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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. 


Big Dilemma: ‘Walmart’ Value vs. Premium Paper Impact

“Wow, this is half the price I pay for these in Germany,” said my niece Julia, who was more than excited. After a two-hour stint at Abercrombie & Fitch, she was thrilled with her purchases. And believe me, purchase she did.

If you don’t have a teenager in your family, let me explain. A&F is IT. Stylish, perfectly branded (the company’s logo is obviously visible on every one of its clothing items). And, well, the clothes are not cheap. Keep in mind we’re talking teenager here, so it was five T-shirts, three pairs of shorts, four cardigans…but, even teenagers, or especially teenagers, want to make an impression.

More than getting the job done
For the purpose of simply going to school or hanging out with friends (getting from point A to point B), an inexpensive T-shirt from Walmart will do the job. And that is exactly it. It will do the job, but will it make an impact?

It’s the same with design and print projects. If you just need to convey a point-A-to-point-B message, feel free to use an inexpensive sheet. But other projects need to do more. They need to gain trust, convey the brand and—especially in this over-communicated world of ours—demand attention.

“Allow your client’s design to have the best chance to make an impact,” says Stuart Slater, director of business development at Contemporary Graphics. “Premium papers are a vital element to enhance the design. They create visual and tactile attention.”

The grade label “Premium” doesn’t only apply to coated sheets; some uncoated and specialty papers can also fall into the “Premium” category—the Abercrombie & Fitches of the paper industry.

Granted, these papers have a slightly higher price tag, but they are made with excellent printing characteristics in mind. Premium papers have perfect formation, assuring you of minimal dot gain, and they run, run, run on press. Thus, your project literally carries a printing guarantee.

But the budget
With breathtakingly tight budgets in nearly every business sector, you, like many printers, are often put in a very tight spot. You don’t have a choice; you have to focus on one thing—getting the order any way you can. It’s a do-or-die situation.

“When it is a large job and budgets are tight, we often are working/fighting to get the job and have to get creative,” says Heather Hitchcock, account manager at Watermark Press. “Paper is usually the first thing to go, as it is the largest cost.”

But put it into perspective. “In many cases, run lengths have been significantly shortened,” adds Art Webb, account executive at Panoramic Press. “So why not use the best you can and make your best first impression when (at lower quantities) it only costs a few dollars more?”

He’s right. Jobs that used to be 10,000 run lengths have now been reduced to 2,500. What used to be hundreds of dollars more in paper costs for a premium sheet, now looks more like $80 to $90.

When all is said and done, my money is on Julia’s motto: Make an impression. Chose a paper that makes a statement…that creates attention.

Keep Julia in mind the next time you advise your clients on their paper choice.

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