Inspiration and know-how

Discover the creative aspects of paperboard — and the strengths beneath its smooth white surface.

In this book we describe what you can achieve with paperboard. You will find information about various printing and finishing techniques and the paperboard features that are crucial for obtaining excellent results. Use these features to help transform your design ideas into reality. For further know-how about the production aspects of paperboard please refer to the section “The Production aspects”.


Invercote’s strength and resilience make it highly suitable for deep and crisp embossing.

The creative aspects

The very special features of paperboard derive partly from the use of carefully selected virgin fibres as raw material and partly from the multi-ply construction. Unlike paper, multi-ply paperboard consists of several layers with different characteristics. The surface and structural features can therefore be tailored to suit a great variety of creative effects and demanding functional designs. You could say that the multi-ply construction adds a third, creative dimension to the two-dimensional sheet.

Long-lasting appearance

You have more design options and a base material which helps you to successfully implement your intentions. Besides excellent graphical presentation, you gain features such as strength, stiffness, stability and elasticity. Let your creativity play. Whether you wish to convey an exclusive impression of beauty or create a very special creative shape, paperboard adds value to your design.

Beauty is not everything. There is also user friendliness in everyday life to consider. In order to prevent deterioration from aging or frequent use, you must have a light-stable and durable material that retains its good appearance and function. When you design graphical products to be used in demanding environments, paperboard adds usability and durability to your design. A service or safety manual, for example, requires folds that will not crack despite frequent opening and closing. To remain in good condition, the cover also needs to be resistant to thumb marks, stains and spots. Since the printed information needs to stay clear and legible, it is also important to avoid yellowing.

Paperboard features

Thanks to its multi-ply construction, paperboard offers a rich variety of design options. Paperboard’s many features are all derived from the use of carefully selected virgin fibres and closely managed production processes. Combined in the wet state, the pure, strong and flexible virgin fibres form an interlaced network, in which each layer can be given its own special characteristics depending on the features desired.

White, smooth, and carefully finished

To provide excellent graphical presentation, the paperboard has to be white, smooth and carefully finished. To achieve a very smooth and well finished surface, the fibres in the surface layers are normally somewhat shorter and softer than the fibres selected for the inner layers. Chemically processed virgin fibres give the required whiteness and light stability, which are further enhanced by carefully designed coatings.

Strong, tough, and beautiful

The choice and processing of the fibres used for the inner layers depend on the structural features required. To create the elasticity, strength and sense of quality found in a dense paperboard we use a greater proportion of long fibres in the middle layers. When stiffness is desired, the fibres should be shorter and stiffer. Usually a combination of stiffness and elasticity is preferred. Skilfully achieved compositions are therefore needed in order to obtain a strong, resilient and beautiful paperboard that gives optimal performance in printing, finishing and use.

Stable, durable, and adaptable

Whether you need to create two- or three-dimensional shapes, produce sophisticated decorative effects or reproduce demanding images, paperboard is a perfect choice. The multi-ply construction provides a stable and durable material, which benefits creasing and folding and also is wonderfully adaptable for long-lasting embossing.


Complex construction designs with moving
parts require paperboard that does not crack
along the creases, especially when you are
printing colours across folds.

Embossing, hot foil stamping and die cutting
make any printed material stand out from the


Uniform material properties

The basic properties of paperboard are whiteness, smoothness, strength and elasticity. Together these properties offer the best possible image reproduction. They also benefit creasing, folding and embossing, besides providing the base for excellent results from such techniques as metallic film lamination. A high degree of uniformity in material properties is the hallmark of a high performance paperboard.

Total cost efficiency

When the quality of the end result is your first priority, your choice of base material is easier and less limited than when your first priority is just to have a low purchase price. With paperboard you can achieve effects that are almost impossible with other base materials. But besides the many aesthetic and functional advantages of paperboard, let’s also look at the economics. The cost of something can be assessed – and reduced – in many ways. What price do you put on having reliable printing and finishing processes? Or on not wasting your valuable time and materials? Paperboard offers crucial benefits – not only to the design result but also to your total cost efficiency.

Use your imagination and know-how

As a designer you use your imagination and know-how to create an attractive and alluring design that will fulfil a specific function. Your customers, their target groups, your printer and possibly many other stakeholders all have an interest in your work. The more you know about their individual needs and requirements, the more expert your choice of design effects and base material will be.

Your design determines what printing and finishing techniques will be used, as well as how the user will experience the finished product. As part of your design process, you must therefore also consider issues like cost-efficient printing and finishing, as well as how the end product will be used. Together with a skilled printer the choice of correct paperboard for the intended task will transform your creative and functional intentions into reality.


