Quick Guide: Paper Weight

Paper Weight (aka Thickness)

We discussed the different types of paper that can be made. But another piece to the paper puzzle is thickness, referred to in the industry as the paper weight. Why is it called weight? That requires more explanation about how paper is made and processed.

Basis (not basic) weight is the weight of 500 sheets of paper in its basic unit size. Basic unit size is before the paper is cut into letter, legal, or tabloid size. It is weighed and categorized by type, which gives the basis weight. For example, an uncut sheet of bond paper is 17 x 22 inches, but an uncut sheet of cover paper is 20 x 26 inches. Because they are different sizes, you wouldn’t have an “apples to apples” comparison in their weights.

If 500 sheets of bond paper weigh 20 pounds, then a ream of the same paper cut to letter size is referred to as 20lb. (Paper is referred to in pounds, so you would write it as 20lb bond and say “20 pound bond.”) Don’t worry, it gets more confusing…

These different paper types are cut to different sizes, but they also weigh differently depending on how thick they are. To make things more confusing, because of the basis weight and different unit sizes, 80lb cover is much heavier and thicker than 100lb offset/text stock!

Another way to measure the thickness of a sheet of paper is to use a caliper. Sometimes stock is measured this way and referred to by points, or 1/1000 of an inch. Stock that measures 0.012 inches thick would be marked as 12-point stock (which could be great for a postcard!).

If you’re thoroughly confused, it’s OK. Even professional printers don’t memorize and retain every paper combination and basis weight. The main point here is that there ARE different weights, and you need to choose carefully to match the appropriate stock to your project.

An offset or text weight paper is best for printing the inside of books, brochures, etc. Bond paper is often specified for letterhead, but nowadays offset is used just as much. (Remember, they are differently made but can have the same thickness.) Cover stock is great for a booklet cover or postcard, while tag stock is good for - you guessed it - tags and other applications of very thick paper.

Understanding paper weights and paper types in the printing industry is not easy. However, it is valuable to have a basic understanding of it to combine with your sales consultant’s and account manager’s knowledge. This way you can be an active participant in selecting the best stock for each job.