The Beginner’s Guide to Purchasing Printing

June 4th, 2012No Comments »

Paper printing is an excellent way to market and spread buzz about your company throughout the community. Business cards, flyers, posters, brochures – all of these media can be used to effectively pull in interest and create sales. In a world where most people are talking about websites and online presence, it”s easy for a new business to forget about the powerful positive impact of traditional marketing.

Of course, anyone new to purchasing printing might have trouble wrapping their head around all the terminology and phrasing used by printing professionals. This is a short guide to help you with the basics of printing, to ensure that you get exactly what you need to drive your business”s popularity.

What is GSM?

GSM (Grams per square metre) is the term used to describe the weight or grammage of paper. Business cards use a different weight of paper than brochures and flyers, and all off these are different than the normal paper you would put into your printer at home.

To put all of this into perspective, typical printing paper is usually around 75 GSM. The higher the GSM number, the thicker the paper is. If you go up to 90 or 100 GSM, you have paper around the thickness of printer paper meant for color copies or laser printing. It”s just a bit thicker, which makes it slightly heavier and less transparent when you hold it up to the light.

With that in mind, printing companies will usually ask you to choose the GSM for your printing order. Depending on what you need to have printed, this can vary quite a bit. It”s always up to your personal preference whether you want to have thick or thin business cards, but here are some standard weights for common printing projects.

Business Cards – Business cards are much thicker than regular paper, closer to card stock than anything else. The common weight for business card paper is usually between 300 GSM and 400 GSM.

Posters, Brochures, and Flyers – Paper for these projects is usually thinner than a business card but not terribly lightweight either. Most of the time, they will have a glossy finish for a polished, sleek feel. The GSM for these usually runs standard at 150 GSM.

Letterheads – When you want something light and versatile without the flimsiness of regular printing paper, a 100 GSM size is perfect for letterheads, with compliments slips, and office stationery.

Standard Printing Sizes

Besides thickness, you also have to think about the size of your printing jobs. The printing business uses special terms to quickly figure out the length and width of the paper they need to use, which translates over to square mm. Here are the common printing sizes for most of the jobs, to give you a quick reference for your printing needs.

Posters – Posters can be in a wide variety of sizes, with the largest size being AO (1,189mm x 841mm) for mega posters to A2 (420x594mm) for regular posters and the smallest size being A4 (210x297mm). The “A series” is a term used to denote common sizes for printing use, and each number corresponds to a specific size. A4 paper is the most common paper size in the world, which is the size used for regular letter paper.

Letterheads – As just mentioned, A4 is the standard size for letterhead, and most home/office printers are built to accept this size or smaller.

Brochures – Brochures for business use will usually be printed on A4 paper which is then folded using either a tri-fold (most common) or a z-fold. The printing is broken up into what is known as DL size, which allows the paper to be folded into 3 equal sections, thus giving you the folded brochure. DL size has the same width as A4 but at 1/3 the height.

Flyers – Flyers, like posters, come in varying sizes. For a full sheet flyer, most printers will recommend A4 paper. If you want something smaller to easily hand out to visitors, DL size makes an excellent choice.

Business Cards – The standard size for business cards in Australia is 90×55 mm, which has a 1.636 aspect ratio and fits nicely into just about any wallet. We also work with 86×54 mm on occasion, which is more standard in Europe but is just a little smaller and more compact.

Printing Paper: Recycled vs. New

Whenever possible, we make an effort to use recycled paper in our printing projects. Why? Environmentally it just makes more sense. There are a lot of myths that virgin (new) paper actually requires less energy than the processes used to recycle paper, but the facts suggest otherwise.

The story goes that the whole process of breaking down paper fibres and then reconstituting them into fresh paper uses much more energy than it does to cut new trees for virgin fibre. What actually happens is that recycling centres, which are usually placed in industrial areas, do in fact take more energy (electricity) from the grid.

What they don”t mention is that most deforestation teams use on-site power to break down the trees for shipping and processing. In the end, recycling actually uses less total power than harvesting virgin fibre once you factor in transport, worker housing, even the gas used for chainsaws.

