I get this question a lot. The answer depends on the following things:
- The printer you own
- The button machine you own
- The graphics you intend to print
- Your personal preferences
Before I get into the specifics of each one of these, first I need to point out that many of problems that people often attribute to the paper is actually a printer profile issue. If your prints are coming out too dark or too red or something like that, your paper is probably fine – but you’re using the wrong color profile. Please see my post about ICC Color Profiles for information on that.
1. Your printer. If you are using an inkjet printer, you must use coated inkjet papers. Inkjet printers can produce very high resolution (lots of little dots in a small space) almost entirely because of the paper. The coating on inkjet paper does not allow the ink to spread. The ink is contained on the paper in a tiny pocket creating a nice sharp ink dot.
If you use non-coated paper or paper that does not explicitly state that it is designed for inkjet printers, you will know right away, because your print will look like complete ca ca. We’re not talking just too dark, or too red – but an all out blurry, strange colored, cloudy, ugly mess.
Okay, so now you know you must use coated inkjet paper in your inkjet printer. Is there a specific brand or style of paper that is better than another? In general it is best to use the brand of paper distributed by your printer manufacturer. You’ll have less of a color management headache if you stick with the brand recommended by your printer manufacturer. Also the thickness of the paper is important and is explained in further detail in the Your Button Machine section below.
If you are using a laser printer, you can get the same DPI prints from standard office paper as you can from glossy paper, so the other factors below might be of greater interest to laser users.
2. Your Button Machine. There are two types of button machines available from ButtonMakers.net the Standard or Paper machine and the Photo machine. The Photo machines are only available in the 3 and 3.5 inch sizes at this time. Only the machines specifically labeled as PHOTO machines are photo, the rest are all standard.
If you have a standard machine, we recommend using paper that is 5 mil in thickness or less. If you use paper that is too thick, it’ll be really hard to press and you’ll get lots of buttons with torn mylar (see the red circle).
If you have a photo machine, you can use pretty thick paper stock without a problem. We generally say up to 16 mil for the photo machines. I’ve used heavyweight matte, thick coated glossy paper, dye sub prints, and even silver prints from the photo lab in the Photo button machines all with great success. If you’ve come across a paper stock that’s too thick for the Photo machines, please let me know about it.
There is a lot of paper out there that has the pounds printed instead of the mils. But this is not an accurate measurement for the actual thickness of the paper, because depending on the materials used one pound of paper can be thicker than another. In general though, inkjet “presentation” papers are good, but glossy and heavyweight papers are usually too thick.
3. Your Graphics. It is easier to get away with doing solid color graphics on thinner paper. If you’re doing mostly graphics based buttons (as opposed to photos) then a laser printer is great, cost effective, and fast. But if you’re doing a lot of really detailed graphics, photo realism, or actual photographs you may require more resolution than your average consumer grade laser printer can produce and you’re better off using a nice glossy inkjet paper in an inkjet printer. Photos on a laser printer tend to look a little better on coated gloss papers as well.
4. Your preference. As with most things in life, this paper question comes down to personal choice. Once you get your color figured out and you’ve come to a conclusion on the laser vs. inkjet debate for your specific needs, then it all comes down to whether you like the look, feel, drying time, and density of one finish over another.
I personally use Epson Presentation Paper Matte #3 when I am making photo buttons. I use a regular button machine to make my photo buttons. I don’t use the PHOTO button machine with super thick paper, because I find it more cost effective to use the thinner paper. If I were a sports photographer, however, and had 200 different photos to make buttons out of, I would probably opt for a PHOTO machine and I would get my prints done at a lab.
I use regular old office paper for all my other buttons that are graphic based (as opposed to photographic). These I print on a Konica Minolta Magicolor 2300 laser printer. This model has been discontinued, but there are less expensive and higher resolution color laser printers coming on the market. If you’re going to be doing custom buttons for a living, or ANY buttons other than photo buttons a decent laser printer is highly recommended. And once again, the paper is mostly irrelevant when using a laser printer.