August 23, 2021

Article
8 min

Types of Printer Paper: The Ultimate Guide

The type of paper you choose to use in your printer can make all the difference in your final product. Learning the differences between them is the first step in ensuring your printed materials are of the best quality possible.

The type of paper you choose to use in your printer can make all the difference in your final product. Premium glossy paper can help elevate the appearance of important documents and make them stand the test of time. Specialty paper like that found in thermal printers can help reduce overhead costs while maintaining quality at any volume.

Paper types can be just as complex as printers themselves. Learning the differences between them is the first step in ensuring your printed materials are of the best quality possible. This guide will tell you the many types of printer paper available along with the specifications you can use to help determine which is the best for you.

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Types of Printer Paper

There are many types of printer paper out there, and each has its own strengths, weaknesses, and intended uses. The device you use your paper with will most likely tell you which types of paper it supports, which can often include more than one type. Another major factor to consider when choosing a paper type is the final product you intend to print. Specific paper types can also allow your printer to create a broader range of projects and possibly save you money on unnecessary hardware purchases. Please read below for a list of standard printer paper types and how they are commonly used.

Laser Paper

The most common type of paper is laser printer paper. This paper is designed to be used in an office environment and is excellent for the daily printing of invoices, memos, and other standard workplace documents. Laser paper commonly comes with a matte finish to speed up drying times and prevent smudging. 

Inkjet Paper

While you can find inkjet paper in different variations, such as glossy or smaller sizes, the main defining feature is how the paper absorbs ink. This paper is slightly thicker than laser paper. However, the name can encompass many types of paper that works with inkjet machines. As the name implies, inkjet paper is specifically designed to work with inkjet printers to create crisp color-popping images. Common uses for such paper include photography or business and greeting cards.

Cardstock

Flyers, business cards, and trading cards are all commonly printed on cardstock paper. This paper is very thick and durable, allowing it to be passed out or transported easily without risk of damage. One drawback to the high quality of cardstock paper is that it can be more expensive to print in volume or require a particular printer to be used properly. Be careful when using cardstock paper in a printer not designed for it, because it could easily get stuck or jammed.

Bond & Label Paper

Receipt printers, label makers, and some point-of-sale terminals use a special kind of paper known as thermal or bond rolls. This paper has a thicker, almost textile-like feel and is used for a wide range of tasks from art to business. The name thermal comes from how images are printed onto that paper in such devices as receipt printers or label makers. These printers use heat to burn the image into the paper, which cuts ink costs and prevents smearing of images or text.

Photo Paper

There are two main kinds of photo paper, glossy or matte. Glossy is the most common and likely what you will find when searching for photo paper. However, matte can be helpful in specific cases. Both types, however, are designed to print the highest quality images possible using inkjet printers. Photo paper is also thicker than laser and inkjet, making it one of the more expensive paper types available.

Multipurpose & Copy Paper

While some laser paper could technically be considered multipurpose or copy paper, some distinctions are still made between the two. Multipurpose paper is typically thinner and less expensive than laser or any other material. This is the type of paper you find in a large box next to the printer in the office. Copy paper has become a popular choice among workplaces, because it is an affordable substitute for multiple other paper types. One drawback to using multipurpose paper is that it lacks color accuracy and struggles when using large amounts of ink on a single page. 

Printer Paper Specifications

Beyond the types of printer paper, there are also a number of standard specifications you can use to better differentiate between the different kinds of print materials. By learning what makes the types of papers different, you can find precisely the medium you need for any printing task. Some paper types may have overlapping features or values, and checking these additional specifications is the only way to tell the difference between the two. 

Size

To say there are many sizes of paper out there would be a gross understatement. Paper size is first compared by ranges of size, such as A or C and then further separated within those ranges in such distinctions as A4 and C3. The most common size is A paper, with A4 being what many would consider standard printer paper. C sizes are for use in envelopes and are far less common.  With both sizes, the paper gets larger as the number gets smaller. For example, A1 is the largest, and A10 is the smallest.

Weight

While some laser paper could technically be considered multipurpose or copy paper, some distinctions are still made between the two. Multipurpose paper is typically thinner and less expensive than laser or any other material. This is the type of paper you find in a large box next to the printer in the office. Copy paper has become a popular choice among workplaces because it is an affordable substitute for multiple other paper types. One drawback to using multipurpose paper is that it lacks color accuracy and struggles when using large amounts of ink on a single page. 

Opacity

Also known as transparency, the opacity of the paper is a measure of how much can be seen through a sheet of paper. This is measured using percentages, where 0% would represent see-through materials, such as tracing paper. It is most important to consider opacity when printing double-sided because ink could bleed through and potentially ruin the document.

Ream

This specification has more to do with the amount of paper you will be receiving and less of the type of paper. Most printer paper is sold in reams, which is a pack of 500 sheets. Small offices or home users may buy a single ream, whereas businesses can purchase cases full of many reams. The largest orders may even come in reamless cases containing over 2000 sheets of paper that are not separated.

Material

While most papers will be made of wood fiber, there are other options available, such as plastic or other synthetic materials. These specialty papers can be used in specific scenarios that require certain durability or other niche uses. Recyclable or eco-friendly paper is another form of material that is quickly growing in popularity. These papers can be made of mostly recycled materials, sustainably sourced wood fibers, or biodegradable options, which can help to reduce your organization's environmental footprint. 

Brightness

While most papers will be made of wood fiber, there are other options available, such as plastic or other synthetic materials. These specialty papers can be used in specific scenarios that require certain durability or other niche uses. Recyclable or eco-friendly paper is another form of material that is quickly growing in popularity. These papers can be made of mostly recycled materials, sustainably sourced wood fibers, or biodegradable options, which can help to reduce your organization's environmental footprint. 

Coated vs. Uncoated

Glossy and matte paper can both be coated or uncoated. It is more common to find glossy coated paper, because of its use in high-end photo printing. There are three main types of paper coating - UV, varnish, and aqueous. Varnish coating is affordable, but less durable than other options and used for many standard workplace documents. UV coatings are the highest quality and thus the most expensive. This coating is used in professional-grade photo printing and many other high-level applications. Aqueous coating specializes in protecting against fingerprints and damaging marks, allowing materials to be transported more easily. Aqueous coatings are also water-based, making them the most environmentally friendly option.

Color

The most straightforward specification of paper is the color. While white and off-whites are common in the workplace, there are nearly limitless options available for different paper colors. Most of the other paper types, including glossy, matte, coated, and uncoated, can come in various color options. Color paper is great for standing out on notice boards or any occasion where your material needs to be as eye-catching as possible.

Choosing the Right Paper

Now that you know all the different types of paper and the specifications that separate them, it's time to choose the right material for you. First, think of the kind of document you wish to print and how you will need the final work to look. Then, determine the types of paper supported by your printer and find the best option that fits within both parameters. Remember that if you find a paper with a coating or specific feature you like, there may be other variations of that paper that work better with your particular printing device.

Summary

Finding the perfect type of printer paper can make all the difference in your final printed products. Glossy finishes can take photos to the next level, while coatings can add durability to flyers and other promotional materials. Multiple types of paper may work for a single print job, so make sure to check all the specifications of a ream before finalizing a purchase. Specialized paper types, like thermal options or eco-friendly materials can help to reduce costs and provide new and inventive ways to print documents. You can even find various colors of the different types of papers that can help your work stand out in any location. No matter what type of paper you end up choosing, remember to double-check that it is supported by your printing device.