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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. 


Taking a Shine to Metallics

As marketing brochures go, it was definitely on the smaller side. But what the 6x6˝ catalog lacked in size, it more than made up for in attention-getting sparkle.

Shiny kitchen vignettes showcased equally shiny Krups appliances. Nice indeed, but the ultimate eye-catching factor was a subtle, surprising shimmer—a shimmer achieved by printing the brochure with four-color process on a light silver metallic sheet—that created a third dimension in shine and the ultimate showstopper for this piece.

Creating the Glamour
Contrary to what the name might suggest, there is no metal used in creating metallic papers.

“The three components that contribute to the difference in the look and feel of metallic papers are the coating, the pigments and the base papers,” explains Jenni Birkholz, fine papers product specialist at Curious Collection. “A careful blend of these three key components is needed to provide an elegant, eye-pleasing metallic surface.”

The main ingredient in the coating of metallic papers is mica, an organic mineral similar to sand. Uncoated sheets are covered with a layer of finely powdered mica crystals. Applied to white or colored stock, the colorless ground crystals give the paper its unique sparkle. The look is almost metallic (hence the name).

“We use a tone-on-tone coating, with subtle pigments to match the base shade of the paper, enhancing the color vibrancy of each sheet,” continues Birkholz. “To some papers, we also add a variety of color pigments to give a subtle shimmer and contrast to the base paper color. This works especially well on bold, dark shades like Curious Metallics Violette.”

So what differentiates metallic papers from pearlescent and iridescent papers?

You Say Pearlescent

The difference between these three terms is somewhat subjective. Similar to what we see in the satin, silk and velvet descriptions for coated papers, there is no specific definition. Meaning, each mill can name its paper any way it desires.

Welcome to the clear-cut world of printing terminology! ;-))

Try as I might, I could not find a clear differentiation. The formulas for these pearlescent and iridescent sheets are often proprietary. In some cases, the mica crystals are very finely ground for a subtle, even sheen; but they can also be applied more overtly on the paper surface (think of the gilding on an ornate picture frame).

Sometimes it’s all about tone on tone for achieving a super-saturated color. At other times, the mill can opt for a shimmer that creates a contrasting hue. For example a brown-based paper with a golden mica coating ends up having an overall bronze look.

Without Much To-Do
Since many clients are on tighter budgets these days and feel they have to forgo some of the high-end finishing techniques, it’s good to keep metallic, iridescent and pearlescent papers in mind. No matter what these sparkling finishes are called, they add a unique look and an extra dimension without much extra to-do.

Yes, they might be a bit more expensive than your average white sheet, but they are perfect for short runs. Of the more than 250 metallic sheets we currently list in our PaperSpecs paper database, more than 100 are suitable for digital production presses. So that marketing piece can shine no matter which press platform its’s printed on.

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