Paper comes in a huge variety of weights, sizes, and textures. This versatility makes it extremely useful in all manner of corporate and creative print projects. While this variety makes paper so effective, it can also be confusing. With so much choice, differentiating between the countless weights, types and thicknesses of paper can be a headache.
When you’re designing your print materials, you’ll need to choose the right paper weight for your product. For example, let’s imagine you’ve been printing on 80lb cover paper, but you’re looking for a new paper weight that will make your print materials a little thicker and sturdier. Naturally, you might assume that the 90lb text paper will offer the desired results. However, 90lb text paper is actually thinner and slightly flimsier than 80lb cover. Wait…what?
Paper weight is notoriously unintuitive, and all the different measurements can make your head spin. Not to worry! ChilliPrinting has written the ultimate guide to understanding and choosing the right paper weight for you.
What Does Paper Weight Mean?
When designing your print media, it’s very important to consider the type and the weight of the paper you are printing on. Both will impact the look and feel of the final product. In this sense, the quality of the paper can become a reflection of the quality of your brand. Finding the right paper will help you to achieve that vital first impression – remember, your customer will hold and touch the paper before they even begin to read the messaging, so the way it feels is crucial.
As a general rule, thicker or heavier paper conveys quality and provides durability. That said, different print products will necessitate different weights and paper types. Sometimes, thinner is better. Take event flyers, for example. These are temporary, a.k.a ‘toss away’ products. There is not much point investing in luxury paper in this case, neither is it environmentally savvy. Hence, a lighter paper weight is the right choice. In order to help you find the perfect paper weight for your print media, it’s useful to know how paper weight is measured.
How Is Paper Weight Measured?
There are three primary methods to measure the weight and thickness of paper: Metric weight, Points or mils, and US basis weight.
1. Metric Weight
The metric weight method is mainly used in Europe, and isn’t very common in the US. Metric weight, also known as grammage, is measured in grams per square meter (GSM) – that is, the weight of a sheet of paper cut to a 1 x 1 meter square. Because the size of the paper is standardized, metric weight offers a simple and clear-cut comparison between different paper weights and types.
2. Points Or Mils
This method is arguably the most simple of the three. It entails using a caliper to measure the exact thickness of each piece of paper. The thicker the paper, the greater the paper weight (unless we’re comparing different types of paper which have distinct density). Caliper measurements are usually taken in points (=1/72 of an inch) or mils (1/1000 of an inch). Therefore, printed media that measures 0.001 inches thick would be marked as 1-mil or 0.072 points.
3. US Basis Weight
US basis weight is the most common means of measuring paper weight in the US, but it’s also the most confusing of the three. Because different paper types have different base sizes, they also have different basis weights. This makes converting between them quite tricky.
US basis weight represents a measurement of the weight of 500 sheets of a paper size in its uncut form. For example, uncut text paper is 25 x 38 inches. If 500 sheets of uncut text paper weigh 100 pounds, then text paper is labeled “100lb”, even after it is cut to letter size (this is also why, for instance, a stack of 100 letter size flyers with 100lb text stock won’t weigh 100 pounds!). However, cover paper is 20 x 26 inches (much smaller than the 25 x 38 inches text paper). Thus, when cut to the same size, a stack of text paper will weigh less than a stack of cover paper even though they are both labelled as 100lb. The basis weights of the different paper types do not correspond to each other directly!
Yep, it’s a headache! Higher weights don’t necessarily correspond to heavier paper, and there is no standard size for uncut paper. It gets worse still…even if two papers share the same basis weight, they can still have extremely different characteristics (such as density, surface brightness, opacity, durability etc).
Fortunately, we’re here to clear things up! Below is our conversion chart that you can keep on hand to compare all the different measurements of weighing paper.
Paper Weight Conversion Chart
How To Choose The Right Paper Weight
Choosing the right paper weight is about matching the weight to its function as a product. Of the most common paper types – bond, book (or text), cover, index and tag – each will be better suited to a particular purpose. To give you insight, we’ve outlined some common applications of each paper type here.
Base size: 17 x 22 inches
Basis weight: 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, and 36 pounds
Also known as writing paper, this is the most common type of everyday paper. It’s the type used for printer paper and copier paper, and is perfect for use in offices. In addition to basic printing, lighter-weight bond paper is ideal for faxes, printing emails, and use in high-speed copiers. Mid-weight bond paper is extremely versatile and can be used for reports, proposals, presentations, and double-sided printing. Heavier-weight bond paper also works well for double-sided printing, and can be a good basis for contracts, resumes, and flyers.
Cover Paper (otherwise known as Card Stock)
Base size: 20 x 26 inches
Basis weight: 60 to 120 pounds
Often referred to as card stock, cover paper is thick and stiff, perfect for printing cards. Cover papers offer a wide variety of colors, including light and dark tones, with various textures and surface finishes. As you can see by the diverse range of weights, the thickness of cover paper can vary greatly, making it a sensible choice for business cards, postcards, flyers, report covers, menus, invitations, and direct mail-outs.
Base size: 25.5 x 30.5 inches
Basis weight: 90, 110, and 140 pounds
Index paper is a very thick paper that is most closely associated with index cards. Offering high bulk and low weight, this is an inexpensive option with a smooth finish. An ideal choice for heavier business cards, sketchbooks, tabs and dividers, and manila folders.
Base size: 22.5 28.5 inches
Basis weight: 100 to 200 pounds
Tag paper is tough, stiff and durable – ideal for use in many commercial contexts, especially when needed to withstand heavy use. It will deliver a strong, lasting performance once printed, making it the perfect paper for hangtags on consumer goods like clothing and accessories. Tag paper works great for any kind of retail signage, price tags, door hangers, place cards / table tents or direct mail postcards.
Text Paper (or Book Stock)
Base size: 25 x 38 inches
Basis weight: 60 to 140 pounds
Text paper is manufactured in exactly the same way as cover paper – the distinction between them is primarily that of weight. Text papers are typically used for the inside pages of books, brochures, and direct mail pieces. Unsurprisingly, cover paper is often used for the covers. Essentially a higher quality version of book paper, text paper shares many of the same uses. If you’re printing posters, books, – and you want to guarantee quality – text paper is the way to go.
Paper weight is a truly important component to consider when printing. Choosing the right weight will hugely affect the way your print media performs. The wrong paper type or paper weight can make your print materials seem low quality and badly designed, but the right choice can make all the difference! Keep our weight comparison chart and paper choice guidelines handy and you’ll have a much easier time when it comes to your selection. You’ll be printing perfectly weighted media in no time!