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Complete guide to paper thickness and weight (with paper weight chart)

Reading time: 6 minutes

In the primarily visual medium of design, paper thickness and weight appeal to one of our more visceral senses: touch. More substantial and less flimsy than the paper we commonly interact with, thick paper lends a professional feel to marketing materials like business cards, flyers and brochures. But, how do you choose which paper thickness to use? Our paper weight chart will help you to compare different paper thickness and find the right one for your print project.

There’s also functional aspects to consider, as thicker paper enhances durability and increases design options, like dark inks. But first we need to understand how print professionals measure and use different paper weights. In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about paper thickness and provide the standard weights of commercial print products.

Table of Contents

The difference between paper weight and thickness

Paper weight and paper thickness both measure the same thing: paper density. However, paper weight and thickness are not exactly the same. Paper thickness is measured with a ruler (or more technically, a caliper) whereas paper weight is measured on a scale.

Photo of a paper specialist measuring paper thickness with a caliper

Source: Measuring paper thickness with a caliper via DepositPhotos

Generally, it stands to reason that the thicker paper is, the heavier it will be, which is why many print providers simplify their advertised paper density with a single measurement. The difference is most pronounced between different kinds of paper, referred to as paper stocks. For example, cotton paper stock can be much thicker but not as heavy as cardstock.

The different types of paper stocks

Paper stock can be divided into two broad densities, light and heavy. The basic difference between these is that light paper stocks can be folded easily whereas heavy paper stocks require scoring to fold. Each of these are further subdivided into two categories based on their function.

Light paper stocks

  • Writing paper: Common notebook and printer paper, for informal use
  • Text paper: Commercial printing paper used for business materials or book pages

Heavy paper stocks

  • Cover stock: Thick paper, often coated, used for premium business materials and booklet binding
  • Cardstock: Thick paper, often uncoated, used for postcards and business cards
Logo design with business card mockup

Source: Logo design by Mamo21 via 99designs by Vista

How paper thickness and weight are measured

Paper thickness and weight are measured through different systems, which is why print providers will sometimes include multiple measurements on the same print product. While both measurements are valid, light paper stocks are traditionally measured in weight, whereas heavy paper stocks are measured in thickness.

Paper weight measurements

Pounds (lbs or #) is the measurement for paper weight used primarily in the United States, based on the US customary system. The weight of a single “ream” of paper (about 500 sheets) determines the numeric value, which is why a single 20 lb paper does not literally weigh 20 lbs. Because the size of a ream can vary between paper variants, 20 lb paper may not be as thick as 20 lb paper of a different grade.

Tip

When shopping for paper measured in pounds, take into account the type of paper since actual weight will vary based on the ream size. Use a paper weight conversion chart to find the gsm value for a more standardized measurement.

Grams Per Square Meter (gsm or g/m2) is the international measurement for paper weight based on the metric system. The weight of a 1×1 meter sheet of paper corresponds to the numeric value.

Paper thickness measurement

Points (pt) is the standard measurement for paper thickness. 1pt equates to 1/1000 inches thick. Caliper, or mil, is the same measurement, but it is written as 0.001 inches instead of 1pt.

Paper weight and thickness measurement chart

Check out our measurement chart for light paper stock vs heavy paper stock:

paper weight chart explaining light paper stock and heavy paper stock weights

Light paper stock

Writing paper

  • 14 lbs (52 gsm): The standard weight of common writing paper, like that typically found in notebooks
  • 16 lbs (60 gsm): The standard weight of most bond paper and office printer paper
  • 20 lbs (75 gsm): A sturdier weight that can make internal business documents and memos stand out while retaining functionality
  • 24 lbs (90 gsm): High-quality writing paper used for business reports, letterheads and resumes

Text paper stock

  • 70 lbs (105 gsm): A thin text paper used for book interior pages and catalogs but thick enough to prevent ink bleed-through. This is the weight of the thinnest flyers on VistaPrint (Budget).
  • 80 lbs (120 gsm): A medium-weight text paper used for magazine pages and corporate reports.
  • 100 lbs (148 gsm): The most common heavy weight for text paper but still much more pliable than cardstock. This is the Standard weight option for flyers, brochures, menus and posters on VistaPrint.
Illustration of a character surfing on paper

Source: Illustration by Alexandra G Mocanu via 99designs by Vista

Heavy paper stock

Cover stock

  • 9.5pt: The thinnest cover stock weight, on the border between paper and cardstock. It is used for premium flyers, menus and magazine covers. On VistaPrint, this is the Premium paper thickness option for a higher-quality, specialized stock.
  • 11pt: A medium cover stock weight that supports artistic effects like embossing. Great for booklet covers, invitations and greeting cards.
  • 15pt: Heavyweight cover stock used for standing posters and glossy box packaging.

Cardstock

  • 14pt: A noticeably thicker, heavier paper used for business cards, postcards, retail tags, rack cards, coated menus, presentation folders and extra high-quality flyers and brochures. This paper thickness is labeled Premium Plus on VistaPrint.
  • 16pt: A premium cardstock weight for business cards, notebook covers, postcards and menus.
  • 18pt: This extra-thick cardstock weight is on the high-quality end for business cards and postcards.

How to choose the right paper thickness for your print job

To find the right paper thickness, you will need to balance your budget, design and the functional needs of your print project, as well as the industry standards.

Budget

Because thicker paper uses denser (and therefore more) material, it is naturally more expensive. Heavier paper is also more expensive to mail. And because most home or office printers can’t handle premium stocks, thick paper means working with a professional printing service.

Design

Some design techniques and texture effects require thick paper. For example, embossing creates raised text or graphics (debossing has the opposite effect) through a machine that presses the design into the paper. While too-thin paper would tear under that pressure and heavy or dark inks would bleed through it, a gloss or matte coating can help prevent this.

Business card design with a raised graphic

Source: Business card design by Goce Veleski via 99designs by Vista

Like every design choice, there are implied associations of thick and thin paper. Thin paper feels airy and delicate, communicating elegance, while thick paper feels sturdy and unyielding, conveying boldness.

Tip

When deciding which paper weight to use for your print product, consider what associations you would like the recipient to make with it in their hands.

Practical function

How your audience will interact with the paper product will influence how thick it needs to be. For example, if it will be displayed in a card rack, the paper needs to be thick enough to stand on its own. Likewise, business cards are printed on cardstock because they have to withstand the wear and tear of being in a wallet. Thinner paper, while less resistant to staples and pins if attached to a surface, will provide better flexibility for flyers designed to be folded and put in the recipient’s pocket.

Tip

Always consider who will use your print product and how they will interact with it when selecting a paper thickness. If it needs to be folded, thinner paper is better.

Mockup of a brochure design

Source: Brochure design by YaseenArt via 99designs by Vista

Industry standards

The simplest way to choose paper thickness is to base your decision on the industry standards. In most cases, you don’t want to go too far outside of convention without good reason. Refer to paper thickness and weight guides (like the one we’ve included in this article) to find the common measurements for business cards, flyers, brochures and other marketing materials.

Professional expertise

Paper thickness and weight are technical issues, about which print professionals will have the most knowledge. Lean on this expertise when working with a printing service. VistaPrint, for example, provides visual guides to paper thickness for each product and simplifies options through straightforward qualitative categories: Budget, Standard, Premium and Premium Plus.

Paper weight is no light matter

Even when their measurements are microscopic, paper thickness and weight can greatly impact how your print project turns out. It can make the difference between how the product appears to its audience and whether it tears easily or stands the test of time. Thickness communicates a lasting impression through the primal sense of touch. To make that impression truly count, partner with an expert printing service for all your paper needs.