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Is colored paper more expensive than white?

With the wide variety of colored paper options available today, many people wonder if selecting a non-white paper drives up cost compared to plain white paper. In this article, we’ll analyze the key factors that impact colored paper pricing and examine whether colored paper tends to be more expensive than white. By looking at paper quality, manufacturing processes, supply and demand dynamics, and other considerations, we can get a clear sense of how colored paper is priced compared to ubiquitous white paper.

Paper Quality Differences

One of the biggest contributors to the cost differential between colored and white paper is the quality of the paper itself. Higher quality colored paper contains more expensive bleached pulp, thicker weight (thickness per square meter), and brighter or more vibrant pigments. The raw materials and manufacturing processes required to produce high quality colored paper drive up costs compared to standard 20lb white copy paper.

Premium colored paper used for brochures, business cards, and photo printing can cost 2 to 5 times more than basic white copy paper. These colored papers may contain 25-100% cotton content, have weight up to 120lb or more, use brighter whitening agents, and utilize pigments that allow for richer color saturation.

On the other hand, lower quality colored papers are much closer in price to standard white paper. These economy colored papers often use the same raw pulp as white paper but simply add small amounts of pigment to tint the resulting paper product. The manufacturing cost differential is negligible, so inexpensive colored paper options can be had for roughly the same price per ream as white paper.

Manufacturing Processes

The manufacturing processes used to produce colored paper also impact its relative cost compared to white paper. Two common methods used are pigment coating and pigment saturation.

With pigment coating, an additional step is required whereby a thin coating containing color pigments is applied to the surface of the paper after the wood pulp has been processed into sheets. This requires extra materials and reduces manufacturing efficiency compared to producing white paper. The result is higher cost for coated colored paper relative to uncoated products.

Pigment saturation integrates color pigments directly into the wood pulp mixture during processing. This reduces separate coating steps but requires careful control of pigment levels throughout the process and can lead to increased waste if color consistency is not maintained. The embedded pigment method can allow colored paper production at only moderately higher costs than white in some cases.

Supply and Demand Dynamics

Basic economics also plays a role in colored paper’s frequent price premium over white paper. Because white makes up the vast majority of paper used globally, economies of scale keep costs lower for white paper production. The limited demand for colored paper means smaller production volumes at higher unit costs.

When colored paper supply is particularly constrained, such as during shortages for certain pigments or pulp required for specific colors, prices can be bid up further. And because colored paper is viewed as a specialty product versus a commodity, suppliers often leverage the higher demand to increase margins.

However, when colored paper demand is weak due to economic conditions or consumer preferences, competitive forces can bring colored paper prices down in line with white paper. This dynamic swings can result in colored paper prices ranging from parity with white to 100%+ premiums during times of tight supply.

Comparing Colored and White Paper Prices

To visualize the real-world price differences between colored and white paper, let’s compare the prices of a few top selling products on Amazon:

Paper Type Price
HP Copy Paper White (500 sheets) $9.99
50lb Astrobrights Colored Paper (100 sheets) $12.99
32lb Color Copy Paper Assortment (150 Sheets) $10.99
24lb Strathmore Colored Paper Pad (50 sheets) $11.99

This sample shows white paper averaging around 2-3 cents per sheet, while colored paper ranges from about 10 cents on the low end up to 20-25 cents per sheet for premium quality colored paper. Higher volume purchases do result in lower per unit costs for colored paper, but rarely down to white paper levels.

There are sometimes exceptions where cheap thin colored paper can be had for under 5 cents per sheet, temporarily matching commodity white paper pricing during promotional sales or clearance pricing. But for the most part, the colored premium holds across the full range of paper weights and finishes.

Advantages of Colored Paper

With colored paper’s tendency to cost more than white, what are the benefits that motivate customers to purchase it despite the higher prices?

Some of the key advantages colored paper provides versus white paper include:

  • Added visual appeal – color grabs attention and looks more exciting
  • Ability to color code documents or categories of paper
  • Specialty finishes and textures not available with white paper
  • Photographic paper for stunning image printing
  • Vibrant and saturated colors for posters and brochures
  • Coordinated colors for invitations, announcements, branding

For business and creative uses where image quality and visual presentation matter, colored paper provides significant benefits that justify the premium pricing for many customers. Using colored paper strategically for reports, marketing collateral, photo printing and other applications can be worth the small additional cost.

Future Colored Paper Cost Trends

Looking ahead, what are the likely trends in colored paper pricing in the future?

A few factors to consider:

  • Increasing paper costs overall due to pulp and raw material supply constraints
  • A shift toward higher quality specialty papers including colored
  • New pigments and coatings increasing color vibrancy
  • Growth of digital colored printing replacing offset and raising demand for colored stock

These industry dynamics point toward continued price premiums for colored paper relative to white. Manufacturers are likely to recoup increasing material and processing costs by maintaining higher margins on colored paper products. And the push toward high-impact print marketing using vivid colored paper indicates demand will support modest future price increases as well.

However, competition in the paper industry and future technology advances could help lower production costs over time. And cyclical economic factors could always swing the pendulum back toward parity for colored and white pricing temporarily before the colored premium retrenches when conditions improve.


Based on the multitude of factors we’ve reviewed, colored paper does generally cost more than comparable white paper when all attributes like paper weight, texture, and quality are equal. While there are certain scenarios where discounted or surplus colored stock can be procured for white paper prices, the typical colored premium ranges from 25-50%. For premium colored papers, the multiples can be 2x or more versus basic white paper.

The reasons for colored paper’s price premium include additional materials, more complex manufacturing, smaller production volumes, supply and demand imbalances, and increased margins leveraging color’s benefits. Customers continue to demonstrate willingness to pay extra for colored paper’s visual impact. As colored paper grows as a proportion of overall paper demand, any discounts are likely to be temporary.

For maximum visual appeal in paper documents and marketing materials, colored paper provides significant advantages despite its slightly higher cost. With care taken to select only necessary colored paper applications, the benefits should outweigh the small price premium in many situations.