The fine paper world has changed significantly
in the past several years. Buyouts and mergers
have resulted in a marketplace with fewer players.
Elaborate paper promotions of the 1980s and ’90s
have been replaced by scaled-back versions. The
elimination of mill reps and consolidation of sales
territories has also affected how fine paper is marketed,
bought, and sold.
On the other side of the warehouse, the world
of industrial grade paper products is largely unchanged.
Two of the most common industrial paper
products—corrugated cardboard and chipboard—are
essentially positioned and distributed the same way
they’ve always been. The use of these products in
applications typically reserved for finer grades of
paper has been steady, however, and there have even
been times when their use was arguably “in vogue.”
Used in day-to-day design projects, industrial
paper can bring an element of the unexpected, many
times in a cost-efficient way. Even so, industrial
grades have never really been aggressively marketed
to the graphic design community, and as a result the
average designer probably is not especially well versed
in nuances of the products. To use them to their best
advantage, here’s what you’ll need to know.
Chipboard, usually gray or brown in color, is made
from re-pulped paper and is traditionally used to
add stability to notepads and shrink-wrapped packages
or used for divider pads in shipping. Guidelines
for printing chipboard are similar to those for printing
Chipboard is sold by the sheet or bundle.
Common sheet sizes include 22-½ x 34-½ inches, 26
x 38 and 28-½ x 34-½. The thickness of a piece of
chipboard determines its weight, measured in points,
with 16–80-point weights being the most common.
There are many types of chipboard, including
the following (listed from least to most expensive):
1. Plain chip or tan bending chip. Made from
recycled material, plain chipboard is uncoated and
comes from the mill light gray, dark gray, and tan.
You can only specify the exact color if your quantity
is very large.
2. Double kraft. Two sheets of tan kraft with a layer
of plain chip inside. This variety is also recycled.
3. Solid kraft. Tan in color, usually virgin fiber.
4. White clay-coated newsbacks. Plain chip on
one side and a white clay coating on the other.
5. White clay-coated kraft-back. Tan kraft (virgin
fiber) on one side with a white clay coating on the
6. Solid bleached sulphate. Kraft material, white
in color all the way through. This is the highestquality
chipboard and is designed to have a smooth
Tips for working with chipboard
Know the terrain. Chipboard has a tendency to warp
slightly, parallel to the grain direction. For certain
pieces this may add to chipboard’s “handmade”
appeal. However, if a piece needs to look particularly
elegant or perfect, chipboard may not be a suitable
Cut it out. Chipboard can be die cut with a guillotine
cutter; lighter weights used in smaller quantities
can be cut with scissors or X-Acto knife.
Think heavy duty. Try using chipboard in a project
where you’d usually specify heavyweight cover
paper, e.g. brochure covers, folders, and postcards.
Test it out. If you’re designing chipboard packaging,
always get a sample of the product going into it.
Make a prototype of the structural design first and
place the product inside to test for durability.
In addition to corrugated cardboard and chipboard,
there are a variety of other commodity-grade
products that can bring an element of excitement to
a design project. Kraft paper is a strong paper product—
usually brown, made from sulfate pulp—that is
also well suited to print applications. Less common
materials to consider include coconut husk, veneer,
asparagus board, bark paper, newsprint, blueprint
paper, and more.
Corrugated board usually consists of outer flat
sheets—called liners—of puncture-resistant paper
that sandwich a layer of corrugated or fluted paper.
Corrugated is priced according to its test weight—
the weight that will crush the flutes—and sold by
the square foot. The color of the liner is determined
by the refinement level of the paper. Three colors are
readily available: bleached white is the most expensive,
mottled brown costs less, and brown kraft is
Corrugated is available in different flute sizes.
Common sizes are A, B, C, D, E, and F or microflute. (The letter designation relates to the order that
the flutes were invented, not the relative sizes.) Flute
size refers to the number of flutes per linear foot. For
example, B flute is approximately ¼ inch from the
top of one flute to the next, or 50 flutes per linear
foot. C Flute is 5/16 inch from flute to flute or 42
flutes per foot. E flute is ⅛ inch flute to flute or 90
flutes per foot.
