratches and fingerprints.
Uncoated papers work well with pressure-based printing techniques such as embossing, letterpress and letterpress printing. They provide a nice contrast between the surface of the sheet and the print. They lend themselves well to folding, even in heavier weights (creasing with the grain); and are an excellent choice for tactile packaging applications.
Some of the drawbacks of uncoated papers are due to the way they absorb ink. This drawback is minimised by working with the softer options within uncoated papers.
If you opt for a premium uncoated paper with an excellent formation, such as Cougar, you are likely to get better results.
That said, there are a few areas to be aware of. Images with a lot of detail, especially in the mid-tones, can sometimes appear “muddy.”
Depending on the amount of ink, uncoated sheets may require additional drying time (important if the deadline is tight). And depending on the formation of the paper, areas with heavy solids and metallics may have a mottled appearance. Although uncoated papers work with coatings and varnishes, it is primarily for protective purposes and not as design elements.
When comparing coated vs uncoated paper, be sure to take into account specifications such as opacity and caliper. There is the possibility of using an uncoated sheet that is lighter in weight versus the coated one.
For example, if you’re looking for an 80-pound coated paper, a 70-pound uncoated paper will probably have the same or higher opacity and caliper. This means you’re using and paying for less paper.
This reduction in weight can lead to a reduction in postage costs without having to give up quality paper.
Both coated and uncoated paper offer a wide range of products at all price levels.
If you are on a tight budget, don’t hesitate to consult with your printer about the best option for choosing a quality paper.
Learn more about other types of paper
Want to learn about different types of paper you can use for your printing projects and creative work? Take a look at our section on paper types, where we detail the characteristics of a number of different paper types that will help you to give your work a different touch.
Also, if you want to find out about printing techniques and special finishes you can use, don’t miss our posts on finishing where we discuss what special finishes are commonly used in the world of printing