Dev & Design

Commercial Printing: Understand the Basics of Print Quality

Written by Guest Author

When it comes to creating eye-catching, attention-grabbling print materials, quite often the emphasis is placed on graphic design. How should the information be arranged? What images are available? What fonts best capture the essence of a brand?

Perhaps equally as important is the print quality of these pieces. For every print job, every choice you make ultimately affects the overall look and feel. To assist you in advising your clients and making smarter choices before going to press, let’s discuss four important aspects of wholesale printing: process, paper stock budget and timing. These four factors can significantly contribute to the print quality of your finished piece.


1. Process

Process involves the techniques and methods used to print your project. Today there are a wide variety of printing processes available on the market. The print processes you choose will affect the overall look and feel of the finished product:


Typically the more colors you choose for wholesale trade or commercial printing, the more expensive the price. One-color and two-color printing processes are printing techniques that restrict the number of colors in order to help lower the overall printing costs. While some designers may scoff at using such a limited color palette, I’ve seen some really beautiful examples of two-color print jobs.

Full-Color Flat

Perhaps the most popular printing process is full-color flat. This technique prints full-color images with a four-color process using four ink colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). The four inks are placed on the paper in layers of dots that, when combined, create the illusion of specific colors. The CMYK printing model works by partially or completely masking colors on a lighter (usually white) background. The ink reduces the light that would otherwise be reflected.


Raised Ink

Raised print (also known as thermography) is a great way to stand out in a crowd by adding definition or texture to your printed piece. This printing technique involves fusing a wet ink image with a resinous powder using heat or infrared radiation to produce a raised impression.

Offset Spot Color

In offset printing, a spot color is printed with a single ink, as opposed to process color where four ink colors (CMYK) are used to produce a color. This process is often used to maintain the color fidelity or accuracy of the color throughout the printing process, particularly in situations that require large areas to be printed using a single color.


Foils are a unique and classy way to add interest and dimension to your print piece. Foil stamping equipment uses heat to apply a thin layer of metal foil to a printed sheet or piece of paper. Foils are available in a wide variety of colors and can be used in various combinations.

Special Inks

When an exact color match is  critical — such as when reproducing a logo or branding materials — special inks can be used to help ensure optimal color precision.


Engraving is a great way to add clarity, color purity and depth to a print piece. By applying ink onto paper under intense pressure, this special commercial printing process gives images a distinctive look and feel that cannot be achieved through flat printing.


When only the best will do, consider embossing and debossing. These two printing techniques can be used to imprint images into paper and a variety of other materials. In embossing, an image is pressed into the material so that it is raised from the surface. Debossing is the opposite of embossing — the area around the image is pressed in so that the image is pushed down rather than raised.

Keep in mind that more than one print process can be used on the same print piece. By mixing and matching, you can create signature pieces that are interesting, captivating and one of a kind.

2. Paper Stock

Another important aspect of print quality is choosing the right paper stock. Selecting the right weight, composition and finish can have a dramatic impact on the final product.

Writing Papers

Writing papers are offered in a variety of whites and off-whites, with textures ranging from smooth to embossed. While generally used for letterhead, they can also be used for advertising flyers, reports or any other project where a lightweight paper is appropriate.

Text and Cover Papers

What makes text different from cover papers is primarily their weight, otherwise these two paper stocks are very similar. Text papers are typically used for the inside pages of books, brochures, annual reports and direct mail pieces, but may also be used for advertising flyers, letterhead and envelopes.

Cover papers are heavier than text sheets and provide extra bulk and protection. Ideal for brochure covers, annual reports and folders — other uses include business cards, calendars, menus, invitations and announcements.

Card Stock and Cover Stock

Card stock and cover stocks are paper stocks that are thicker and more durable than writing papers. They are popular choices for posters and presentations, catalogue covers, business cards, postcards and other materials that require higher durability.

Card stock tends to be white or simple colored. It may be coated or uncoated and is often not of the superior quality that you find in cover stocks. The grain direction is not as specific as most cover stocks.

Cover stocks are specialty papers that typically match the color, texture, coating and composition of lighter writing papers and are recommended for projects that call for coordinating pieces (ie, folders, letterhead and envelopes).

3. Budget

How much can you spend? A key factor of any print project is budget. When it comes to pricing print jobs, one size does not fit all. Every commercial printer has its own techniques, processes and pricing structure. Some charge for backside printing, but offer free shipping. Others may offer the exact opposite. It is important to do your homework and request some bids in order to find the right solution.

On a limited budget, printing marketing materials such as flyers, sales sheets and brochures on glossy paper with full-color flat imprint typically offers the best bang for the buck. However, don’t let that stop you from inquiring about more elaborate processes. Some printers offer raised printing for the same price as full color and can make expensive processes such as foil stamping surprisingly affordable.

4. Timing

What does timing have to do with the quality of your print project? Practically everything! While technology makes it possible to turn around last-minute jobs faster than every before, expedited service often costs more — and can be fairly costly if you make an error or mistake. Allowing enough time to plan, prepare, and proof your print project is highly recommended, particularly for complicated or sophisticated projects.


Finding the right combination of processes, paper quality, cost and timing is an art form in itself — but can be critical to your print project’s success. Many wholesale printers provide pricing calculators that you can help you compare prices. Be sure to keep track of your results for future orders.

If you have any questions about print quality or would like to share your own advice on this topic, please post your comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

Paula Brewers is member of the Independent Reseller Marketing team for Navitor, a wholesale printing company that specializes in digital, true spot and artisan printing processes. Paula writes articles for the Navitor blog and other social mediums Navitor on Twitter:@navitor Paula’s Google+ profile

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1 Comment

  • First we will go through choosing the right commercial printing company for you. You should have many choices outright. There should be a couple of those services in your area, and of course you can also go online to look for an online commercial printing service. There are a few key things you should remember when choosing a commercial printer.
    boston commercial printing

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