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Designing for the Hand

May 2, 2016

The average man’s hand measures 7.4 inches from heel to fingertip. A woman’s hand is slightly smaller at 6.8 inches. At roughly 2,500 per cm2 the fingertips have the highest density of nerve endings found in the human body.  A lot has been written about the way touch creates a sense of comfort, luxury and appeal with readers. Fine printing on highly-tactile uncoated paper is a powerful tool for marketers.

An often overlooked element in print design is the way a print brochure fits into the hand. In fact, the phrase “hand” is a characteristic used by designers, printers and paper experts to describe the tactility of paper. However, as paper choices have become more limited and budgets and availability more important, it is rarely a part of the discussion when designers and printers select papers.

“Hand” relates to the texture of a sheet, but also a complex mix of sensory elements that include rigidity, weight, and the relative softness or hardness of the minute cellulose fibers that stimulate the nerve endings of fingertips.  Auditory stimulation can also play a role in how paper feels. Some papers are highly starched, creating a distinctive “rattle” in the hand.

The single best way for designers to evaluate the feel of a paper is through a prototype paper dummy supplied by the printer or paper merchant.


These blank books, made from the exact paper, help evaluate the balance of a brochure format as it is held and the pages turned. Paper merchants are happy to provide side-by-side comparisons of different paper grades, finishes and weights. By holding them in the hand and paying attention to how they feel, you can evaluate the way the paper will support design.

A page will feel stiff or supple, depending on the grain direction. Designers need to know the feel of a finished book is determined by the grain direction of the full-size press sheet.

Grain direction results from the alignment of cellulose fibers in papermaking. It is less obvious on better formed papers like Monadnock, but it is still a factor to consider. Grain short pages feel stiffer.

When making dummies from sample sheets supplied by a merchant, pay attention. Drawer samples are usually 19” x 12½” and are grain short. However, if the press sheet runs grain long, it might be different in the finished book. Consult your printer and if it is a concern, have them prepare a dummy from the parent-size paper.

Besides affecting the way a page feels, grain can make it more difficult to crease and fold paper. Ask your printer for advice on preparing the design to avoid issues.

Request your Fine Printing Paper Swatchbook here.


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Using paper containing recycled fiber made carbon neutral with 100% renewable electricity results in the following impact reductions: Congratulations on the reduced environmental footprint of your project! The impact of your paper choice is equivalent to:

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Pounds of solid waste
not produced

Equivalent to: 0.4 garbage trucks of waste

BTUs of energy
not consumed

Equivalent to: powering 2 homes for a year

Pounds of wood saved

Equivalent to: 388 trees still standing

Net pounds of GHG CO2
not produced

Equivalent to: 4 cars
not driven for a year

Gallons of wastewater
not produced

Equivalent to: 0.27 Olympic swimming pools of water

Pounds of carbon emissions
not produced*

Equivalent to: Emissions produced by 15.8 barrels of oil

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