Printing Terms for the Bride-to-Be, Part II

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Paper, Inks and Bleeds

Last time we talked about what is a page and how many of them you have. In this second part we’ll talk about paper basics, all the pretty colors, and why your printer might ask if your image bleeds. (It’s not as gross as it sounds, I promise.)

Look at all the pretty colors!

Look at all the pretty colors!


Let’s go back and talk a little more about paper (aka stock), okay? Paper comes in different weights, finishes, and sometimes different colors (beside the standard white and ivory/natural), though as mills react to the tighter economy, a lot of the variation is going away–especially colors. Standard copy paper is described as 20lb or 50lb offset. The slightly heavier paper you might use for a resume or other stationery is usually a 24lb or 28lb writing and often has a texture to it, like linen or laid. Offset (when describing paper*) means that it’s otherwise uncoated, writing sheets are also uncoated.

Text stocks have a significant amount of bend in them, going up to 100lb, though 70lb and 80lb are the most common. Cover stocks, on the other hand, are what you’d call card stock and also come in various weights and also in points (10pt, 12 pt, 14pt, etc.). Both text and cover paper can be uncoated or coated. Coated stocks can either be glossy or dull/matte. What the coating does is it prevents the ink from seeping so far into the paper and dulling out the color.

Paper weights are determined by how heavy a stack of 500 sheets of a certain size (it’s different for text and cover) from the mill would weigh. So the higher the number, the heavier or thicker the sheet of paper.
Points speak to a specific sheet thickness, measured in how many thousandths of an inch a sheet is thick.

Your project might use one stock throughout if you’re dealing with your invitation suite, but if you have a program or other booklet, you might want a heavier or colored stock for the cover and a lighter stock for the insides.

For a program that is all the same paper throughout, you’d request a quote for an “8-page self-cover” (or however many pages it is), but if you want that heavier stock for the cover, then it would be a “4-page plus cover“, with the understanding that a wrap-around cover will always be 4 pages. They’ll know what you mean.


If you’re going for elegant, all you might need is just some crisp black ink on a piece of white or ivory cover to get the job done. If, however, you want color(s), things get a little more specific. You’ve got two ways to approach color: spot colors or full-color process. Spot color uses specific colors as defined by the Pantone Matching System (or PMS; yes, really). If you are trying to match a specific item (like the ribbon on your dress or the color of your beloved’s eyes), PMS is the way to go. Keep in mind, though, that black is a color, too, so if you’ve got a red and black design, you’ve got a 2-color job.

By that same token, with the exception of specialized processes, white is generally not considered a color for ink purposes. In a print job, the white areas are left blank and the color of the paper shows through. If the paper you’ve chosen isn’t stark white, not only will your white spaces be something else, but the colors you’ve chosen will deepen as well.

Full-color/4-color process means CMYK printing , and it’s what you’ll want if you’re printing anything including color photographs or lots of different colors. Instead of mixing a specific color of ink at the beginning, the paper goes through 4 sets of printing plates, each laying down different strengths of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black to build the final project. In the big digital copiers at your local office supply or copy shop it’s the same process, only they use toner instead of ink.

When you call up your local printer (or fill out an online request for quote), you’ll need to know how to describe the color options you want. Now, if you’re talking about your black and red invitation with printing on only 1 side you’d describe it as “2 over zero” or write it “2/0”, which tells the printer that you’ve got two colors printing on one side and nothing on the back. That 4-color process job, on the other hand, would be “4/0” (or “4/4” if both sides printed).

With more involved jobs–again, thinking back to your program–it becomes a case of the highest common denominator. You might have a full color photograph or graphic on 1 page of your 8-page self-covering program, but the whole thing counts as 4/4 unless you are absolutely, positively sure they are going to run it as a single 8-page signature. This can be something to discuss with the printer you choose, to see if there’s a way to work it so that you save some money, but in the case of digital copiers, sometimes that means putting it through 2 different machines and you really wouldn’t save anything. Still, it never hurts to ask.

If that same sample program has a separate cover, like we discussed above, and only the cover is in color, then you would describe the job in parts. A cover with color printing on the front with nothing on the inside cover (front or back) and the “text” simply black and white would be:

a 4-page program, 1/1, plus 4/0 cover

A couple more color tips:

  • If it’s a spot color you’re after and you don’t already know the PMS number, bring something in that they can match or find someone with a Pantone guide to help you out (you cannot always go by what you see on the screen, and I’ll explain why in part 3).
  • In commercial printing it is possible to combine the two and run jobs that go through the 4-color process and then print a spot color on top of all of that, but that’s more than most people generally need.

Does It Bleed?

Sounds kinda gruesome, right?

Bleed just means that the image extends to the very edge of the paper. Or, really, that it goes off the edge of the paper.

Unlike your home printer, there is no “borderless printing” option on printing presses. They need something to hold onto on at least 1 of the edges (aka gripper). Furthermore, most of these presses run big sheets, so your invitation might be printed 4-, 6-, or 8-up to maximize the available space. Many of the online printers do gang runs (combining similar jobs into one print run), spreading out the running and maintenance costs that come with just turning on the press each time.

So you’ve got several items up on a single sheet and then they get cut down to size.

Now, these cutters are incredibly precise, but even still, it’s just not practical to print an image to size and then make sure you cut riiiiight along the edge so there’s no white border around your printed item. Instead, they’re smart and print bigger than the finished size and cut into the printed edges to avoid any borders.

Which is also why you need to know if your image bleeds, so you can set up your files to make that possible–which leads us right into Part 3 where we’ll discuss the ins and outs of setting up your files for commercial printing.

*Offset has a couple of other meanings in the print world. If something is offset from another something, it just means it’s not lining up perfectly–copiers will do this when printing multiple sets so you can easily separate the one set from another without counting individual pages. Also, if the ink hasn’t completely dried on a sheet and it’s placed on another (with or without any sort of additional pressure being applied), transfer can happen from one sheet to the other and this is called offsetting, too. It’s generally a bad thing, but it can happen on humid days or with printed pieces that have a lot of ink coverage, so jobs in those conditions sometimes take longer to avoid just that problem.