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Sabine Lenz

Making the Grade

By Sabine Lenz

About Sabine

Sabine Lenz is the founder of, the first online paper database and community specifically designed for paper specifiers.

Growing up in Germany, Sabine started her design career in Frankfurt, before moving to Australia and then the United States. She has worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, her list of clients included Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Deutsche Bank, IBM and KPMG.

Seeing designers struggle worldwide to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Sabine to create PaperSpecs, an independent and comprehensive Web-based paper database and weekly e-newsletter. She is also a speaker on paper issues and the paper industry. Some refer to her lovingly as the "paper queen" who combines her passion for this wonderful substrate called paper with a hands-on approach to sharing her knowledge. 


50 Shades of Teal, but not the Right One

It didn’t seem like such an unusual request when a printer friend of mine asked, “Can you help me find a matching color?

“I checked with my paper merchants, but they couldn’t help. If we can get this paper, we have a client for life,” this printer explained.

Well, I do like a good challenge!

One of the benefits of keeping a paper database of more than 4,300 papers up to date is that we have ample paper samples at our fingertips. So it was easy to narrow down my search electronically and then compare the exact shade of teal from the letterhead sample my friend sent to our swatchbooks.

Off I went merrily comparing.

What started out as a “this-won’t-take-long” project turned into my own, personal mission. I couldn’t have been more determined had he said, “Go ahead. I double dog dare ya!”

None of the papers I pulled was an exact match (and believe me, pull I did). The teal-ish color was just a bit more green than most. And the letterhead sample was just a tad smoother than the wove options that were at least a close color match.

I hate to admit it, but I finally had to declare defeat. In all likelihood, the original sheet had been discontinued a while ago, and even our backup books couldn’t help anymore.

If All Else Fails…

This might have been the end of my story; and if the need had been for 5,000 sheets of 8.5x11˝ paper, it probably would have been. But this was a big client with a huge order, and I didn’t want to let my friend down. It was a make-or-break situation.

Luckily, there was still one more option to explore.

Custom-made Order

Even my printer friend was not aware of this option. So, listen up—most mills offer a custom-making program. 

Do you need a specific weight that isn’t offered? Or, as in my case, need a color just a shade different from the one that is regularly stocked? Or how about those completely-off-the-charts colors? (You remember, the one that needed to match the blue eye of the client’s beloved Shepherd?) All that is available to you…at a minimum quantity, of course.

How to Custom Order

Ideally, you have a sample of what you would like the mill to match, at least in the color area. The mill takes your desired specs, runs the numbers, and looks at its production schedule. Within 24 hours, it will be able to tell you if your specific custom request is doable, the cost and turnaround time.

The usual turnaround time is two to six weeks. This will greatly depend on the mill’s existing production schedule and how and where your order can be fit into this normally snug timetable.

Minimum Order

The mill goes out of its way to produce this special sheet for you, so—naturally—it has to be worth the time and effort. Ten to 20 sheets will not do. ;-)

At Mohawk, the average custom order has to be around 10,000 to 20,000 pounds. The details (basis weight, texture, special watermarks, etc.) of your custom paper play a huge role.

Here’s an average based on Neenah Paper’s requirements:

• If you’re looking for a special sheet size to maximize your print surface, the average custom order runs at about 2,000 pounds, which amounts to about 8,000 sheets of 23x35˝ for an 80-lb. Cover substrate.

• If you’re looking for a special weight, the minimum order size goes up to 5,000 pounds.

• If you’re looking for a special shade of grey (or teal in our case), you have to order around 10,000 pounds.

Not Your Run of the Mill

You’ll be surprised (well, I was) to hear how many of these special requests mills actually fulfill. Every mill I spoke to gets several custom requests a month, and in the case of Neenah Paper, that amounts to 25 percent of its paper production.

Granted, custom orders might not be for your average print job. But for that special client—that client who will be forever grateful if you can only find that teal-colored sheet they have been using for more than 10 year—for that client and its business, custom making might just be the Holy Grail to earning their undying loyalty.

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