How To Buy Your Stationery

It is important, especially if you plan to hire a calligrapher to hand address or customize your stationery items, signs, tags or any other item, to make sure you have the highest quality stationery.  Nibs, inks and calligraphy writing does not show its true artistic qualities on a regular office envelope.

So where do you go and what do you look for when you are picking out your stationery?  Here is a great guide to get you started!

  • High-quality stationery is not cheap!  You can find specials and deals on a variety of websites with a little research, but most cost a few hundred dollars and usually have a minimum quantity.
  • High-quality stationery is definitely noticed!  Rarely do you get a letter or a card in the mail – and when you do receive something special and high-quality you know the meaning behind it.


Weight of your paper

In general, fine business papers, printer papers and personal stationery range in weight from 20 lb. to 32 lb. The most common paper weight today is 20 lb.

The heavier the basic weight, the thicker the sheet. The thicker the sheet, the more luxurious it feels.

20 lb. Bond – this weight of paper is meant for a copy machine or typing.  It is flimsy and almost see through when you hold it up to the light.

24 lb. Bond – this weight of paper is perfect for printing documents – ones that will be seen and handled, although not ideal for calligraphy nibs and inks, it is a great quality weight for printing.

32 lb. Bond – a smooth 32 lb. bond is perfect for writing with a calligraphy pen.  It is an ideal weight for a resume, contract or any other premium document.  This is one weight of paper, especially when it is 100% cotton, that feels perfect for an invitation or letter.  Calligraphers love this paper!  This is especially perfect for envelopes.

65 lb. Cover Stock – or “card stock” – this thick paper is a great weight for place cards, thicker invitations and menus.


Paper Types – What The Paper is Made of or What The Texture is Composed of

Wove Paper – Paper with a wove, or smooth finish is one that has no texture.  If there is no finish  on the package, you can assume it has a wove finish.


Linen Paper – Linen paper looks and feels like the fine linen fabric. It has a subtle embossed texture with a crosshatch pattern that is reminiscent of a fine linen.

Laid Paper – Laid is another type of finish that emulates the look of fine hand-crafted paper. Its texture is made up of horizontal and vertical ribs known as “chain lines.” It is created using a dandy roll (wire cylinder) to impress the pattern into the paper along with the watermark at the wet end of the manufacturing process.

Parchment Paper – Parchment Paper reproduces the old-world look in a wide variety of marble-like colors. Some of the most common uses for parchment paper are certificates and menus.

Laser Paper – Laser Paper is manufactured with a super smooth finish.

Fine Paper Terminology

FINE PAPER:  A class of paper grades ranging from the most elegant 100% cotton on the high side to #1 sulphite (the best processed wood pulp grade) on the low side. This class of paper, by industry standards, is identified by the presence of a watermark.

WATERMARK:  The watermark is a sign of quality. It assures the user that the paper is a fine paper. The watermark generally will identify the manufacturer, the brand name and the amount of cotton fiber, if any, in the sheet.

DATE-CODE:  Many watermarks contain a date-code. The purpose of the date-code is to protect the integrity of the document that is printed on the paper from fraud. This is done by incorporating a special marker into the watermark.

GRADE:  Fine papers are differentiated from each other by their grade. Different grades are distinguished from each other on the basis of their content, appearance, manufacturing history, and/or their end use.

COTTON FIBER:  Cotton is one of the strongest and most durable natural fibers known to man. Papers manufactured from cotton fiber will last longer and hold up better under repeated handling and various environmental conditions than paper made from wood pulp. Generally, given reasonable care, a customer can expect one year of usable life for every 1% of cotton contained in the sheet. Typically cotton fiber papers are made of either all cotton fiber (100% cotton) or a blend of cotton and wood pulp. The most common blend is made of 25% cotton and 75% wood pulp. Other, less common blends include 50% and 75% cotton fiber, the balance of each being made up from wood pulp.


SULPHITE:  Wood pulp is processed into sulphite, which is then used to manufacture various grades of paper. It is more economical than cotton fiber however, it is also less durable and more acidic than cotton fiber. There are different grades of sulphite, depending upon how much processing has gone into making the pulp. Processing includes breaking the fiber down to very fine pieces and bleaching the natural color out of the wood to attain a high level of whiteness. The very best grade of sulphite is known as a #1 sulphite. Southworth uses only #1 sulphite in the manufacturer of its fine business paper. Of all wood pulp papers, only paper made of #1 sulphite is considered a “fine” paper and can be identified with a watermark.

ACID FREE FORMULATION:  Paper which has no acid or residual acid-producing chemicals is called “acid free”. Papers that are “acid free” will resist yellowing and disintegration longer than sheets that are not acid free. This is particularly true as the percent of wood pulp in paper relative to the amount of cotton increases, since cotton fiber papers are less likely to disintegrate or yellow than papers made with all or part wood pulp. Paper with a pH factor of “7″ or higher is considered acid free.

SUBSTANCE WEIGHT or BASIS WEIGHT:  Fine papers are manufactured in various weights, commonly 32, 24, 20, 16 and 9 (also known as onionskin) pound weights. The substance weight of fine writing paper is determined by the weight of 500 sheets of 17″ x 22″ paper before it is cut to the final 8 1/2″ x 11″ size. If the paper has been manufactured to a 20-pound specification, 500 sheets of this uncut paper will weigh 20 pounds. Four reams of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper can be cut from each of these uncut sheets. Therefore, a ream of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper will weigh 5 pounds (20 lbs. divided by four). The most common paper weight today is 20 lb. For paper that has a basis weight of 24 lb. or higher, the correct envelope is one of equal weight to the paper. The correct weight of a matching envelope for a paper of up to 20 lb. stock should be one step heavier than the paper. For example, the proper envelope to use with 20 pound paper would be an envelope made from 24 pound stock.

BOND PAPER:  The term “bond” has no actual meaning in the manufacturing process. The term comes from WW I when war bonds were printed on cotton fiber papers that were extensively watermarked. The extensive watermark was used to protect buyers from bonds sold by counterfeiters (the first safety paper). Following the war, people who wanted a good quality paper would ask for paper like that “bond” paper. Thus, the term has become associated with high quality and generally means the consumer wants to buy a fine paper product.

FINISH:  A wide-ranging term that generally refers to the final surface characteristics of a sheet after the manufacturing process is complete. The most common finishes are:

Smooth: A paper with a smooth finish is one that has no specially manufactured texture. Other terms for paper with a smooth finish include “regular” and “wove“. Oftentimes, paper with a smooth finish does not carry a finish designation. If there is no finish designation on a package of paper, you can assume it has a smooth surface.

Laid: This is a textured finish. Papers made with a laid finish are made to emulate paper as it looked when it was first invented. Laid finish consists of a horizontal textured pattern and a vertical pattern known as “chain lines”.

Linen: Linen is a textured finish applied to paper by an embossing process done after the paper has been manufactured that has the look and feel of linen fabric. Generally, a linen finish is a very subtle texture that performs well in many laser and inkjet printers.

Other: Other less common finishes include Vellum, Parchment, Eggshell, Cockle, and Antique.