Choosing the Right Paper for Books and Booklets

When it comes to publishing books and booklets, one of the most crucial decisions you’ll face is choosing the right paper stock. It’s not just about how it looks; the paper you choose can have an impact on the reader’s experience, the durability of your publication and even its environmental impact.

In the UK, known for its attention to detail and high standards in the publishing industry, this decision becomes more crucial. Here in the UK we measure paper weight using GSM (grams per square meter), a standard that ensures accuracy and quality in printing. This article aims to provide guidance on navigating the complexities of selecting the right paper for your books and booklets while considering the preferences and requirements of the UK market. From understanding GSM to exploring benefits, like silk finishes and lamination, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make a choice that takes your publication to new heights.

Table of Contents:

Understanding Paper Weight and Quality

The Significance of GSM in Paper Quality

GSM, or grams per square meter, is the metric used to measure the weight and thickness of paper in the UK. It’s a key factor that impacts not just the feel and durability of the paper but also its opacity and how it handles ink. Generally, the higher the GSM, the thicker and more substantial the paper feels. For books and booklets, this can range from lightweight, almost newspaper-like quality to thick, luxurious pages.

Choosing the Right GSM for Your Publication

Lightweight Papers (60-100 GSM): Ideal for novels or text-heavy books where portability and cost-effectiveness are priorities. These papers are easier to carry and less expensive to print, but they might not be the best choice for image-rich content as they can show through on the other side.

Medium Weight Papers (120-170 GSM): Perfect for standard booklets, magazines, catalogs, and textbooks. These papers offer a balance between durability and cost. They are sturdy enough to withstand frequent handling and have better opacity for double-sided printing.

Heavyweight Papers (200-350 GSM): Suited for premium publications like photo books or art portfolios where image quality and paper feel are paramount. They offer excellent opacity and a luxurious feel but can increase the weight and cost of the publication.

Choosing the right GSM is a balancing act between the purpose of your book, its longevity, and your budget. A novel might do well with a lighter GSM, ensuring it’s easy to carry and cost-effective, whereas a high-end coffee table book would benefit from a heavier, more opulent paper stock.

Key Takeaway: 

GSM (grams per square meter) is crucial in determining paper weight and quality. Higher GSM means thicker, more durable paper, but also higher costs. Choose GSM based on the balance between the book’s purpose, durability, and budget.

Types of Paper Stock

Coated vs. Uncoated Paper

Coated Paper: This type of paper has a coating (usually of clay) that provides a smooth surface. Ideal for projects requiring high image clarity and sharpness, it comes in different finishes:

  • Gloss: Known for its shiny, reflective surface, glossy paper is perfect for photographic and image-heavy content, making colours appear more vibrant and details sharper.
  • Silk: Silk paper strikes a balance between glossy and matte finishes. It offers a soft sheen that enhances colours and sharpness but with substantially less glare than glossy paper. Silk is an excellent choice for both text and images, providing a luxurious feel without the high shine of gloss.

Uncoated Paper: Without any coating, uncoated paper offers a natural, textured feel. It’s easier to write on, making it a popular choice for workbooks, manuals, and traditional novels. While it doesn’t provide the same colour intensity as coated paper, it offers a classic, elegant look.

The Impact of Different Paper Stocks on Your Publication

  • Coated Papers (Gloss and Silk): They are best for high-end marketing materials, photo books, magazines, and art catalogues where visual impact is key. The coating allows for more precise and vivid colour reproduction but can add to the cost.
  • Uncoated Papers: More suited for novels, journals, and educational materials. They provide a more organic and readable surface, ideal for lengthy reading sessions.

The choice between coated and uncoated, and within the coated category, between glossy and silk, largely depends on the content of your book and the impression you want to make on the reader. Silk paper, in particular, is a versatile and popular choice in the UK, offering a luxurious feel without compromising on readability and print quality.

The Role of Lamination in Book Covers

Understanding Lamination

Lamination involves applying a thin plastic film over the cover of a book, which not only enhances its appearance but also adds a layer of protection. In the UK, where books often face varied weather and environmental conditions, lamination can be particularly beneficial.

Types of Lamination

Gloss Lamination: Adds a high-gloss finish that makes colours pop and adds vibrancy to the cover. It’s excellent for attracting attention, particularly in retail settings.

Silk Lamination: Offers a more subtle sheen than gloss. Silk lamination is perfect for a sophisticated, upscale look, enhancing the cover’s colours and design without the high reflectivity of gloss.

Matt Lamination: Possibly the most popular lamination choice. Matt Lamination adds a smooth texture to the printed surface. Ideal for making perfect bound book covers more durable and tactile.

Soft Touch: Soft Touch lamination is perfect for a upscale sales brochures, as the velvety texture provides an expensive feel to any publication.

Benefits of Lamination

Durability: Laminated covers are more resistant to wear and tear, spills, and fading. This is particularly important for books that are handled frequently, such as textbooks, school diaries or cookbooks.

Aesthetic Appeal: Lamination can elevate the perceived value of a book, making it stand out on shelves. The choice between different lamination options can be tailored to the book’s design and target audience.

Considerations for Lamination

While lamination adds to the durability and appeal of book covers, it also increases the production cost. It’s essential to weigh the benefits against the budget constraints, especially for large print runs.

Here at Flexpress, we would always recommend laminating the cover of your publication. This not only adds aesthetic appeal to your finished product, it also helps to ensure your books are as durable as they can be. It also serves to protect against any unwanted cracking along the spine of your books, as cracking is a natural characteristic of material that has been folded.

Key Takeaway: 

Lamination adds durability and aesthetic appeal to book covers. It protects against wear and tear, making it ideal for frequently handled books. However it is important to consider the balance between the added cost and the value it brings to your publication.

