Printing Tech 101 – Does Paper Quality Really Matter?


For most CIOs and IT professionals, choosing the right printer is all about hardware specifications and cost-per-page efficiency. Although these are important metrics to keep in mind, paper quality is rarely given the importance it deserves.

Many organizations have a policy of buying the cheapest possible printer paper available. This decision is rooted in the idea that unless purchasing glossy card stock paper for specialty use, all copy paper is the same. However, this is not true.

Paper quality truly matters. Making the right choice when purchasing paper for your office’s print fleet can mean the difference between years of smooth, jam-free operation and difficult, expensive service calls becoming a frustrating routine for the whole office.

Why Isn’t Copy Paper Standardized?

In today’s highly regulated, highly standardized business landscape, it seems odd that paper quality is not uniform. While paper sizes are standardized, the actual material processes that create paper are not. This will not change for the foreseeable future.

The reason is simple. Paper is not a manufactured product like telephone cabling and plastic packaging. Paper is a processed natural material made from wood pulp derived from trees, which are living things. At the small scale that printer engineers operate on when designing components like vacuum feeders and rollers, the minute, natural differences between wood pulp fibers can create complicated problems inside a high-performance printer.

Every region in the world makes its own paper from its own most convenient and sustainable wood type. Eucalyptus in Spain, Southern Pine in Kentucky, Douglas Fir in Washington and Oregon. Each of these woods creates a paper that is unique at the microscopic level. But printers and multifunction devices need to accommodate them all.

While paperweight is standardized in terms of grams per square meter (gsm), this measurement does not speak to its individual fiber geometry or coating. Paper manufacturers design their products to meet specific goals. As an administrator of an office that relies on consistent print quality, you need to choose a paper vendor whose goals are aligned with your corporate values.

Shop for Printer Paper Based On Your Hardware

Most copy paper manufacturers do not specify what trees they use to make their products. For the most part, you do not need to make your office’s purchasing decision based on this aspect. A more important consideration is what the paper is designed for and how meticulously it was processed for that purpose.

The vast majority of office printers either use laser or inkjet technology to print. This makes it useful to categorize paper by its intended usage:

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• Laser printer paper is rigid and smooth. It is designed to handle the high temperatures needed to bind toner to the paper.

Inkjet printer paper is softer and more absorptive than laser printer paper. Many paper mills coat their inkjet printer paper with substances that improve ink absorption and image clarity.

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If you use inkjet printer paper in a laser printer, you are likely to produce smeared, unclear images far below your quality expectations. Furthermore, the absorptive substances coating the inkjet paper can turn into a residue that shortens the life of the printer or damages it outright.

Paper Processing Shortcuts Can Damage Equipment and Create Jams

Reputable paper mills hold themselves to the highest standards of paper manufacture. Cost-cutting paper mills looking to undercut their competitors will often take shortcuts in order to save on resources and produce a cheaper product.

The papermaking process involves many steps, starting with the reduction of wood to wood pulp and culminating in an 8-step Fourdrinier machine process. As an industry with a 5,000-year history, papermaking is a highly engineered discipline. There is very little that can be left out of the process without deeply compromising the quality of the finished product.

Yet some paper mills attempt to compromise quality, driven by overwhelming demand for cheap paper. However, sub-par paper damages printing equipment by leaving microscopic paper dust particles inside the precision-engineered printer interior. This residue collects and eventually clogs the internal components of the printer, leading to unexpected paper jams and poorly registered images that defy calibration.

High-quality paper resists curling when exposed to heat, is dense enough to respond to vacuum-fed printer actuators, is neither too rough or too slick and has just the right amount of moisture (between 4.5% and 6%, depending on the printing process used). Each sheet needs to have some friction between itself and the next – but not too much.

The number of mechanical attributes printing paper needs to have in order to guarantee top-quality results is surprisingly high. Add in visual factors like opacity and brightness, and it’s clear that paper can play a huge role in your office’s day-to-day success.

Our team at Ford can help you choose the right printer and printer consumables for your office. Speak with our team of experts about your needs today.
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