Board thickness is an unreliable metric, due to
manufacturing variations. However, a rough guide is:
C flute is 5/32 inch thick, B flute is ⅛ inch thick, and
E flute is 1/16 inch thick.
Single-wall corrugated has a liner on only one
side, leaving the flute exposed and making it less
rigid; in fact, it can even be rolled. Double- and
triple-wall corrugated are utilized in specialized
industrial applications and are extremely durable. At
the other end of the spectrum is microflute, with a
primary use in fine printed packaging or displays.
Tips for working with corrugated
Keep the end in mind. Think ahead about what
printing method you’ll use for the project. Flexography
is commonly used to print corrugated, but it
is usually only practical for large runs and may be
best suited to designs with few fine details. Screen
printing is another alternative, especially if your
quantity is low or your design involves lots of detail.
Know which end is up. If you’re designing a 3D piece
and using a computer-aided drawing program, make
sure you are working on the correct side (inside or
outside) of the package—the dimensions will not be
identical for both sides.
Weigh which kind to use. Each weight of corrugated
will print differently. When you decide to do a project
on corrugated, ask the manufacturer or supplier
to trim out a few sheets of other weights and put
them into the print run so you can experiment for
Think small and local. For small corrugated print
runs, try your local sign shop or even a clothing
screen printer. They can often print corrugated and
may be able to do it at a lower cost than a large
printer or manufacturer.
Let the experts guide you. Bring a working prototype
of your 3D design with you to a corrugated box
manufacturer; they will usually produce a prototype
on their own CAD system and give you a die
template to follow. This will not only help ensure
that your design is structurally sound, but also that
your graphics all end up in “live” print areas on the
Keeping It Together: Binding
Traditional methods of binding such as perfect
binding or saddle stitching don’t always work artistically
or practically with industrial papers. Designers
looking for ideas on how to bind their projects often
rely on trial and error to find the right solution.
Some commercial printers or trade binderies may be
able to help, but most are simply not familiar with
unusual media, or don’t want to risk damaging their
equipment by experimenting. An answer might lie
in a trip to the hardware store or hobby shop.
Tips for binding industrial paper
Take a field trip. Think of your binding method as
an opportunity for creativity. There are many types
of nontraditional bindings with virtually unlimited
variations (see “7 Steps to Innovative Binding” in
the April/May 2005, V10N4, issue of DG). Get
ideas from hardware stores, junk stores, museum
shops, art galleries, book stores, and from related
fields such as architectural and interior design.
Size does matter. When choosing binding, consider
the depth of your project. For example, when binding
with metal hardware, such as Wire-o or Chicago
screw posts, the size of hardware should be proportioned
to the depth of the pages (meaning not just a
longer screw or post but more substantial hardware).
Know the score. Always make a prototype (or have
one made) using your chosen binding method with
actual materials. Covers and texts consisting of
heavy papers, chipboard, and corrugated don’t bend
easily and may need to be scored, depending on the
binding method you choose.
Watch the edge. Exercise care with art and copy margins.
Some binding methods may necessitate leaving
larger margins; your prototype will help you resolve
some of these issues in the early stages of the project.
“Appropriate use” is key. Keep end use of the piece in
mind. For example, it would be unwise to use sticks
or other sharp objects to bind a children’s book or to
use pointed or fragile things on an item that will go
through the mail unprotected.
Details for Distinctive
Designs, by Wilson
Harvey, $40, Rockport
Digital Printing and
by Constance Sidles,
$50, Rockport Publishers, www.quaysidepublishinggroup.com
Materials and Design:
The Art and Science
of Material Selection
in Product Design,
by Michael Ashby
and Kara Johnson,
$49.95, Butterworth-Heinemann, www.amazon.com