From a business standpoint, recycled paper is just as strong and durable as virgin fibre, and allows you to do your part to conserve the world we live in.

Finishing with Finishes

The size and weight of a paper can say a lot about your company, but the finish is just as important. Just as if you were painting your house, you have the choice of gloss and matte finishes when you order a printing project. Each one is more suited for a different printing style, so let”s look at what those are.


As you might guess, a gloss finish gives your brochure or poster a sleek, shiny feel and look. It”s smooth to the touch and reflects light more than regular paper would. Most people choose gloss finishes for brochures and posters more than anything else because it protects the paper from wear and tear. Here are the pros and cons.


  • Shiny finish
  • Vibrant colours
  • Sharp, crisp images
  • Scanning doesn”t pick up the texture of the paper


  •  More susceptible to smudges from handling
  • There may be a glare which makes the design harder to see from the wrong angle


Matte printing gives a more classic, natural look and is another popular choice for poster printing. Brochures can have a matte finish as well, although they”re usually requested with a gloss.


  • Fingerprints and heavy handling won”t leave smudges
  • Many times a matte finish will give your project a more professional look, especially if it involves photos
  • No glare


  •  An image may turn out grainy, depending on the paper
  • Colours aren”t as vibrant
  • If you scan a matte image it can pick up the paper texture and distort the image

No Finish

In some cases, you may not want a finish at all, which will leave the original paper texture. This is a more affordable option, and makes sense with letterheads or office stationery. For something larger that will be seen by many people, a finish is usually recommended.

Colour Printing Choices: CMYK or Pantone?

Colour printing is a hard concept to get across to anyone not trained in design because there are actually a few different standard systems for colour. When you look at a colour on your computer monitor, you”re viewing RGB colour. If you took something and printed it, it would end up with a slightly different shade than what was displayed on your monitor.

In the printing world, most firms will use either CMYK or Pantone colour printing. The differences are simple:

CMYK printing uses four base colours : Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. Through these combinations there is almost an unlimited number of colours that can be produced, and it”s easy to take the same design to different printing firms and get a similar result. It”s also less expensive to have a wide array of colours in the same design.

Pantone colour printing is also known as “spot printing.” This will give you a nearly identical print every time, with more vibrant colours than CMYK can usually give. Pantone printing uses special standardized codes to represent colours as they would appear in print (as opposed to on a computer screen). Most printing companies have what”s known as a “swatch book” which has a printed sample of the colour along with its colour code.

Printing and Digital File Types

Let”s say you have a fantastic design already worked out on your computer. Should you save it as a JPG? GIF? PSD? Does it even matter? Let”s look at the most common file types to see which is best for your needs.

JPG – JPG is the most common image format for computers and websites, but the issue for printing is that it compresses the files, making them smaller. For brochures or flyers this doesn”t make much difference, but expanding the files for larger printing jobs, like posters, can result in a pixelated (blocky) image.

TIFF – This is one of the top choices for printing jobs because it saves files in a lossless format, meaning that there”s no degrading of image quality. It offers some of the highest quality for commercial printing work, but the only downside is that TIFF files are large and take up a lot of space.

GIF – The original purpose for GIF files was to work with a dial up internet connection. It”s still useful these days, but its preferred use is for internet graphics rather than print.

PSD – This file type is used specifically for Adobe Photoshop. You may want to save in this type if you are doing image manipulation and want to be able to access the layers again at a later date. This file format will only open in Photoshop.

AI – This file type is used specifically for Adobe Photoshop, which deals with vector images. Vector images can be scaled up or down because they don”t rely on pixels to form the image. Many people like to save files as AI and then keep them as a vector for large scale printing. Will only open in Illustrator.

PNG – PNG was originally brought about to replace GIF files, and it”s still a popular, but little used, file type today. Like TIFF, it uses lossless compression so the image doesn”t lose quality.

PDF – The PDF file type is normally used to display documents and, while it can be used for printing, isn”t the first choice most of the time. It”s usually better to stick with some of the other types that can offer lossless compression.




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