We fully agree with you: The names of paper are weird... unless you know the lingo.....

In a couple of minutes, you'll become an expert!.

Here's a quick overview with tips. Bookmark this page and have it handy for tuture reference.

You'll feel like an expert when placing print-orders!

This picture shows stock arranged from thick to thin. Names are indicated


The image above provides a quick overview of which paper is thicker and which thinner, but that does not tell the full story....

The American Convention is to identify paper weight by manufacturing origin: The way in which we identify paper here in the USA frustrates many people.
In the US, the given names of paper come from the paper-manufacturing process.
After reading this article you'll be able to differentiate paper by types, thickness, weight, application, finishing, and use . You will be able to compare how paper in the USA is identified as opposed to elsewhere.

You will be able to answer questions such as "How is a 20# (pound) copy bond paper different from a 60# offset paper?"
Please feel free to bookmark this page for future reference.

The International Conventions compares the weight of a square unit of paper: Most of the world utilizes the metric system which is based on a simple concept that makes it easier to identify and compare papers.


All About Paper Weights: Understand "Basis Weight", Bond, Book Grades, Text Grades, Cover Stock, Index and Tag.

We will start by analyzing the weight of the paper, which creates the most headaches to our clients. We'll talk about paper production, finishing and brightness as well so that you have a broad knowledge about paper in the printing industry

U.S. Basis Weight is defined as the weight of 500 sheets of paper in its basic production size (parent size), before any cuts take place. Find the Chart of Paper Manufacturing Sizes on this same page.

  • Example #1: Basis Weight of Bond Paper: A sheet of bond paper comes out of a production line and measures 17x22 inches. If the weight of 500 of those sheets is 20lbs, that bond paper will be identified and labeled as “20lbs”, or “20# bond”. By the way, 20# paper is the most popular paper used when printing color copies. It is often thought as the paper for cheap color printing.

    When you cut the 17”x22” sheet into two, you will get 2 sheets each measuring 8.5”x11” which happens to be a “letter size”.
    Assuming that we have those 500 uncut sheets, we’ll end up with 1,000 sheets of 20# bond paper.

    Each group of 500 sheets then weighs 10 lbs.

    Conclusion: The Basis Weight of Bond paper is 20lbs.

    Same paper, different origin though: This is curious and confusing: If the same components to the paper and the thickness kept, were produced out of a sheet of paper that measures 25 x 38 inches, 500 sheets of that paper would weigh 50 lbs. It would be 50lbs basis. So as you can see, the paper, physically, would be the same. But its name would be 50 lbs. instead of 20 lbs.
    The physical weight of those sheets would still be 10lbs.
    The number itself is not indicative of how thick one paper is when compared to another one.
  • Example #2 for 100 lbs coated paper: We will find out the basis weight of a coated sheet of paper. Here is an illustration that helps visualize this. Coated paper is manufactured in sheets of 25 x 38 inches. In this case, 500 of those sheets weigh 100 lbs. Therefore the Basis Weight for this paper is 100 lbs, also known as 100# coated text paper.
Picture that shows a pallet with sheets of paper size 25"x38" which is a "parent- size" and indicates the weight

Chart of Paper Manufacturing Sizes
Useful to determine Basis Weight and Parent Sizes

Paper TypeManufacturing Ream Size (Parent Size) inchesManufacturing Ream Size (Parent Size) ISO - mm
Bond (Copy Paper, Ledger, Manifold)17" x 22"432 mm x 559mm
Book or Text(Coated Gloss or Coated Dull or Offset Paper)25" x 38"635mm x 965mm
Bristol22 1/2" x 28 1/2"571mm x 724mm
Cover (Glossy cover stock or uncoated cover stock)20" x 26"508mm x 660mm
Index25 1/2" x 30 1/2"648mm x 775mm
Newsprint (Tag)24" x 36"610mm x 914.4mm


Paper is Manufactured at Paper Mills Using Different Machines With Different Technologies.

There are several stages in the manufacturing process with 'finishing' being the last one. Wood chips get transformed into pulp, rollers calender the paper and determine the thickness of the paper. During the production and finishing processes, the softness is determined. For glossy or satin paper, a coating gets added to complete the process. Therefore different machines in different widths produce different types of paper. The end product at the mill is a roll that gets trimmed into flat sheets comprising what is known as the parent size.

Paper is manufactured in rolls. Rolls are then extended on tables and cut to sheets. Different equipment and grades produce different widths of rolls.
picture of paper mill courtesy of  Pixelle - Source Internet


Names and Sizes of Paper in the US Standard System

The way to obtain different sizes of paper is by cutting the parent size into fractions. The typical way is to cut the mother sheet in half.

