I was scrolling through my facebook feed when a post from a design friend stopped me in my tracks. “Dear paper companies – cease and desist showing designers premium / unique papers that when we actually go to use them – you inform us right before press you cannot fulfill an order. I am so over print production.” I cringed, this is the exact opposite reaction every paper company wants a designer to have about their products. As someone who has lived and breathed paper for the better part of my career, I have to wonder why the disconnect between availability of premium papers and designers still happens?
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SPEC
Availability of premium printing papers comes down to one thing – sales. In the world of premium papers, there are three parts to the supply chain: paper mill (manufacturer)>paper merchant (distributor)>commercial printer (paper buyer). Designers, do you see anything missing from the chain? Sure the paper mills spend tons of money marketing to designers, especially when launching new products. The print samples are amazing, and are great tools for inspiring and educating creatives. The problem is the demand for papers used on those design projects is not accurately captured because the designer typically is not the one buying the paper – the printer is.
What’s wrong with that? Well, when it comes time for the printer to purchase the paper for your job, they turn to the local paper merchant. The local merchant holds all power when it comes to paper availability and pricing. The merchant invests a lot of money in inventory (paper) to stock in their warehouse. Having worked for a few merchants as a paper rep, I know they like two things when it comes to inventory: fast turns (sell quickly) and profitability.
Most of the papers designers want to use on projects tend to be the premium papers (think grades like Superfine, Classic Crest, McCoy, anything by French Paper, etc.). While these papers are certainly profitable for the merchant, they don’t sell as fast as coated/uncoated white commodity papers. Walk through any merchant’s warehouse and you will see the majority is going to be coated #3/imports, copy paper and white uncoated offset papers. I get it, but this is where the problem starts. The designer asks the printer to quote a project using paper they’ve specified. The printer sources it from the merchant they have a relationship with. What’s the big deal? Not every merchant is franchised to sell every paper mill’s products – it varies by market. So if the printer you use has a relationship with a merchant who doesn’t stock the paper you want, the printer has two choices: buy the paper the designer has chosen from the merchant who carries it and pay a higher price (because they don’t normally buy from that merchant), or substitute another sheet that is easier to get or costs less or both. This sounds reasonable but beware, offering to substitute a sheet like Endurance for U1X or McCoy is not a comparable substitution. In the end, the merchant re-orders inventory based on their actual sales – not what was specified.
Hence the frustration by the designer. They see all these “fancy, dancy” papers and want to use them. The mills want designers to be inspired by the papers and print promotions and its why they make such beautiful papers. What they don’t want is for designers to feel so frustrated by trying to actually use these papers that they end up loathing print production. It sucks for both the designer and mill. The best way to avoid this scenario: find a paper resource that will work with you ahead of time. By paper resource I mean just that – someone who specializes in paper: this could be the merchant paper rep or the mill rep.
I love my print reps but honestly they don’t know paper like a paper rep does, and I don’t even mean the paper characteristics like opacity, brightness, smoothness, or the myriad of available finishes and their nuances. And while the mill rep is a good resource, they only know what they sell not everything that is available or stocked locally. Really, your local merchant rep is the most valuable paper resource a designer can have. They know what’s stocked – meaning small quantities (like by the sheet). This is really a time saver when working on projects like business cards, letterhead, folders, anything requiring an envelope – in general anything else requiring a small amount. The problem is the merchant rep is compensated by getting the paper order and since most designers don’t actually buy the paper (the printer does), unless you are vigilant about making sure the printer buys from your paper rep, chances are you won’t have a merchant paper rep calling on you for long. This is a problem for many designers – especially freelancers, smaller studios or even those 50 miles outside of a major city (although I get pleas for help from designers from cities like NYC, San Francisco and Chicago – so go figure).
So start with your local paper rep if you are lucky enough to have one calling on you. If not, its important to develop an arsenal of paper resources: subscribe to the paper mills newsletters (they are full of good info), follow them on social media, read their blog posts, visit their websites. Most of the premium mills sell their paper and envelopes online now – French, Mohawk, Neenah, Reich all have e-commerce sites. Yes, they may be a bit more costly than what your printer might be able to source them for, but when you’re talking about 250 sheets, the difference is nominal. And in case you didn’t know, Parse & Parcel offers free paper consultation – just drop us a note. We’ll not only help you get the samples you need, but can help you source the paper you want locally – we’ve got connections. I help a ton of my former design customers find the papers they’re looking for. Sometimes it’s just easier to go to that one trusted resource and let them help you find what you want.
If you’re like me, you value your time and its probably better spent creating than searching for paper availability. Let the pros help narrow the choices for you, then order samples of what you like so you can touch, feel and test the papers to make sure they’re just right.