How is Paper Weight Measured? What to Pick for Your Next Project.

When it comes to your printing projects, it sometimes feels like it should be as easy as bringing in a file, giving it to the printer, and letting the process begin. But then you’re asked a question that might not be as simple: What paper weight should this be on?

Confused about how to choose the right paper? Don’t worry, because lots of people are when that question comes up. Our Thomas Group Printing team believes the best approach to helping our customers is to provide them with all the information they need to make the best decisions for their project. We’ll talk about why you need a different type of paper for your cover versus the inside text pages, and some of the common paper weights you might need. 

So the next time you need a project printed and you see words like  “pounds” and “points,” you’re going to know what is being discussed, and you’ll be an active participant in the creation of your perfect print project. 

 

What is paper weight? 

When it comes to paper, there are typically two ways stock is measured in the industry. That’s where the terms pounds and points come in, also sometimes seen as “#” or “lb” when referring to pounds, and a simple “pt” when referencing points. 

An example of 100# Uncoated Cover paper, which was chosen by the client because of its slightly heavier feel and uncoated look.

 

 

Pounds

When it comes to pounds, the term is actually exactly what you likely guessed: Pounds refers to how much paper weighs. The thicker the paper stock is, the higher the weight is going to be. These weights can be between 20 to 140 pounds, depending on the type of material the paper’s made from. A nice bond paper has weights between 20 and 80, while card stock, which is heavier, ranges between 50 and 140 pounds. 

Paper weight doesn’t refer to the individual sheets of cut paper themselves. Instead, it is determined by how much a ream of uncut paper weighs. Typically 500 sheets of paper make up a ream, and that paper is weighed before being cut down to smaller sizes (such as letter or legal). That weight is what is used when identifying and categorizing the product. 

 

One way how paper weight is measured is by using a micrometer to determine the point size or thickness of each sheet.

 

 

Points

Points measure thickness of the paper rather than the weight, which don’t always correspond directly to each other. Using points to determine paper thickness is a bit more scientific, even using instruments to measure the thickness down to each 1/1000th of an inch. The higher the points value, the thicker the paper, so a 10 point paper is 10/1000ths of an inch in thickness, while 16 point paper measures in at 16/1000ths of an inch. While that doesn’t seem like a lot when comparing numbers to numbers, it is actually quite noticeable in the final printed product. 

 

Other measurements and terms

You may come across some other paper weights that are less common than points and pounds, and one of those that is becoming more frequently used in the industry is the GSM, which is an abbreviation for the grams per square meter of paper. Because this measurement uses the metric system, which is more widely used throughout other countries, it is typically used internationally.

Another term you may see is some papers referred to as “boards” or as having “board weight”. That just means above a certain weight of paper, as in cardboard, or the heavy board stock used for business cards and softcover books.

 

Basics of Paper

There are some essential categories of paper to think about, divided based on weight, stock and purpose. In each category, there are differences between cover stocks and text. 

  • Coated stocks — These include gloss coated and silk coated. The most common weights for gloss and silk coated covers are from 80 to 130 pounds, and from 80 to 100 pounds for texts. Uses might include pocket folders, packaging and display, or postcards.
  • Uncoated stocks — There is a wide range of uncoated papers, from heavy and opaque to light and commodity-grade. Finishes might include laid finish, linen or felted. Weights range from 65 to 130 pounds for covers, and 40 to 100 pounds for texts. Uses include booklets, flyers, memo pads, books, brochures, and invitations.

 

Choosing a Paper Weight

Now that you know how we measure and categorize paper weights, you’ll have a better idea of how to choose the right paper weight for your project. Individual opinions on the right paper weight for various types of materials do, of course, vary, and while we’re happy to offer our suggestions for what types of paper may work well for your printing needs, you also are welcome to stipulate your own choice of paper from our wide range of in-house options. 

Thinking about paper weight early on in the printing process is worthwhile. While you’re deciding what size of paper, type, cut, and how many pages are needed, paper weight is another consideration. 

If your project has a cover, two different paper weights are desirable to serve the different purposes of the cover and the inside pages. For example, in perfect-bound or saddle-stitched books, a heavy cover weight lends heft and substance, while a lighter paper is used for the printed text, for both affordability and readability — simply put, it’s easier to turn lighter pages. This holds true for other projects with these bindings too, like catalogs, booklets, and magazines.

 

Here are the most commonly available paper and card stocks and what they’re best used for:

 

Common Text Paper Weights:

  • 50-pound text. This is the kind of paper you’ll find in novels, workbooks and most documents. It’s one of the lightest available, and is roughly equivalent to standard copy or computer paper. 
  • 70-pound text. The best example of 70-pound stock is a comic book, which often uses a gloss or matte paper of this weight. It’s also commonly used in large catalogs as a cheaper, lighter alternative.
  • 80-pound text. The most common weight for magazines and smaller catalogs, along with booklets and sometimes the text pages of hardcover books.
  • 100-pound text. This versatile weight can be either text or cover. It’s good for the text pages in children’s books, coffee-table or art books, or for comic book covers and brochures. It’s light enough for saddle-stitching and heavy enough to provide a cover quality.

Common Cover Paper Weights: 

  • 10-point cover or 100# cover. One of the lightest cover stocks available, good for catalog covers or smaller perfect-bound projects like handbooks. 
  • 12-point cover or 110-pound. A more common cover stock for paperbacks, graphic novels, and other larger perfect-bound covers.
  • 16-point cover or 130# cover. A heavy cover stock, suited to projects that will be handled a lot or require a heavier cover, like catalogs, trade paperbacks and oversize perfect-bound products.

Common Card Stock Weights: 

  • 65-pound card stock. This is a light card stock, good for light business cards, postcards, greeting cards, posters and tickets. 
  • 80-pound card stock. The typical card stock, for business cards, postcards, folders, invitations, posters, table tents, and greeting cards.

 

More Tips on Using Paper Weight 

It’s always a good idea to think ahead when choosing a paper weight. If your project is being mass mailed, or marketed in large quantities, choosing a paper on the lighter end of what will work for you is smart, to cut down on weight-related mailing costs. On the other hand, a heavy, luxurious paper is ideal for short runs or custom-made, high-value printed products like invitations, where quality is a top priority.

Finishing and formatting can have an impact, too. Cutting, folding and stitching become progressively more difficult as paper weight increases, so think about how the paper will be used. Coatings can help add luxury or quality to lighter papers, or protect them against damage if that may be likely, such as postcards or catalogs. Finally, remember how a project will look to its user or customer. The heavier the paper, the more likely it is to be perceived as a high-quality product.

 

Still Unsure? Talk to a Printing Pro

Knowing your paper weights will help you create a higher quality, more durable and more impressive printed product in the end. However, each project is individual, and we’re here to help you with any questions you may still have.

If you have questions regarding paper weight, or what kind of paper would best suit your printing project, please reach out to our experts at Thomas Group Printing. We’re a fourth generation family owned printing company in NYC and we’re always happy to lend our experience to our clients. Not only will they help you determine which paper is the best fit for your product, but they will help you with any other questions you may have. 

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