Paper and paper size guide

Paper choicesWith what seems like an endless number of choices, even just for a basic business card it can be easy to see why we get asked more than any other question what specification should be used for what.

Choosing the correct paper is important when printing as the choice impacts so much on the final product. To show this as an example, Rob and I ordered different business cards and a very low cost economic version to show clients the difference when we see them. Rob chose spot UV silk 360GSM, Toni ordered 400GSM matt textured cards and we also ordered the cheapest available economy card (300gsm uncoated).

Choosing the right one for you can certainly be a challenge, if if you’re new to buying print even those descriptions will mean nothing! To help we have written what we hope is a simple overview.

GSM (grams per square meter)

GSM is one of the main terms to understanding when choosing paper! It’s basically to do with the weight and thickness of the paper. The higher the GSM number, the heavier and higher quality the paper is. Below is a table with a basic guide which shows the most popular weights for different types of marketing material. As a general rule a Christmas card (arghhh! I used the C word) is 350 – 400gsm (M&S, not Poundland). Remember weight will affect price so a balance needs to be achieved between your budget and desires!

Here’s a rough guide to GSM sizes:

Item GSM paper weight
Printed paper 80 – 100gsm
Posters 130 – 350gsm
Flyers and leaflets 100 – 350gsm
Brochures 150 – 250gsm
Letterheads 100 – 170gsm
Business cards 300 – 810gsm

Empower Business Card example
Example of Toni’s Business     Card


Now you need to pick a finish! The finish really can make or break your brand identity. If you are a social enterprise or charity then something expensive and glossy may not resonate with your audience. Or if you are offering a high quality product then your marketing material really must be an extension of that.

The most common are Matt, Gloss, Silk and Spot UV. Toni’s business cards are matt as she prefers the texture and look. Rob loves Spot UV and his cards are in this finish to make the name and logo shine and stand out from the card.

Most of us will know the difference between matt, gloss and silk from painting the lounge! Matt is a flat finish. It’s easy to write on, which may be important if you have appointments or maybe a cut off form on your marketing material. Matt can also be textured which makes it very tactile. Gloss is like the paint, shiny and smooth and is great for sharp, bright colours. Silk is a kind of in-between a gloss you can write on! You then get Spot UV which creates depth and variation in your design.

Also consider laminating the thicker material (brochures and business cards) as this will help protect the marketing material, especially if it is likely to be viewed more than once.

Paper size

Example of Robs Business Card

Now we come on to paper size. There are certain expectations on paper size for certain applications but more and more we see size and shape being used to express individuality from small square business cards to pop-up postcards.

The paper size can come often come down to budget as nonstandard shapes/sizes will cost more due to the complicated cutting process. Think about the practicalities of the size of the material. Will an A5 brochure get lost between other brochures, or will it stand out if every other competitor uses A4.  If you want a PDF and a printed version think of how it will affect screen views if you can’t afford to have two versions. And remember, a standard size can be amazing for your brand with the right design and content.

Most printed product is A size and you will very familiar with A4, A5 etc. B size is normally reserved for big printing (could B be for BIG ?) and C size is used to identify envelope sizes.

So how big is A1, A2 etc

If you divide a piece of A4 paper into equal halves, then each half is in the same size as A5. And A3 is double that of A4. And so it goes. A8 is the smallest paper size you can get, and this is the size of your bank cards and driving license. It isn’t very useful for writing War and Peace on!

Understanding paper sizes

Size Width (mm) x Height (mm) Width (in) x Height (in) Width (cm) x Height (cm)
A0 paper size 841 x 1189 33.1 x 46.8 84.1 x 118.9
A1 paper size 594 x 841 23.4 x 33.1 59.4 x 84.1
A2 paper size 420 x 594 16.5 x 23.4 42 x 59.4
A3 paper size 297 x 420 11.7 x 16.5 29.7 x 42
A4 paper size 210 x 297 8.3 x 11.7 21 x 29.7
A5 paper size 148 x 210 5.8 x 8.3 14.8 x 21
A6 paper size 105 x 148 4.1 x 5.8 10.5 x 14.8
A7 paper size 74 x 105 2.9 x 4.1 7.4 x 10.5
A8 paper size 52 x 74 2.0 x 2.9 5.2 x 7.4


For further queries about design or printing, please contact us and we will happily give you some free advice!