During one of my internships, I created several printed projects. Since then I have worked as a print production specialist with two different companies. I have learned that paper choice is an important step in presenting a polished finished product.

Apart from various sizes (both international and domestic), paper can have multiple characteristics, the trick is choosing the right combination for your final product. Some of the most common characteristics are:

Today, our focus will be paper weight and thickness because paper is named by its weight and type.

In the United States, paper is generally named by its type and by its basis weight. This measurement is found by weighing 500 sheets of paper, in pounds, of the paper’s “basic” weight. The paper’s “basic” size is determined by the type of paper:

  • Bond – 17 in x 22 in
  • Text – 25 in x 38 in
  • Cover (commonly referred to as cardstock) – 20 in x 26 in
  • Tag – 24 in x 36 in
  • Index – 25.5 in x 30.5 in

Because the basic size for each paper type is different, it is impossible to use the poundage to compare the thickness across paper types.

Fortunately, paper also has a metric measurement, called GSM (grams per square meter). It is the weight of any piece of paper cut into a 1 x 1 meter sheet. Since the paper is always cut into a consistent size, we are able to cross compare the weight and thickness of any piece of paper regardless of type.

Although most paper is named by its base weight, cover may also be named using points. In this system, every point equals .001 in. For example 10 pt. is equal to paper that measures .010 inches thick.

The table below shows each base weight in pounds with its corresponding GSM. This shows us that in terms of thickness, 16# bond ledger is equivalent to 40# offset book text. I have also highlighted the most common weights based on paper type.

Paper Weight

To really get a feel for paper and it’s varing weights, head to your local print shop and ask for some paper samples.

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