Know Your Onions … Paper Essentials by expert guest Julie Brightley from Fenner Paper

If you’re a creative, and especially if you’re working in the greeting card industry, I’d put money on it that you have a thing about paper!  I’m pretty sure it was my love of art materials, and in particular paper, that was responsible for igniting my passion for painting and drawing as a young a child.  I still have a thing about paper if I’m honest and hopefully this isn’t a weird confession but something that resonates with many of you as well!


Photo by Pixabay

Whether it’s a weird passion or a professional interest if, I’m sure you’ll be interested in this week’s “Know your Onions” post all about paper and board.  Julie Brightley from Fenner Paper, has provided an informative guide about the main component of our greeting cards.  If you have ever wanted to know at what point paper is classified as board or why you should know your short grain from your long grain, then read on to learn more about the paper manufacturing process and some key terms you should acquaint yourself with.  

First of all, a little introduction and background to Julie, who has quite a pedigree in the card industry, having worked for both publishers and suppliers… 

Julie started her career in cards back in 92’ working for Statics, who were well known for publishing Purple Ronnie.  Her brother, Mike Gray, was the South west Rep whilst she was his Merchandiser.  According to Julie this was a brilliant time but sadly it all ended when Athena went under and central buying and fulfilment became the way forward.  This however opened new doors for Julie and she became the first Paperlink Rep in the South West. After moving to Birmingham for love (a big mistake according to Julie) she joined Hammond and Gower and then The Art Group. 

A mid life crisis led her to purchasing a round the world plane ticket and she set off backpacking from Bali, flying home from Vancouver 6 months later, when she did a brief stint at Carte Blanche before leaving the industry altogether for a few years. In 2011 she became a Mum to a beautiful baby girl and a year later joined Enveco Envelopes.  Envelopes being described by her then new boss, John Jones as “The dirty side of the industry!” 

Now working for the paper company Fenner, still on the supplier side of the industry, Julie says … . 

“I love working on the supply story, so interesting to learn about all the processes needed to get a design to market, I think this is the fascinating side. The machinery hasn’t changed that much, for the most part it’s still very mechanical. The very skilled and experienced operators rarely get to see the finished product which is a shame as they play a crucial role in creating it.  I love seeing cards on the shelves in my local shops in Malvern, knowing the artist, the board and even the name of the envelope colour. I have no artistic skills whatsoever but cards are most definitely in my blood. My brother is still very much part of the industry too as he’s now a Distributor over in Northern Ireland of cards, gifts and all things Irish”

Here’s Julie’s quick guide to Paper essentials …

PAPER MAKING

Pulp 

The majority of paper is made from wood pulp which contains a mixture of hard and soft wood fibres. Pulp is made from logs which are ‘chipped’ and processed mechanically and chemically before being bleached. These fibres are then ‘pressed’ on a continuous machine which forms sheets of pulp which look like crude sheets of thick card. This is then collected into half tonne bales ready to be used for paper making. 

Bales of Pulp

The Paper Making Process 

A paper machine is large, typically 4 metres wide and over 100 metres long. Bales of refined pulp are tipped into a ‘Hydropulper’ which breaks the pulp up by adding huge amounts of water and movement. After several more refining stages the ‘stock’, now 99% water and 1% fibre, is pumped to the start of the paper machine called the Headbox. The stock is sprayed onto a fast moving mesh which due to gravity allows most of the water to fall through the mesh. The remaining fibres are ‘matted’ together on the mesh forming a knitted ‘web’ of interlocked fibres (if you tear a sheet of paper you can see the fibres). The web of paper which is still about 60% moisture passes through the press section which compacts the fibres and removes more moisture before entering the drying section which finally reduces moisture by use of steam heated drying cylinders. The web is then wound into large rolls at the end of the machine which can weigh 30 – 100 tonnes.

Pulp being mixed in Hydropulper

Paper converting 

The large rolls are then slit into smaller rolls which can either be used for web offset printing, or cut into sheets.

Dried paper web is wound onto larger rolls

TYPES OF PAPER

Uncoated 

Uncoated papers come in a wide variety of finishes and qualities. They are often described as ‘Offset’ or ‘Cartridge’ papers. These are typically rougher and used for more general uses such as envelopes and greetings cards. Laser papers are generally smoother and designed to work well for office printing. Uncoated papers have become increasingly popular with publishers. They are tactile and offer a slightly warmer print finish but are generally appropriate for most finishes such as foiling or embossing.

Coated 

It is worth remembering that all papers begin life as uncoated. Coated papers are produced by applying a coating mixture of china clay, chalk and latex. This can be done either on the paper machine (at the end of the drying process) or on a coating machine. Applying a coating has the effect of making a sheet smoother and more receptive to the ink resulting in a technically superior printing surface. ‘Matt’ coated papers are produced by the application of the coating which is scraped (Licked) off using a very sharp blade, leaving a smooth matt finish. Coated boards can give a crisper more vibrant finish, especially if colour is essential to your cards.. 

TEXTURES AND FINISHES

There are a variety of different finishes which can be applied to paper both during the papermaking process and after. The characteristics of ‘Laid’ papers (with narrow linear patterns, commonly used for stationery) and ‘felt marked’ papers (textured like artists’ paper) are produced during the paper making process. Embossed papers that look like leather or linen are produced after the papermaking process with the pattern being pressed into the paper by a heavy steel roller.

PAPER CHARACTERISTICS

All papers are manufactured to a given specification. Usually this will involve a substance (weight), a thickness (bulk), and a shade or colour.  See these most common specification terms below:

COMMON PAPER TERMS

GSM 

This is the abbreviated term for ‘Grams per Square Metre’. In the metric system, the weight or substance is expressed as gsm or gm2. It is calculated by the physical weight of one sheet of paper measuring 1 x 1 metre. In reality, no one actually folds down a sheet of paper that large to weigh it, so it is generally measured using a scaled down measure of 10 x 10cm. 

Long and short grain 

Long grain’ is the term given to paper where the fibres run parallel to the long edge of the sheet. ‘Short grain’ means the fibres run parallel to the short edge of the sheet. For greetings cards it’s important that the card is folded against the grain, this will maximise your cards rigidity. Take a sheet of paper and bend it length ways and then width ways, notice that it’s easier to bend in one direction?

Bulk 

The thickness or calliper of a sheet of paper is often described as ‘bulk’. It is measured using a micro meter and expressed in microns.

Paper or Board 

Substances up to 170gsm are generally classified as ‘paper’ weights. Weights above 170gsm are usually classed as ‘board’.

Colour / Shade 

Most paper made is white. Coloured paper is made by adding dies to the pulp and (on some paper machines) later in the paper making process. When paper is made it is constantly monitored to give a consistent shade and colour.


Photo by Pixabay

Many thanks to Julie Brightley of Fenner Paper for providing this quick guide to paper essentials.

If you have any questions about paper or the greeting card industry, Julie is happy to help. With her background in different sectors of the industry, she has a wealth of knowledge and is happy to try and answer questions on any subject.  Even if she doesn’t have the answers, she says she’s …

“I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of experienced industry people so I can just point a finger in the right direction if necessary”. 

You can get in touch with Julie on:

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