Grain Direction

Text by Metapaper

Choosing the right grain direction can have an enormous impact on the final print project, particularly on the way it can be bound and opened. The grain direction can also be significant for the printing process, the machine run and further processing.

But what do we actually mean when we talk about grain direction? When paper is produced, a watery solution is applied to the wet end (the beginning) of the paper machine, which consists of 98 percent water and two percent pulp fibres and auxiliary materials.

The machine transports this water-fibre mix from the wet end to the individual drying ends at high speed. When this process is finished, the paper finally shows its familiar consistency.

When the fibres hit the running paper machine they mostly align along the running direction of the machine. When further processing and binding paper and cardboard it is important to establish whether this folding and binding takes place in line or against the grain.

In the case of short grain, the short side of the sheet of paper is positioned parallel to the running direction (grain) of the machine and the long side of the paper is positioned vertically to the running direction of the machine.

The English term “short grain” is an exact description of the short side of the sheet facing the grain of the machine. “Long grain” describes exactly the opposite: Here, the long side of the paper is parallel to the running direction (grain) of the machine.  

If you would like to make an A4 brochure with adhesive binding using the paper format 32 x 46cm, short grain is the right choice. The fibres run parallel to the binding and the magazine does not block when opened. However, if you would like to produce an A5 brochure with adhesive binding you need the format 32 x 46cm in long grain. There is also a lower risk for potential damages to the fold at the back of the magazine or the book if you fold parallel to the grain. Furthermore, it is vital to choose the right approach to creasing and grooving.

We write the formats in the international style. A higher number at the beginning indicates short grain and the lower number at the beginning indicates long grain. Example: 102 x 72cm = short grain; 72 x 102cm = long grain.

As previously mentioned, the grain direction is also important for further processing and printing. In principle, both grain directions run through almost all printing units. However, we always recommend that you discuss the entire process with your printing partner.

For the production of packaging, long grain is more significant than short grain. Since folding takes place in line with and also against the grain, papers with a higher content of long fibres are produced for this purpose. They are more expensive, but  fold cracking does not occur as frequently. For packaging, the running direction of the machine during further processing and finishing is more important, for example for die-cutting or stamping and embossing. Most machine runs are better with long grain.

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