Production Basics: Talking about Papergrades

What do the printer or paper merchant mean when they ask if you would like a paper that is "Number 1 or Number 2?"

Bottom line, paper grades don't mean as much as they use to, let's face it, with budget cuts, you buy paper according to cost. 

However, if for some reason, you overhear a conversation like this (which would be very rare...) if a production person talks about paper in terms of the particular sheet as being premium, number “one” or number “two.” They are describing general categories of coated papers not necessarily talking about the “brightness” of a sheet (how white the paper looks to the naked eye).

In general terms, when you can convince them to spend the money, you always want to stay with a number 1 (or premium) sheet, the brightness, quality and consistency of these papers, in most cases, will give you the best looking finished piece. In today’s world of papers, technology has improved to the point where at one time you would never consider a number 2 grade of paper for your project. Mills are now offering number 2 grades that should be given the chance to be reviewed. 

This is why it’s important to handle and look at paper samples, and samples of the stock that has already been printed upon. Always compare your paper samples, on brightness, but also compare the whiteness, holdout, opacity, smoothness, finish, and paper content to select which paper is right for your job.

Check with your printer. Find out if they have a “house” stock. Sometimes a bigger printer can get some great buys when they buy in bulk… and it may actually cost less than if you picked some other lower grade paper! Lastly, your paper choice should be picked based on what is best suited to your design and budget.

Standard grade for all paper finishes:

Quality Brightness
Premium 87.9 and above
Number 1 85.0 to 87.9
Number 2 83.0 to 84.9
Number 3 79.0 to 82.9
Number 4 73.0 to 78.9
Number 5 72.9 and below

Old Skool Production Manager's Job Description

I don't know how many print producers still exist out there in agency land, however, on the oft chance they still exist (most have morphed into integrated producers or left the business) here is a typical print production manager job description.

Production Manager
Supervise assigned client's print production projects.


  • Coordinates production activity between project, account and creative groups during job development.
  • Maintains contact with various printing vendors (Sheet, Digital, Web, Form, In-Line, Promotional Material, Dimensional)
  • Maintains detailed project records, from spec sheets to estimates to purchase orders.
  • Supplies specifications for vendor estimates.
  • Reconcile all assigned project billing.
  • Reviews and supervises all production materials generated from their assigned projects.
  • Acts as advisor for the creative and account members of the team during creative development to meet the budgetary requirements of the production process.
  • Maintains ownership of all projects in their group.
  • Issues POs on a timely basis.
  • Checks all vendor invoices against both POs and estimates before signing off. Signs off on bills in a timely basis.
  • Maintains and keeps up-to-date on all aspects for printing, production and postal requirements.
  • Advise their team of the best formats and efficiencies.
  • Gives creative solutions.
  • Provides quotes to Account Staff/Clients.
  • Requesting quotes from suppliers.
  • Negotiating prices with suppliers.
  • Scheduling of print jobs between suppliers.
  • Order any production related materials.
  • Press approvals.
  • Help coordinate with the studio, traffic managers, and suppliers to ensure all deadlines are met.
  • Proofs incoming materials for conformance to specifications and monitors delivery schedules; maintains control of projects.
  • Maintains an adequate proofs and collateral file system.
  • Adheres to the agency's operational and financial policies and practices.
  • To develop a close working relationship with the Creative Department conferring with Art Directors so as to obtain artwork suitable for good reproduction, iron out any problems, and receive specific instructions.
  • To suggest to Art Directors revisions in finished art that might facilitate production or reduce its costs, or improve final reproduction in specific media.