Paper Mills and the Swatchbook Tease

“Congratulations: Permission to access the [XYZ] Website has been granted!”

No, this message is not from a special members-only top 100 speakeasy; this is what my designer friend Tiffany received when trying to get swatchbooks from a paper mill. And no, this was not some European fancy boutique mill, either.

Tiffany had heard that the mill had a new swatchbook and meandered over to their Website. But she did not get very far before she was asked to register (we are talking username and password here) to view the mill’s offerings.

Not seeing any harm in this, Tiffany registered…and waited. And waited. And waited. It took the mill 48 hours to approve her registration and invite her to order samples…

In an age where we all expect instant access and overnight delivery, 48 hours is a medium-size eternity. But wait, it gets better…

More than 10 days later, Tiffany received two of the four swatchbooks she requested. Adding insult to injury, she had to contact the mill again to find out that the remaining two books were on back order. “We will ship as soon as stock replenishes.”

Now I know that most mills do an amazing job. They happily send out their swatchbooks and promotions in a timely manner, but…as we all know, it is the few bad apples that give any industry a crummy reputation.

You simply cannot do a decent job if you do not have the right tools. Printing an eight-color job on a two-color press—sure it can be done, but it is cumbersome. Yet, here we are asking creatives to print without the right tools (read: swatchbook). How are they supposed to make their paper choice?

I am realistic enough to know that no paper mill can visit every designer in the nation. Perfectly reasonable, but at least give them a chance to see what you have on offer without asking them to jump through numerous hoops and wait, and wait, and…

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. 

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  • Ferko Goldinger

    Dear Sabine –
    I have noticed the same thing. I am happy to share with you & your devoted readers: the Appleton Coated website offers swatchbooks (Utopia & Curious) as well as other promotions at no charge, no vetting, no approvals, and with free shipping to boot! Visit and go to the Promotions & Events Page.