The concave Diamond Pack was developed to
showcase the possibilities offered by Invercote.
It took 112 creases to produce this shape.

By combining effect varnishes with
embossing, you can create a surface
that feels like stone, wood or silk.
Only your imagination sets the limits!

Changing times

The process of graphical production and its various applications are both undergoing rapid change. Digital pre-press production, the digital distribution of files, print on demand, and cross-media production (i.e. the simultaneous use of electronic and conventional graphic media) are all becoming increasingly common.

Knowledge and wise foresight

It is important to meet technological changes with knowledge and wise foresight. How will these changes affect your own work? If your design is to be distributed in digital format for local printing and finishing in a variety of places, then you need to take special precautions by specifying the job very thoroughly. This is because you will not have the same opportunity to personally check the art work as when you are working with a printer near you.

Whether your design is for a brochure, book cover, CD cover or set of displays, you and your customer expect the quality of the finished product to meet your expectations regardless of where it is physically produced. This quality doesn’t happen by itself. To achieve your intended result you must specify the substrate to be used. It is not enough just to specify the general type and grammage. Different products behave in different ways, so you must specify exactly which paperboard product you want to use. Then the binding and all the other finishing techniques must also be specified. Although digital pre-press technology and the digital distribution of files can lead to gains in cost efficiency and time savings, printing and finishing remain in many respects hands-on crafts.

Covers of today and tomorrow

What about covers? Who will need them in the future? Well, oddly enough, CDs (for example) are now being sold more than ever before – thanks to the electronic distribution of music rather than despite it. CD covers are therefore needed more than ever, both to provide protection for their fragile contents and to support sales of the music. A powerful visual impression combined with paperboard characteristics such as sturdiness and a smooth, dust-free, pure surface on the reverse side makes paperboard the perfect material to cover the hits of both today and tomorrow.

As for books, the ability to read an electronic version on screen or to print your own copy at home can sometimes be very useful. But there is a lot more to a book than just its contents: visual appearance and tactile feel are also highly valued by book lovers everywhere. The kind of books people want to remember and keep will remain “IRL” (in real life).

Many leading designers believe that the design of covers will become even more important in the future. When cross-media publishing is used, for example in advertising, the various media are supposed to support each other. The graphic design then becomes even more crucial as a means of creating a very clear, shared context. In the case of CDs, games and books, their covers add context even though their contents may also be available online. This added value goes beyond decoration and protection: it encapsulates and preserves the very soul of music and literature.


You can create subtle effects by embossing at various depths or heights and experimenting
with different glossy varnishes.

Displays — today and tomorrow

Paperboard is a highly suitable base for large displays, whether you prefer screen print, offset lithography (in special machines you can print displays as large as 220 x 180 cm), or digital printing (ink jet). The last-mentioned technique is developing very rapidly, both in terms of print quality thanks to new types of oil-based inks, and when it comes to cost-efficient production.

One innovation on the way to becoming a reality is displays printed with ink that remains invisible until it is “turned on” electronically. The basis of this technique is the Nobel Prize-winning discovery that plastics are able to conduct electric current. The special ink forms a plastic foil when dried and the colours can be activated by a very weak current. Four colours can be used to produce large displays, which can be refreshed with different motifs – even animated ones. All the possible motifs remain invisible until one of them is lit up. This method is being developed by the Swedish research institute Acreo in co-operation with stakeholders such as the leading paper and paperboard industries in Sweden and Finland. When this “electronic paper” technology becomes commercially available, it will be a most remarkable case of cross-fertilisation between the world’s oldest graphic medium and its newest one.

Conveying meaning

Times change, but not always in the way we think – or rather, almost never in the way we think. It was long thought that the Internet, with its e-mail and video conferences, would replace the need to travel. In fact, the opposite has happened: people now travel more than ever. Once, people thought that the telegraph would reduce the need to travel. But it didn’t, as we all know. Nor did the telephone. New means of communication have always increased the use of existing ones. In the same way, despite the increased use of electronic media, both paper and paperboard will continue to carry and convey meaning. It would seem that the dematerialisation of information also requires its rematerialisation in order to carry and convey meaning at any deep level. As human beings we need to use all our senses to understand the world.

The desire to create remains!

Humankind has an inborn desire to create, refine, develop and improve. These urges make us seek out base materials that can be designed to offer new functions and associations. In the hands of the designer, paperboard is an exciting and experimentally formable material. From here on we will introduce you to its creative dimensions, both for traditional applications and for ones you may never have seen before.


Laser cutting can create effects that are even more complex than those made by embossing. But the paperboard’s strength is an important factor to keep in mind.

The paperboard’s ability to spring back is crucial to all pop-up constructions.


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