Now that many paper merchants have eliminated Spec Rep jobs, it seems to me that there’s an information vacuum.

How do graphic designers, production managers, and printers get the paper information they need? How do you get inspired? Stay current?

One entrepreneur who has stepped in to fill these needs is Sabine Lenz, founder of I’ve been curious about PaperSpecs, so I recently asked Sabine to tell me more about her company’s services.

NP: How did you become interested in creating the PaperSpecs web site and service?

sabine_bwSL: I’ve been a graphic designer for more than 15 years. It was one of those infamous afternoons when I spec’d a beautiful paper for a client’s campaign, only to find out from my printer that the stock had been discontinued six months before.

I was so frustrated—the waste of time, and subsequently the waste of money. How did I know if any of the other swatchbooks we had in our swatch cabinet were not just as outdated? And I remember thinking: Someone has to do something about this!

That was about 10 years ago. I patiently waited for someone to step up to the plate and then realized it might have to be me to start this crazy and exciting endeavor.

NP: What do you most want people to know about PaperSpecs?

SL: When we first started, we got the, “Well, I can’t spec a paper from a computer screen. I have to see it and feel it.” And that is what PaperSpecs is all about. Our database helps you to find the perfect paper for your project. We currently feature more than 4,500 papers from over 70 mills.

We do not sell paper, so we provide the most objective information. You can search by color, weight, eco certification, recycled content, brand, mill … you name it.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few finalists, you can go back to your own sample drawer and meet these papers up close and in person. Or you can order a swatchbook or sample sheets directly through our Web site. All part of the service 😉

NP: Who are your customers?

SL: Our customers or members include designers, print buyers and printers. We even have a large number of paper merchants who rely on our information.

NP: What do your members get from PaperSpecs that they can’t already get from the various paper mill Web sites like Neenah, French or Mohawk?

SL: We like to say we are an “all-in-one online swatchbook.” Our members love the fact that we have all the information from over 70 mills in one cohesive, searchable way. A one-stop shop so to speak.

NP: Can you give me an example of how I would use PaperSpecs for project planning?

Let’s say, for instance, that I’m planning to print 2,000 8-page, 5.5 x 8.5 inch, self-cover booklets on French Durotone, butcher, extra-white, 80 lb. text, and planned to print locally.

SL: Well, in this case, you’ve already specified a sheet so we can help you to verify that the sheet is still available in the size, weight and color you selected. If you’re not yet sure which sheet is right for you, or you’re looking for alternatives, that’s where we can help you most.

Say you only know that you need a white 80 lb. text sheet and want it to have some specific recycled content. Within seconds, the PaperSpecs database can show you which papers are available that meet your criteria. Your search has been narrowed so you can more efficiently select the best paper for your project.

We frequently hear from our members that their printer told them a sheet they spec’d is a “mill item” and that there is a long delivery time and that they have to order a larger amount than they need. This usually happens when a merchant does not carry the stock, in which case we can tell you who in your area actually carries the sheet and will have it readily available for you.

NP: How much does it cost to become a PaperSpecs member?

SL: A month-to-month membership runs at $19.95, and we offer an $80 discount for a yearly membership.

NP: What do your subscribers tell you they like best about PaperSpecs?

SL: The top 3 features are:

  • Members can order swatchbooks, mill promotions and samples through us. As you mentioned earlier, designers and print buyers have fewer spec reps and sales reps to help them. PaperSpecs provides easy, reliable access to all these vital tools.
  • Our information is as up-to-date as possible. We don’t rely on the mills to get in touch with us, but make a point to regularly contact them to see if anything has changed.
  • Our service is available 24/7 and provides access to papers from over 70 mills in one spot. This is a huge time saver when compared to looking randomly through large numbers of swatchbooks (or different Web sites) to find the right combination of attributes (for example: recycled content, FSC certification, color and weight).

NP: Thank you for telling us about PaperSpecs, Sabine. It’s a pleasure to talk with you!

To check out PaperSpecs for yourself, visit You can take a virtual tour or take advantage of a free one-month trial membership.

In the next post, I’ll show you a few of the features I liked best when I toured


Disclaimer: The FCC will be happy to know that Nani Paape, author of the Printing Disasters blog, received no compensation in exchange for this interview.