A Passion For Paper

A Passion For Paper

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Passion For Paper

In this guest article, Alex Charchar from RetinArt discusses the benefits and his true passion of paper. It is a very well written article providing many reasons to make you stop and think next time you start a design. If you don’t have time now, print it out for the weekend or the ride home… I guarantee after reading this you will see a new light on paper and design.

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The idea of paper facing it’s demise is one of the dumbest ever. As is the idea of digital ink being used as a substitute for the real thing and the magazine, novel and all other published matters becoming objects of the past, pushed aside to make room for their digital counter-parts.

Why? Because paper is perfect. Paper has a feel, a smell, a look and a vibe that cannot be reproduced, no matter how many pixels you cram into a display. It has attributes that cannot be bestowed upon any other medium. It is something that enriches our lives and minds in ways most of us don’t even realise or notice. Paper is beautiful.

Paper can be Warm & Soft

Paper can be warm. Paper can be cold. If the paper you choose is of good quality and you make it work for your project, it can help set a mood and feeling in your audience before a single word is read or a fraction of an image absorbed. A good example of a high quality publication using paper in a beautiful way is Dumbo Feather, Pass It On. If you have the chance to, it is well worth picking it up as it shows how warm paper can be. It is a beautiful little publication that has developed a loving following, which I’m sure is helped by the feel of the magazine as you make your way through the pages. The beauty of Dumbo Feather begins the second you hold it in your hands. The heavy, soft, recycled stock of the front cover makes you feel comfortable. It helps set the mood for the rest of the document—you just know that what you’re about to digest was crafted by love, with the audience firmly in mind. The stock that makes the pages is also a recycled one a beautiful uncoated paper, with soy inks used to help round off the mood. It feels like a warm blanket for the stories it tells, like a gentle embrace. It just feels good, feel right.

Paper can be Cold & Sharp

Just as strong is the power paper can have when it’s cold and sharp. This is what should be avoided if you care about your content. Think of the trashy gossip mags the plague the shelves of newsagents and supermarkets. The cold, glossy, thin stock is like the popular group in high school. On the surface it’s awfully pretty and gets attention easily, but spend more than five minutes near this overly superficial gang and you want to blow your brains out. There is no substance to be found and you feel kind of dirty if you hang around it too much. There are of course beautiful glossy papers, mostly semi-gloss stocks with a slight weight to them. These feel like the kind of papers that are that soft mix of good looks and intelligence that are often used by publications, in which a high density and depth of colour is needed, such as art publications and, back to them, those gossip magazines that need to be saturated with colour in order to be noticed.


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Paper Is Perfect

Paper is, above all, one of the closest-to-perfect surfaces on which to place your design. As graphic designers, we still look at the design of posters and magazines from 30, 40, 50 years ago in awe as their beauty and elegance bounce off the page. Paper is afforded this quality by not being a platform that is engaged in a constant evolution like that of computers, televisions and all other multimedia platforms. Of course, this is probably exactly why a lot of multimedia designers love their digital mediums they can make things move and dance. Plus, there is always something new around the corner to wow us.

Digital Lack of Control

But for me, it’s the quietness of paper in its self that makes it special. It lets your words and your images live. It gives them a home, a couch upon which to sit, rather than a cage which is forever changing shape to be jailed within. A cage of glass, metal and plastic that it cannot escape. Digitally housed design is almost never going to work the same for the entire audience. Different monitors sizes, resolutions, internet connections, home-theater setups insure that the design process is a little more complicated when the whole audience is considered thoroughly. It is harder to give this entire audience the same experience—to view the content the same. Unless you’ve got the biggest screen in town, there is always someone experiencing what you are looking at better, which isn’t the way creative outputs should be experienced. It is the creator, the designer, who should be in control of how their work is seen, so the audience can give it it’s own life, instead of worrying about having the biggest monitor or loudest sound system. You shouldn’t have to do everything you can to squeeze the quality out of the work, especially with gadgets you have to fork out large sums of money for. With paper, we’re all on a level playing field.

The Difference of Paper

Print a magazine, it is always seen the same. Typeset a book, it’ll always be read the same. Read, study or flick through a publication in your favorite chair, on the toilet, on the train, at your desk, at the gym or at the library and, yup, you guessed it, it’ll be the same. This is an amazing insurance when you’re a designer. It means you know exactly how your work will be seen and you can control the way it is absorbed and processed by the audience to a much higher degree. Just because you can browse the internet on your iPhone doesn’t mean it’s going to be as enjoyable as reading the paper. Think about your audience and how they read. It is an awfully satisfying thing to crack the glue that binds a hardcover book or to crease the spine on a softcover novel. To get to the end of the newspaper and have it split by several cross-hatching folds. Paper remembers what it has been through, it leaves tracks that almost make you proud to see on your bookshelf, desk or bed-side table, rather than having hit up the same site on the 13th, 14th, 19th, 21st and 28th of March, as your internet history will tell you.