U.S. Standard Paper Sizes

Ledger279 x 43211 x 17
Legal 8.5 x 14
Letter216 x 2799.5 x 11
Monarch 7.25 x 10.5
Executive140 x 2165.5 x 8.5
Statement108 x 1404.25 x 5.5
Business Card 2 x 3.5

The U.S. Standard System changes the proportions of the sheet of paper once it is cut in half making it difficult to size up or down

The International Systems for paper weight and sizes is designed so that cutting paper in half still keeps the same proportions. That system is known as ISO "A"

The Grades of Paper are defined in terms of its use. Each grade serves a purpose:

  • Opaques and Offset Papers
  • Coated Papers
  • Writing Papers (a.k.a. Correspondence Papers or Bond Papers)
  • Text and Cover papers

Opaques and Offset uncoated papers: These are similar with some specific differences

Offset uncoated papers are commodity papers available in large volumes. Over the years a change in formulations made it alkaline as opposed to acidic, which gives it better archival properties. Their internal bonding is good, with high surface strength and dimensional stability.

Offset Paper: Typical basis weight for this paper are 50lbs, 60lbs, 70lbs, 80lbs

The finishes of offset papers are

  • Smooth
  • Vellum finish which is extremely rough
  • Patterns: as in Laid and Linen finishes

Opaque Paper:Typical basis weight for this paper are 50 lbs, 60lbs, 70lbs, 80lbs

The quality of pulp use is better so it has higher opacity than offset paper (which means less see-through) It is more expensive than the offset grade. The finishes of opaque papers could include a very light clay layer giving it very high quality.
  • Satin
  • Film Coat
  • Thin Coat

Coated Papers have 5 types of finishing and 5 qualities

Coated papers are made like offset papers but have a clay coating added on their surface before calendering. The coating creates a gloss or sheen on the paper's surface. This coating holds ink better and helps get a smaller dot that in turn produces a better printing quality. The clay often accounts for as much as half of the weight of the paper. Therefore the quality of the clay determines how bright, printable and strong the paper will be (resistance to tear, shear, etc)

The calendering process produces the following types of finishes

  • Cast Coated, which are very shiny
  • Gloss
  • Dull
  • Silk
  • Matte

The quality is determined by the brightness, smoothness, mechanical properties (resistance, shear, etc) and stability of thickness among others. Paper is rated from 1 to 5, 1 is the highest quality. 5 is the lowest quality

Optical Properties: Brightness

Paper brightness is a very important property in the paper.  For certain applications, users usually assign a higher quality to paper that looks whiter with a shade of blue.
Brightness measures how much of the blue light in the spectrum reflects on the paper. 
The scale goes from 0 to100. Brightness 100 is a very white bluish-tone paper. 
Uncoated paper: Some premium uncoated papers (made just out of pulp) have very high brightness.
Coated paper: The coating used is clay. Their brightness values are in the low-mid 90's for a good quality paper.
Thick cardstock: It is usually a lower-brightness product.  

Writing Paper also known as Correspondence Papers or Bond Papers

This writing grade historically called Bond papers are designed for letterhead, corporate identity, and home or office printers. They perform well for handwriting. These can be done with a watermark or can have cotton fiber to provide an elegant feel and mechanical strength.

Text and Cover papers

These are premium uncoated papers that are available in amazing colors and finishes. Some text papers are lighter, while Cover papers are thick and nice for covers, brochures, and business cards.



Basis weights that are equivalent and how they compare to the International Metric System

Because paper mills produce with different technologies, similar end-use paper could have come from parent-sheets with different sizes. Here is a list of equivalent grades, produced in different mills. The column on the right side, identified as METRIC is the favorite in countries that have adopted the International system. That system provides the weigh of a certain size expressed in grams, regardless of the method of production.

US Basis WeightsCaliperMetric
BondTextCoverIndex1 Point = 0.001"GSM (g/m2)
2050   75
2460   90
2870   105
3280   120
369050  136
3810055 6.0140
431106090 162
54 74110 199
58 8012010.0218
  90135 245
  100150 271



There is so much more to paper that can be said and reviewed. We have published specific articles where we talk about coating, and finishing.
Please visit our Printing 101 Academy to find more technical, marketing and other great articles!




Gustavo Baner from ColorCopiesUSA

Gustavo Baner

Team ColorCopiesUSA.com


Date Published: 2020-03-01 // Updated: 2020-10-19