Creating Your Own Paper Sample Collection

September 28, 2023 ·Updated January 17, 2024

For printing my own books, I had originally bought a couple of paper sample books (a reference I always buy when I’m planning on using an online print shop). However, I quickly found that these didn’t quite have all the information I needed to determine which papers would be best suited for my print projects. So, I ordered over 100 paper samples from both Mohawk Paper and Neenah Paper and let them sit in my workshop for a couple months while I mulled on what information missing from the paper sample books. Then, I finally reached a point in my many book projects where I needed to order paper which meant I could no longer avoid the looming stack of paper samples.

Click here to jump to the final test prints.

The Problem With Paper Swatchbooks

When using online print services, like Smartpress or Blurb, the first thing I always do is order a sample book or kit. So, of course, my first thought when I wanted to order paper for printing was to order a swatchbook (or two) to help me compare papers. What I didn’t realize was that having a swatchbook only helped me get a feel for the paper thickness and color, but I had no idea how the paper would look with text and graphics printed on them because, well, I was the printer.

Print services send you sample kits, not just sample paper, to show you how text and graphics look when printed on the given paper, which can greatly influence which paper you choose for a particular project. Additionally, print services already have profiles and processes set up for each of their papers to get the best quality print (reproduction of black and white and color from digital to physical using ink). But, because I was doing the printing myself, I had to set up my own profiles for my own machine for each type of paper. Therefore, it became a necessity to buy sample sheets and running off my own print tests.

You may not be able to buy sample sheets for every paper you could print on, so swatchbooks are still useful. Here are the ones I ordered:

The Problem With Existing Test Prints

So, now I was left with the problem of figuring out what exactly to print on each sheet of paper. I started by just looking at any existing test prints and came across many resources for calibrating the printer. This is because when printing fine art photography at home, it is common practice to print off several different test prints with known color values so that you can make sure that what you’re seeing on your screen is what your going to get on paper. Below are several good resources for learning how to do this with free, high-quality test prints:

Initially I thought I’d just be able to use one of the calibration prints and call it a day. Unfortunately, though, these were still missing information. I was not printing single photographs on photography paper, but each sheet plain sheet of paper would contain a mix of text, colored elements, photographs and scanned documents. With this discovery, I was left with creating my own print tests.

Requirements for My Print Test

I had one goal when designing my test prints: to be able to confidently and easily select and order the right paper for my project. I didn’t want to get caught in an evaluate, reorder (and spend more money/time) loop because I ordered the wrong paper. After cutting up a couple of calibration tests I settled on a list of requirements for my own print tests. These requirements fell into three categories: color capability, text legibility, and other utility features.

Ability to evaluate the color capabilities of the paper.

Most of my books are about 50% photos, so using some of the calibration color tests are still useful for evaluating papers for my books. The questions I wanted answered were:

Ability to evaluate text legibility.

These are books after all, and one critical missing component in the calibration prints was a broad test of text sizes and blocks of text.

Include utility features.

These are features that the sample books and kits have, like having the samples include name, color and weight printed on them for reordering.

My Print Tests for Book Printing on EPSON ET-5500

After about 20 iterations I finally came up with a print test that met all my requirements above. The final cards I created are 6”x12” and can fit three tests on a 12”x18” and a 12.5”x19”.

I’m no printing expert and color spaces is still quite new to me, so you may decide to change things up a bit when printing on your own. I did what I could to make my prints look as good as I thought they could get - good color reproduction, no bleeding or over saturation of the paper, etc.

How to use the test prints

Get the test prints on my Etsy shop.

The PDF for the tests is 3 pages: the first page has one test at the top, the second has the test in the middle and the third has the test at the bottom. The idea is that you print off the first test using only the first page, check the print quality, tweak settings and the run the same page through the printer, this time printing the second page only. This way you can use a single sheet for three tests.

Printer settings vary for paper each paper, especially how the tests are scaled for paper of different sizes. To get uniform test prints I always scale the tests to 97%.

Final Thoughts

Since I began writing this article I have already used my paper sample collection to select paper for several projects and it has made a world of a difference. There’s is nothing like being able to compare 3 or 4 different types of paper from different brands with the same lighting. Being able to feel the thickness and see how the paper is able to produce black and colored ink. And then once the paper comes in being able to refer back to the same test print for the final print settings. Now I can move on to actually printing and binding instead of being stuck on picking paper.

Other Resources

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