A very scientific analysis of sample packs from professional printers and paper people

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I am a stationery addict. Today I went out to get one piece of paper to use in the background of the photos in this article, and somehow ended up with 4 plain papers, 4 wrapping papers, and 7 washi tapes.

Here at Studio Cotton, we do a lot more digital work than traditional – but as a true stationery addict, my absolute favourite jobs are the tactile ones. I bloomin’ love packaging, leaflets and a quintessentially sexy business card.

I have an excellent excuse to order copious sample packs from commercial printers and paper suppliers. I rarely feel comfortable committing to a tangible product unless I know how it will feel in the customers’ hands – and so these sample packs are crucial tools for myself and my clients.

From the print and paper suppliers’ perspective, the sample pack is their most important marketing tool. You want to make sure it not only seduces the recipient but is memorable and useful too.

So, I’ve analysed my extreme array of print and paper sample packs and as usual, pulled out one thing every small business can learn from these commercial printers and paper suppliers.


You’ve probably seen an advert for Moo, they are everywhere. I love their branding. The Moo aesthetic and tone of voice are both light and fresh, and the brand sits comfortably alongside the more youthful business techs like MailChimp and Squarespace.

I ordered the Moo sample pack when looking for the right stock to use for the Studio Cotton business cards. I actually ordered our first cards from them but was very sadly ultimately disappointed with the quality.

One thing to learn from Moo: Brevity

Although I was disappointed with Moo as a print supplier, their sample pack was almost perfection. It had all the information I could possibly need in a format that was fun, easy to understand and super easy to transport.

It would have been nice to have a little more variety in the pattern on the sample cards to visualise the possibilities, however keeping it consistent also allows for super quick comparison.


I genuinely can’t remember how I first heard of these London-based printers. I used them for my wedding invites and was impressed at the efficient turnaround (as I was incredibly disorganised).

Exaprint has a massive portfolio and can print and manufacture pretty much anything by the looks of their website. Of the suppliers analysed in this article, I’d say Exaprint has the largest product range which could be really useful if you have a large variety in your print output.

One thing to learn from Exaprint: Brevity

I’m really sorry Exaprint, but I hate your sample pack. You may have noticed the banana for scale in the picture above – this thing is huge. I store the Exaprint sample pack under the bookshelves in our office, and if it didn’t fit there it would have gone into the bin by now.

The Exaprint sample box is just like their website: information overkill. I just wanted to see the options for business cards but received what felt like a sample of literally everything they do.

It’s cumbersome, and the samples themselves are confusing. It’s certainly aimed at the print-savvy but even with my ten years in marketing, I had to call up to find out if the paper and finish combo I liked was possible. And it wasn’t.

Exaprint could really learn from Moo here, and offer a much more concise sample pack that meets the specific need of the person or business ordering.


“Aren’t Vistaprint those people who sell cutesy printed mugs and naff calendars at Christmas?” you ask. Yes, yes they are.

Vistaprint also has an extensive portfolio of business printing services and have pretty much cornered the market on people who want no-frills printing quickly and cheaply. The Vistaprint sample pack is the most ‘meh’ example I received.


That is probably ok for Vistaprint. They make their business from customers who don’t want to think about checking out multiple suppliers until they find the best ones, they are appealing to the stationery satisficers.

One thing to learn from Vistaprint: throw your brand on everything

On my short walk from our office to our photographer Alex’s studio, about 3 minutes away, a few of my precious sample packs opened in my handbag.

It was pretty easy to sort most of the print samples into their respective packs, but the only way I could replace the Vistaprint samples was a process of elimination.

Unlike Moo, these samples were so dang bland. It not only made them easy to forget, but easy to lose and easy to bin too.

JamJar Print

JamJar Print saved my business card bacon. After my Moo disappointment, I was recommended JamJar by their sister shop on Baldwin Street, Press to Print.

I ended up using the Scodix foil from JamJar print for which I’ve had loads of compliments. If you want some ultra-shiny and ultra-premium metallic glitz you should definitely give them a try.

They’re also based in Bedminster which is super convenient, and I’ve been really impressed by their customer service. I’ve been even more impressed by their product samples.

One thing to learn from JamJar Print: Clarity

The JamJar Print samples are not only stunning but totally user-friendly. Each finish is presented and explained perfectly, which is great for those not well-versed in the print world.

So good it deserves a second photo. Each business card sample has a side of practical information, as well as a lovely design.

I have to say I was delighted by this pack when it first arrived and had been showing it to pretty much all my clients when discussing stationery.

GF Smith Paper

I need to take a moment to compose myself.


I am in love.

I first discovered G F Smith Paper following a recommendation when attending Play at The Forge. Although I have been chuffed with JamJar as a print supplier, I wanted a little more depth in the paper stock department.

It was a little confusing to order the sample pack as they market it as The Collection. About a day after I worked it out, I received a lovely phone call from Paper Consultant Matt Jessett (best job title ever, right?) who happened to be in Bristol for the day.

Unfortunately, I was on my way to London, but Mark very kindly dropped The Collection off with the lovely baristas in the coffee shop under my office, ready for my return.

One thing to learn from G F Smith: Blow Us All Away

The moment I opened the parcel from Mark, I almost cried. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was a stationery addict. It’s the sexiest damn book I’ve ever seen.

The very next thing I did was run down the hall to our neighbours at If Not Now Digital and show off my new toy. This was just over a week ago, and since then I’ve shown this book off to pretty much every client, supplier or lost coffee shop patron who walks past the office door.

Because The Collection is so seductive, I upgraded the photography for this whole article as I wanted to try and do it justice.

I’ll stop gushing with emotion because this sample pack is an absolute winner for marketing too. As well as being so gorgeous I have shown it to everyone, it sits beautifully with our brand and art inspiration books and takes pride of place in the Studio Cotton office.

It’s unforgettable. Although not the easiest to transport, it’s completely worth the extra weight for the ‘wow’ factor. Very well done, G F Smith.


Did I mention I love stationery? Hopefully, this article has inspired you to consider every millimetre of your marketing output.

You need to stand out against your competitors, and a little seduction can turn a potential customer into a brand advocate willing to chase people on their way to and from the bathrooms to talk about your products.

PS. The gorgeous paper backgrounds in the photography featured in this article were all sourced within walking distance of our office in central Bristol. You can find them at U Studio, Paperchase, Stationery Word and Craft & More.

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