If you’ve been shopping for office supplies lately, you probably have noticed that when it comes to paper, there is an absolutely dizzying array of types of paper. Which one is right for the job you want to do? It can seem like an impossible thing to figure out, but it’s not once you know what to look for.

Three features you should consider when buying paper are: the brightness, the weight, and the finish.

Brightness

As you might suspect, the brightness is a measure of how bright the paper is, or how much light it will reflect. The brighter the paper, the sharper the printed image will be. Multipurpose paper, the most common paper used in printers and copiers, generally has a brightness rating of somewhere around 90. If you are looking for paper that will give you the best, crispest and most professional looking printouts, opt for paper with a high brightness rating.

Weight

Another consideration when buying paper is the weight of it. Higher-quality paper will be heavier (thicker) and lower-quality, general use paper will be lighter. Of course, a heavier-weight paper will also be more expensive, but the resulting printed product will be of a much higher quality. Paper’s “weight” is measured in pounds, although this is not the actual weight of the package of paper. The poundage on the package refers to how much 500 sheets of that paper would weigh. Generally, for printing and copying purposes, you’ll find paper that is 20, 24, 28 and 32 pounds. For general printing, the lower end of this spectrum is fine. For projects requiring a little more of luxurious feel to the finished product, 24 or 28 pound paper is recommended. If your project includes pictures or vibrantly coloured text, opt for 28 or even 32 pound paper for best results.

Finish

The finish of a paper refers to the way the paper feels when you run your hand across it. The finish on any given kind of paper could be smooth, glossy or anything in between. Papers that are designed for inkjet printers will have a different finish than paper that is suited for a laser printer. This is because inkjet paper allows the ink to dry quickly without smudging. Multipurpose paper doesn’t offer the same kind of ink adherence for laser printers as specifically designed laser paper does. Luxury business stationery, on the other hand, features speciality linen finish for a high-end look and feel on the finished product. This kind of high end paper should be used for things that are designed to impress, such as a resume or company letterhead.

Keeping in line with the fact that many companies now are turning an environmental eye to their business practices, many paper companies now offer recycled paper. These products contain at least 30 percent recycled fibres and are not bleached with any chemicals, which other papers are to achieve their bright white appearance. These products are a fantastic, eco-friendly option for general printing but they won’t offer the bright white look you may be after for high-end printing.