What you put on a page, stays on a page

An argument against our precious paper is that the elements that you put on a page, stay on a page. They don’t move, they don’t animate and they don’t make sounds—they aren’t interactive. Well yeah, of course that’s true. But most of the time, we turn off the audio and block the ads. And TV? The television does all our thinking for us. A good book that gets us to think is far more valuable to our minds than a box emitting light and sounds that tell us how to think, when to laugh, when to cry. Paper doesn’t need a source of power to do what it does. Once the pigments hit the fibers it is complete. Nothing more needs to be done. No power cables, no recharging, no monitors or keyboards. All you need is a little light and you got yourself all you need to enjoy your experience. And really, who says paper isn’t interactive? You pick it up, move it, fold it, smell it and, if something worth while is printed on it, it moves your mind around.


I do hope that you understand I’m being a little over the top here. Of course paper isn’t the be all and end all of delivering information and design. This is why radio, TV, the computer and the internet are what they are. They do things that could never be possible with paper. They give us continuously updated content at break-neck speeds, which is an even bigger step forward in our culture than that which Gutenberg gave us. But sometimes it’s nice to go a little slower. To spend a few hours here and there, enjoying the printed word over a couple of days, weeks or months. We can take our time with paper. If it’s on paper, it means someone thought it was worth designing, printing and shipping, which means it just might be worth looking at, might be worth spending a bit of time with. Not always, not even most of the time, but a nice portion of what is printed and designed with care, that ends up on paper, is something special in its own right. Remember that the next time you commit something to paper that it should be worth reading, worth taking note of and worth keeping. Otherwise you’re just creating more junk. Pick the right stock and don’t just use what your printer has in bulk. Pick something special. Something welcoming. Something perfect. Don’t cover it in inks, varnishes and cellos. Just pick a paper that already sings the tune you’re after and let those special inks be a rose in the pocket and nothing more.

13 thoughts on “A Passion For Paper”

  1. Hello sir! I know that you won’t read this till you get back from your trip, but thanks again for publishing my guest article, as well as your kind words in the introduction, it’s greatly appreciated

    Alex Charchars last blog post..Process, Not Product

  2. Beautiful article! I agree with Mokokoma, it does make me look at paper a different way. With everything going digital nowadays, it’s easy to overlook paper but I guess a true designer wouldn’t!

    And the glossy thin magazine paper? *shudder* The texture feels disgusting and cheap :. which is one of the reasons I don’t buy gossip magazines. Those are one of the things that should stay digital (gossip blogs, etc).

    Katys last blog post..Let’s Talk Extreme!

  3. Brilliant article! Paper is so often over looked, but is so important. Next to what people see is what they feel, if the paper feels cheap and tacky then I think no matter how great the design is it will be let down by that. We spend so much time on the design, but often when it comes to what it gets printed on comes down to the bottom line and this shouldn’t be the case.

  4. Thanks for the nice comments! I’m glad you were able to get through my article – I tend to go on a lot more than Jacob does (I only do one post a week compared to his several), so I wasn’t sure how it would go down with his audience, so thank you very much

    Lucinda – I agree completely about a good design being let down by cheap paper. There are a couple of design/illustration magazines that I get that have some beautiful design in it, but are on nasty paper. It all comes down to how much they can spare on their stock obviously, but it almost leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth, after enjoying the sweet design

    Alex Charchars last blog post..Process, Not Product

  5. Nice article Alex. Paper is an area that a lot of designers tend to overlook, in my experience, beyond the standard weights and finishes. I guess the vast majority of print jobs don’t require or budget for anything more. It’s great when a project comes along where you get to look deeper into what papers and finishes can be used.

  6. as a future designer with a specialty in printed media, this article truly reaffirms what i believe paper to be. 🙂 you describe the qualities, emotions and sheer humanity embedded in this lovely material!

    i particularly prefer recycled papers to draw on, and the smell of old books because it brings sensation and memories. and for this, i say paper will never die!

  7. Christina,
    Do research in the area you live in and particular the internet. It really is about where you live, rather than places with free samples because they will usually only send it out if they think they are going to get business from you.

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