Environmental Considerations

All paper used at Flexpress is FSC accredited.

Embracing Eco-Friendly Paper Options

In today’s environmentally conscious market, selecting eco-friendly paper stock is not just a choice but a responsibility. In the UK, where sustainability is increasingly prioritized, using environmentally friendly paper can significantly impact your book’s market appeal. The two main-options for environmentally conscious paper are:

  • Recycled Paper: Made from post-consumer waste, recycled paper reduces the demand for virgin fibers, conserving natural resources and reducing energy consumption in production.
  • FSC Certified Paper: The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification ensures that the paper comes from responsibly managed forests. Choosing FSC certified paper supports sustainable forest management practices.

Balancing Quality with Sustainability

While eco-friendly papers are an excellent choice for reducing environmental impact, they come with their own set of considerations:

  • Texture and Colour Variations: Recycled papers can vary in texture and colour, offering a unique look but potentially impacting print consistency.
  • Cost Implications: Eco-friendly options, especially FSC certified papers, can sometimes be more expensive. However, they can also appeal to environmentally conscious readers, potentially opening up new market segments.

The Role of Printers and Publishers in Sustainability

Choosing an eco-friendly paper is just one aspect of sustainability. Printers and publishers in the UK are increasingly adopting sustainable practices, from using vegetable-based inks to optimizing printing processes for minimal waste. Here at Flexpress, we are helping to reduce our carbon footprint by recycling all of our paper waste. We also operate an electric delivery vehicle, and have solar panels on our roof.

You can take comfort in knowing that any product ordered on our website is always printed on paper that is either recycled or comes from sustainably managed forests. For more information about how the paper and print industries are doing their bit to help the environment, be sure to visit for some great myth busting facts.

Cost Factors and Budgeting

Impact of Paper Stock on Printing Costs

The type of paper you choose for your book or booklet can significantly influence the overall printing costs. Here’s how different factors play into budgeting:

Paper Weight and Quality: Higher GSM papers are typically more expensive. While they offer better quality and durability, they can increase the cost, especially for larger print runs.

Coated vs. Uncoated Paper: Coated papers, particularly glossy and silk, may cost more due to their specialized finishes. However, they offer enhanced visual appeal, which might justify the expense for certain types of publications.

Lamination: Adding a laminated cover increases the cost but also adds to the durability and aesthetic value of the book. It’s a cost-effective way to make a book stand out, especially for retail sales.

Budgeting for Your Project

Understanding Your Audience: If your book is aimed at a niche market that values quality, investing in higher-quality paper and finishes like silk lamination might be worthwhile. For mass-market paperbacks, a more cost-effective approach might be more suitable.

Self-Cover: In the printing industry, ‘Self-Cover’ refers to booklets where the pages and the cover are printed all on the same material. This usually offers a significant saving in cost when compared to booklets with a heavier cover. Self-Cover Booklets are more suitable for advertising materials, community newsletters, and information booklets.

‘Self-Cover’ refers to a publication where the cover and inner pages share the same type of paper.

Quantity vs. Quality: Larger print runs can reduce the cost per unit, but it’s crucial to balance quantity with quality. High-quality paper and finishes can make a book more appealing and justify a higher retail price.

Eco-friendly Options: While recycled or FSC certified papers can be more expensive, they can also attract a more environmentally conscious audience. They represent not just a cost but an investment in brand values and market positioning.

Balancing these factors requires a thorough understanding of your target market and the goals of your publication. It’s about finding the sweet spot where quality, sustainability, and budget align.

Choosing Paper for Different Book Genres

Tailoring Paper Choice to Genre

The genre of your book plays a significant role in determining the appropriate paper stock. Each genre has its unique requirements and audience expectations, which should guide your paper selection.

  • Novels and Fiction: Typically, these are printed on lighter, uncoated paper (around 80-90 GSM) to make them easy to handle and cost-effective, especially for longer novels. The tactile feel of uncoated paper also adds to the reading experience. Usually, these sort of publications are Perfect Bound or Case Bound.
  • Textbooks and Educational Materials: Durability is key here. A slightly heavier GSM (around 100-130 GSM), possibly uncoated for ease of writing notes, is a good choice. Silk finishes can also be used for covers to add a professional look. These sort of books tend to either be Perfect Bound or Stapled.
  • Art Books and Photo Books: High-quality, heavy GSM paper (170 GSM and above) with coated finishes, especially silk, is ideal for showcasing images. Gloss lamination on covers can protect these often-handled books while enhancing the vibrancy of photographs.
  • Cookbooks and Manuals: These often benefit from coated paper for ease of cleaning and durability. A medium GSM (around 130-150 GSM) with a silk finish can provide the perfect balance between usability and quality. These sort of books tend to be Wire-o Bound, Spiral Bound or Perfect Bound.
  • Marketing Materials: Brochures and Booklets tend to be printed on medium-weight GSM paper. They often however benefit from a heavier cover to enhance durability. A popular combination for example would be 170GSM Silk pages, with a 350GSM Silk, Laminated cover.

Understanding the specific needs and expectations of your book’s genre will help you make the right paper stock choice, ensuring that your book not only looks and feels great but also resonates with your intended audience.


Selecting the right paper stock for your books and booklets is a crucial decision that can significantly impact the success of your publication. In the UK, where quality and presentation are highly valued, understanding the nuances of paper weight, the differences between coated and uncoated papers, and the benefits of lamination can make all the difference. While environmental considerations and cost factors play a significant role, tailoring your choice to the specific genre of your book is essential. By carefully considering these aspects, you can ensure that your publication not only meets but exceeds expectations, standing out in a competitive market.

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