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How can one test paper to identify the direction of the grain?

I've seen books with covers warped because they were printed in the wrong direction and also hear that folds tend to tear more. How should I plan the grain direction with regards to a work and what needs to be accomplished for binding, folds, sturdiness, etc.?

I'm asking broadly, both with regards to prototyping and production. I am mainly interested in issues that can impact the final design of the piece related to both aesthetics and function/use of the piece.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this isn't so much a graphic design question as it's a production one. – Ovaryraptor Jun 6 '18 at 15:39
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    Is there actually a design question here? This doesn't seem particularly suited to Graphic design. If you were asking about paper hue (cyan/yellow) and how that and the grain affected your printed design sure but this is purely a structural question for production. Unless you are working as a printer you would have no control over this and no issues. If you had issues @Scott hit it on the head, you would contact the printer. – Ovaryraptor Jun 6 '18 at 15:42
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    I've designed watercolor-look projects to be printed onto watercolor paper; grain was an important design consideration there. – 1006a Jun 6 '18 at 16:10
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    I also recall a story of a designer who got a whole run of books back with their covers warped. The printer had decided it wasn't their fault and the designer didn't know any better. This IS valuable knowledge for graphic designers IMO. – Emilie Jun 6 '18 at 16:13
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    Okay, fair enough Emilie, I read the question as more production related that prototyping related. I, personally, feel you could clarify you are referencing prototyping and remove the print-production tag entirely if that's not the focus. Tagging it print-production... well made me think print production. Then mentioning binding and folding in the question confirmed that interpretation. – Scott Jun 6 '18 at 16:38
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I somehow agree that this is not entirely a design problem, but a production one... BUT...

Designing is knowing some production process, and in my opinion, this is important to optimize costs, which it is also a part of the design.

folds tend to tear more

This is not an issue for me. If I want something to be everlasting I would recommend synthetic paper.

covers warped because they were printed in the wrong direction

It could be the case with some types of thick paper, or some types of plastified surfaces, humidity or some other issues. But, yeap, some cases could be prevented somehow considering the fibers of the paper. But probably it is simply a poor material choice. I will address this later.


Note this. I am not sure if this a language issue (My native language is Spanish). But I do not care about grain... I care about fibers.

The difference, in my opinion, is that grain refers to the texture of the paper. A rough paper for watercolor painting has grain. But the fibers of a coated paper could not be easily spotted by touch.

So, regarding fibers I would separate several things:

  • Paper, thick paper or cardboard. I also have a limitation on the language here. By cardboard, I am referring to SBS for example, not any type of corrugated cardboard. A thick paper could also, be for example more than 300g. In the explanations, I would only refer to it as paper.

  • Type of printing machine.

  • Size

Let's see how a print fiber should be on a paper

A. An offset sheeted printer does not keep the paper totally flat like a flatbed printer.

B. It needs to manipulate a bit the paper.

C. So, the fibers need to be perpendicular to the printing direction.

enter image description here

Let us assume we need a smaller piece of paper because our project is small in size.

D. Why we just do not cut the paper and insert it in this same direction? Because inserting this paper, with the smaller side to the machine can cause the tail of the paper to move, which is a more important matter to consider than the fiber.

E. So we need to insert the paper rotated, with the fibers parallel to the print direction.

F. This can make the paper stiffer, so it does not bend when the machine needs it to bend.

enter image description here


Sometimes, depending on the 3 different variables we have, this direction of the fibers could be a real issue or not at all. Mainly the size of the paper and the thickness.


In a "practical" user based way, it is more friendly if the different papers bend nicely on a magazine (G).

Using a wrong fiber direction can make some sheets feel awkward and stiff. (H)

enter image description here


But regarding covers warping... yes, it could due to wrong fiber direction (I)

but the cases (J) and (K) have the proper fiber direction and the warping would still be an issue. This is due to poor management of the materials more than the fiber direction.

enter image description here


The last issue is regarding folding. On a tri-fold brochure you normally want the fibers to be parallel to the fold. But it is more important to avoid breaking the coating of the paper, handling the paper folding with the right speed on the folding machine.

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    "BUT..." <insert illustrated and thorough answer here> :D – Emilie Jun 6 '18 at 19:49
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You always want to go with the fiber, parallel, when going against it is perpendicular.

Grain direction is made at production where the fiber set perpendicular to rollers that create the sheet. In hand made paper grain usually don't have direction because there is nothing to push fibers in one drections. When printer set the paper in machine (usually sheet) he reverse the process(kinda) because the grain is set again perpendicular to rollers. Usually the fiber is easily visible and batch of paper have noted direction.
There are two types of "grain": The long grain is fiber that is parallel to long side of sheet. The short one is parallel to short side.

Binging, folding and any paper manipulation against the fiber will result is you breaking the fiber, those cellulose tubes. To a point of literary breaking the paper if the weight of paper is high.
For me two easiest way of determining is:

  • tear - when tearing with fiber it will be one smooth line while tearing against will always direct the force of tear to change by 90 degrees (so with the fiber)
  • fold - the fold line made against grain will always made from short lines, kinda like lightning. While folding with grain will give you long smooth line very close to each other.

Here's video showing 5 way of determining the grain direction.

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