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Dieline's Guide and Dictionary Of Paper Terms

by Bill McCool on 05/01/2023 | 8 Minute Read

Welcome to the fascinating world of paper selection! Selecting the right paper for a packaging project can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be. Dieline and Monadnock Paper Mills are excited to launch a regular series that will provide an overview of the paper selection and printing processes. Together, we'll give designers a mini-boot camp on what they need to know to choose the right paper for their packaging project, using Monadnock's glossary of all things paper.


So, you want to know everything about paper.

Well, a glossary would make for a pretty nifty way to throw yourself into the deep end. And while this is no hefty tome like the Encyclopedia Britannica or Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it’s a much-needed kicking-off point and aid for creatives of all stripes. Packaging designers, in particular, work with paper all the time, but even the most seasoned vet can find paper selection challenging. After all, you’ve given blood, sweat, and tears for your finished design, and now you need to ensure it pops on the shelf. 

“First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that the choice of paper has a significant impact on the overall design and functionality of the packaging," says Lisa Berghaus, director of marketing communications at Monadnock Paper Mills. “Each paper type has its unique look, feel, and behavior, so it's essential to experience the materials before making a selection. Understanding the nuances of paper selection and printing processes is critical for brand owners and packaging designers to make informed decisions that deliver the best outcomes for their packaging projects.”


Sure, there are seemingly infinite shades of white and certain shades work better with particular graphics. And then, when you’re talking packaging, fiber and filler content become mission critical when you start talking dielines and folding properties—the kinds of details that can truly make or break a project. “You really want to choose papers engineered for their intended use,” Lisa says. “Packaging board has certain performance characteristics, like folding, stiffness, thickness, or caliper. Traditional text and cover papers are run to weight and finish, not caliper, so you may get variations in thickness that are unacceptable for your project. You also may experience cracking on the folds, which will only be amplified with solid or heavy ink coverage.”

So what does that all mean? You have to be able to talk the talk when it comes to not only choosing the right paper. That’s why we have this handy resource for you to add to your design toolbelt, a Dieline-approved lexicon you can easily reach for the next time you need to talk to a printer. Because that relationship with your suppliers is crucial. "You have a vision; how the package looks on the shelf; how the package feels in your hands; how delightfully easy it is to open," Lisa says. "There are a lot of variables to consider when specifying your paper stock. But you need to collaborate with your printer to ensure you have the right partner and paper for your project."

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Essentially, you can’t go it alone.

All design is collaborative, and yes, it takes a village. Selecting the precise papers means understanding how they will print, whether it's conventional or UV Offset, Inkjet, Latex, or HP Indigo. The paper stock must be compatible with print technology. Find a partner with a wealth of knowledge on all things paper, someone who can provide ample swatchbooks, shelf samples, print promotions, and commercial samples to help in your specification process.


Of course, we need to mention that designers should always start the client conversation with sustainability. From the first concept meeting, creatives need to consider recyclability, recycled materials, and have a conversation around environmental impacts, particularly when it comes to a brand’s overall sustainability goals (and be on the lookout for a special all-paper sustainability glossary in the coming months).

So, without further ado, what you’ve all been waiting for—a glossary of helpful printing terms that will give you a leg up for your next packaging project. 

Basic Size: The customary sheet size used to establish the basis weight of a ream (500 sheets) of a given grade of paper. Basic size varies by grade: Book is 25” x 38” while Cover is 20” x 26”.

Basis Weight: The weight in pounds, of a ream (500 sheets) of a paper cut to a given standard (basic size). Each paper grade such as cover, bond, or book has its own basic sheet size, which determines its basis weight.

Brightness: The reflectivity of pulp, paper, or paperboard for specified blue light measured under standardized conditions on a particular instrument designed and calibrated for this purpose. If a paper lacks brightness, it will absorb too much light, and little light will reflect back through the ink.


Caliper: The thickness of paper, often characterized in mils (thousandths of an inch), often referred to as points.

C1S: Paper that is coated on one side only; C2S – coated on both sides.

Cellulose Fiber: Main component of the walls of all plant cells; cellulose gives plants their structural support and makes plant material fibrous.

Cleaner: Equipment used to remove impurities in the slurry before it makes it to the paper machine.

Embossed: A raised pattern or design mechanically pressed into the paper surface.

