Activating the Appeal of Paper

Reprinted from Ricoh Business Booster.

Innovations in print technology, such as expanded color gamut, metallics and variable data printing, have opened countless opportunities for designers to enhance the visual appeal of their clients’ applications. But when approached with a creative eye, paper itself can be an enticing design element.

In this article, we’ll take a look at three ways paper can elevate the allure of your output.

1. Colored Paper and Ink Considerations

While much of the paper in commercial printing comes in a basic white, printers and designers can enhance their clients’ applications by introducing colored substrates, adding eye-catching flair to a job before it even hits the press.

In fact, an attention-grabbing colored paper can be so effective that monochrome print can be sufficient. According to a blog post from Fort Worth, Texas-based Brumley Printing, a “classic black ink” printed on a bright colored paper is a tried-and-true method of creating bold applications. Another effective way to implement dark substrates is by printing with white ink.

Meanwhile, four-color process printing on colored paper provides additional visual intrigue to a printed application, allowing the substrate and ink to complement each other. But as explained by Colleen Gratzer, Chief Creative Officer at Gratzer Graphics and host of the Design Domination podcast, the color of the paper will alter the appearance of the ink printed onto it. Calculating the adjustments needed in ink laydown will be necessary to produce the image as desired.

This simple, yet essential calculation, Gratzer says, requires subtracting the CMYK value of the paper from the ink set, and adjusting the inks accordingly.

Ricoh has introduced a technological solution to this equation with its innovative 5th Color station. Using white toner, which is applied in-line as a base layer, this system provides accurate single-pass printing on colored media.

2. Appealing to Sight and Touch

While creativity in paper color can take a print application to new heights, the tactility of paper can enhance a print product and leave a significant lasting impact over an extended period. In his “Neuromarketing” blog, Roger Dooley describes a 2015 Temple University study for the United States Postal Service. The study measured subjects’ neurological responses to print and digital advertisements, with print performing better in triggering an overall emotional response and initiating activity in brain areas that correlate to value and desire.

By activating a consumer’s sense of touch, an engaging finish can heighten the connection between the consumer and the printed application. Gratzer shares that both coated and uncoated papers come in a variety of finishes, with each providing a distinct feel to the end user. For example, uncoated papers with deckled edges provide an elegant connotation.

Beyond tactility, a paper’s finish can impact the visual nature of print, and printers and designers need to collaborate closely to achieve the desired results. According to AlphaGraphics Portsmouth, a gloss or silk finish can impact how a consumer views a printed piece. A glossy finish will boost vibrancy and crispness, but can lead to an unwanted glare. A silk finish meanwhile can provide similar vibrancy without the glare of gloss.

3. A Sustainable Appearance

Sustainability is one of the most pressing concerns among consumers as many seek to embrace a more eco-friendly lifestyle. This concern is particularly prevalent in the packaging segment, in which many printed products are designed for single use.

While there is plenty of debate surrounding the environmental impacts of print and packaging, many consumers view recyclability as a key sustainability component. Paper substrates such as kraft paper and uncoated paperboard, given their recyclability advantages over flexible plastic, tend to have a positive perception among eco-minded consumers.

In addition to the sustainability elements of kraft paper, implementing its distinct appearance into the design strategy of a print project can lead to a natural or boutique appearance. With consumers’ desire to embrace a more natural lifestyle, a minimalist print design that lets the substrate show through can be advantageous. For some kraft paper design inspiration, check out The Dieline’s roundup of 17 great kraft paper packaging examples that highlight how this paper can provide a luxurious and natural appearance.


Print is so much more than CMYK ink or toner applied to a white paper substrate. The versatility of paper has opened the door for printers and designers to implement substrates creatively into their designs, and, in many cases, use it to enhance the appearance of the final printed product. By creatively implementing colored paper, print enhancements, and paper’s sustainable and luxury connotations, printers can enhance their output in ways that extend print far beyond the standard four-process colors.