Saturday, August 6, 2011

Understanding Paper Weights

It's no surprise that picking the right papers for card making is not always an easy task. Understanding the terminology behind paper weights can be difficult and confusing. To start with it's important to realize that the 'numbers' are only part of the story. Papers are typically categorized as being being TEXT or COVER. Text weights typically range from 20lb. (which is your typical, widely available, all-purpose copier paper) and gradually increases up to 100lb. (a nice thick paper that you might see for a premium letterhead). Depending on the manufacturer and specific paper the descriptive terms Bond, Writing, Text, Book, Offset & Ledger are all associated with papers that fall into the TEXT category. The COVER Weight category includes several 'sub categories' including Bristol and Index and because the term card stock is often commonly interchanged with 'cover' it's important to understand the sub categories exist. Bear in mind that while papers are often packaged and labeled differently for retail sellers (like Walmart or Michael's) than they will be in a commercial environment like a print shop the actual papers all fit into these standard paper industry categories.

There are two basic systems used to measure paper. The U.S. system which denotes weight in pounds (#) and the Metric System which is noted as Grams/Meter Square (g/sm2 - also sometimes listed simply as g/sm). This chart above shows that relying on the U.S.system can be confusing but when you study the Metric measurements things start to become clear and you suddenly understand why that 80lb. cardstock you got from StampinUp feels thicker than the 110lb. you bought at Walmart.

Unfortunately, the manufacturer's and resellers don't always make it easy to figure out just what it is you're buying. The packs I recently bought at Michael's actually do note the g/sm but the Georgia Pacfic I got at Walmart simply says Cardstock (if it listed the g/sm you would find it to be 200 g/sm, and this cardstock is the 110lb. Index in the chart above).

One last note. This paper below that I bought at A.C. Moore, says it's 65lb. and so does the one above that I got at Michael's but notice the differences in the g/sm? What's up with that? These are both labeled as 65lb because that is the closest standard cover/cardstock catergory, but if you have ever wondered why some 65lb. paper feels slightly thicker than another the key to unlocking that mystery is the g/sm.

Understanding paper has been one of the many interesting things I've gotten to learn in my 25+ years as a graphic designer in the printing industry and I hope that this has maybe helped clarify an otherwise frustrating and confusing subject at least to some extent. Now all we need is to hope manufacturers start labeling packages more clearly for the crafting industry so we can all be sure of just what's inside that plastic wrapper!

Happy Crafting Everyone!


Jan Hunnicutt said...

Hi Paula, Thanks fora very informative write up! My question is what gsm would you recommend to OWH card makers to look for to use as a card base? Thanks! Jan

Anonymous said...

I am still confused! lol I have to go by: Pretty? Not pretty? and that method is unreliable too. Pat K.

Paula S. said...

Jan, For card bases the minimum I use is a 200 gsm (which is where that 110lb. Georgia Pacifc from Walmart lands in the chart) and fortunately because I have access to a lot of paper I almost never use less than an 80lb. cover (which is 215 gsm).

Seongsook Duncan said...

Paula, this is a great information. Thanks very much!

Kathy V. said...

Paula, thanks for the weight chart and the info. This topic can be so confusing, so I developed an easy method of checking paper weight--I feel it! LOL If I can feel a piece before I buy, no deal! (Well, maybe if it's really pretty...) Bravo for tackling this topic.

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