Felts: A wide loop of fabric that draws moisture from the web of paper and supports the paper as it travels through the press section of the paper machine.

Finish – The aesthetic and physical characteristics of the surface of paper, often characterized by its smoothness.

  • Super Vellum: A very toothy rough surface
  • Super Smooth: An extremely smooth surface achieved with calendaring.

Formation: the orientation and distribution of fiber in paper. Uniform distribution results in superior formation.

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Grain: The machine direction of paper. The direction in which most fibers lie in a sheet of paper.

Hydropulper: Equipment used to reconstitute and blend fiber, water, pigments and chemistry preparing the “slurry” for the paper machine.

M Weight: The weight in pounds of 1000 sheets of paper.

Machine Direction: The direction of paper parallel with the direction of movement on the paper machine. It is also called the grain direction. The direction at right angles to the machine direction is called the cross-machine direction or simply cross direction.

Opacity: The property of a sheet that obstructs the passage of light and prevents seeing through the sheet objects on the opposite side. This property is especially important for printing papers.

Point: One-thousandth of an inch. It is used in expressing the thickness of paper or board.

Press: In a paper machine a pair of rolls between which the paper web is passed for one of the following reasons: (1) Water removal at the Wet press; (2) Smoothing and leveling of the sheet surface at the Smoothing press; (3) Application of surface treatments to the sheet at the Size Press.


Press Section: A series of rolls pressing against each other through which the paper travels, along with felts, that removes additional moisture/water from the paper web.

Pulper: A machine designed to break up, defiber, and disperse dry pulps, mill process broke, commercial waste papers, or other fibrous materials into slush form preparatory to further processing and conversion into paper or paperboard. It normally consists of a tank or chest with suitable agitation to accomplish the dispersion with a minimum consumption of power. It may also be used for blending various materials with pulp. 

Refiner: A machine used to rub, macerate, bruise, and cut fibrous material, usually cellulose, in water suspension to convert the raw fiber into a form suitable for formation into a web or desired characteristics on a paper machine. The many types of refiners differ in size and design features but most can be classified as either jordans or disk refiners. Beaters are not usually referred to as refiners although in a broad sense they serve a similar function.

Sheeter / Winder: Equipment to further convert paper into sheets or rolls.


Sheffield: A test used to measure the smoothness of paper by measuring the rate of airflow over the surface of the sheet. The lower the number, the smoother the sheet.

Size: Any material used in the internal sizing or surface sizing of paper and paperboard. Typical sizes are rosin, glue, gelatin, starch, modified celluloses, synthetic resins, lattices, and waxes.

Smoothness: The property of a surface determined by the degree to which it is free of irregularities. In printing, the smoothness of the paper in the printing nip is important and is referred to as printing smoothness. Smoothness improves as the paper is compressed and locally deformed under mechanical pressure.

Stiffness: The ability to resist deformation under stress. Resistance to a force causing the specimen to bend is termed bending or flexural stiffness.

Tearing Resistance: The force required to tear a specimen under standardized conditions. Two methods of measurement are in common use: (1) Internal tearing resistance, wherein the edge of the specimen is cut before the actual test; and (2) Edge tearing resistance.

Tensile Strength: The maximum tensile stress developed in a specimen before rupture under prescribed conditions. It is usually expressed as force per unit width of the specimen.

Tooth: Refers to a paper’s surface roughness.

Two-Sidedness: The property of having appreciable difference in color or texture between the wire and felt sides. The term is commonly applied to dyed papers, where the felt side is usually darker. It may occur in paper prepared from a mixed furnish of long- and short-fibered stock, the latter being more evident on the felt side, or in filled sheets, where more pigment is retained on the felt side.

Uniformity: The quality of being uniform in some property, such as color, finish, or especially formation and evenness of fiber distribution.

Vellum Finish: An uncoated paper finish that is fairly even but not quite as even as a smooth finish.


Virgin Stock: Pulp that has not previously been used in the papermaking process. It is to be distinguished from secondary stock.

Web: The sheet of paper coming from the paper machine in its full width or from a roll of paper in any converting operation.

Weight: The relative weight of paper.

Wire: On a Fourdrinier paper machine, the slurry is deposited onto a wire, a circular fabric mesh conveyor belt in the “forming” section of the paper machine. This is where water is drained and surface characteristics are established for a paper web.

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