How to Evaluate Paper

By Ted Witt, CalSave Administrator

There’s a reason some papers cost more. Good paper will save you money in the long run. Absent a professional lab, purchasing agents and print shop managers are often left to their own devices to evaluate paper suitable for digital printing.

The following questions and tests will help evaluators determine if a case, pallet, or truckload of paper is a suitable medium to run through their digital printers and copiers. Use these criteria to compare newly offered copy paper to sheets currently running well in your machines.

Box Packaging

  • The carton is strapped
  • The carton is free of damage to its corners
  • The bottom of the carton is dry to the touch
  • The carton is not dusty or dirty upon delivery

Ream Packaging

  • The wrapping is made of material sufficient to prevent moisture from reaching the paper
  • The glue from the wrapping does not find its way onto the stock


  • The spec sheet from the manufacture lists nominal moisture content not exceeding 4.5%
  • The sheets feel dry to the touch
  • When leaving the packaging as a group, the sheets exhibit no sign of wave or warping
  • Having been unpackaged, the ream of paper shows no curl or wave after five minutes exposed to the environment (assumes the print shop humidity is controlled between 35 and 55%)
  • The paper has no mildew smell

Paper Curl

  • After exiting a machine that uses a fuser – a copier or a laser jet printer – the sheets exhibit no curl.
  • Does the manufacturer’s spec sheet indicate that the paper is made with “curl control,” a desirable feature?

Paper Grain

  • Does the grain of each sheet run long, that is, parallel to the 11-inch edge?

To evaluate for grain, tear the sheet lengthwise from top to bottom. If the grain is “long,” the sheet will tear reasonably straight. Contrast this by making a tear across the smaller side where the grain should be short; the tear will be considerably exaggerated.

Fold the paper down the middle lengthwise. The fold should crease easily if the grain is long. In portrait mode, try folding the paper from top to bottom. If the grain is long, this crease should be more challenging to make.


  • Check the manufacturer’s spec sheet to see if the paper meets the nominal value of 150 on the Sheffield scale
  • By touch, the newly considered paper passes a manual touch test on both sides

In the absence of a spec sheet, find someone with sensitive, uncalloused fingers. Run fingers diagonally across the entire surface of the paper, front and back. Compare the feel to your current working paper. If the paper is too smooth, the ream is likely to cause problems feeding through the machine. If the surface is too rough, it will not accept toner evenly.

Fiber Formation

  • Are the fibers in the paper evenly distributed?

Compare your standard paper with the new alternative by holding each sheet up against a window or lightbox. Examine the paper for fallow spots or thin areas of fiber. A sheet with uneven distribution of fibers will have more “show through” and may not accept toner evenly.


  • Does the brightness of the paper match your standard stock?

Even given a standard specification such as 92 bright, two brands of paper may be unequal. Compare each piece against a dark background such as black construction paper or a dark desk.


  • Does the paper have sufficient opacity to prevent “show through” on commonly printed jobs?

Print something on both sides of the paper, preferably text and a halftone image (avoid solids). Does one side interfere with the other in reading?


  • Does the product have minimal dust?

Compare your standard stock to the new stock for dust. Unwrap a sample of both. Over a piece of black construction paper, fan all four sides of the ream, five times over the dark background. Use a credit card to gather any dust in a small area and compare the volume of dust released by both products.

Performance in Machine

  • After having been properly conditioned, does the paper run through the machine without jamming?
  • Does the toner adhere to the paper evenly without cracking or spotting?
  • After output, the paper has not curled and lies flat


Buyers looking for a piggybackable contract for copy paper may want to consider AEPA’s office supply contract with Quill who documents some of the benefits of its AEPA contract on a tailored website for school and local government buyers.


Ted Witt is the CalSave cooperative purchasing program administrator in California, where contracts are locally awarded by the Monterey County Office of Education. He is also a board member with the Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies. He currently sits as oversight chair for contracts related to technology and also landscaping equipment and supplies.

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