Paper Sizes

Just like your morning coffee, paper comes in lots of different sizes. Unlike coffee though, we have a simple standard so at least with paper you know what you are going to get.
In the UK we have adopted the use of the paper size Standard ISO 216.

ISO 216 is used in most countries of the World excepting America and Canada who have their own local standards. (These American local standard page sizes can cause you problems in the UK, as we will see.)

paper size chart

Paper size chart

How do the ISO standard work?

Well the largest size in the standard known as A0 is (to the nearest mm) one square metre in area. Each size down is the size of half of the larger size when cut on the longest edge.

A0A1A2A3A4A5A6A7
841mm x 1189mm594mm x 841mm420mm x 594mm297mm x 420mm210mm x 297mm148mm x 210mm105mm x 148mm74mm x 105mm

What about Pages and Leaves?

To avoid confusion printers refer to pages (sides) and leaves (sheets) of paper. Most printers prefer to refer to documents as number of printed pages and the document is to be printed single or double side.

A page is one side of a leaf, or a single side of paper, a 20 page document printed single sided will be 20 leaves of paper and the same document printed double sided will be 10 leaves.

The number of pages and the finished size of the document combined help to communicate simply the requirements of a print job, (flat size may also used to double check requirements on unusual jobs).
For example a simple four-printed page A5 document will consist of one leaf (sheet) of A4 printed onto both sides and folded in half to create four A5 pages.

Why is this good to know?

  • When specifying your print job it will make sure you get what your wanted rather than what you may have asked for! We have heard of clients order A5 but wanting A4 and being very surprised when the job is printed and delivered.
  • It is easy for a printer to work out your job and deliver what you require if you specify the finished size, number of printed pages and the type of fold.
  • When setting up your work for print you can set your paper size correctly, this will ensure what you see on a screen preview is what you will see when printed. The layout, look and balance of the document will be as formatted if you have the page size correct before you start.
  • It also helps when calculating mailing weights. We specify Paper in grams per square metre (gsm), and then we know that 100gsm paper for example at A4 is 6.25 grams per sheet. There are 16 A4 sheets to one A0 or Square Metre. So if our mailing weight is 100gsm and the envelope is 20g, allowing a margin for the print and safety we can get 12 sheets into the envelope and remain within the lower price zone. (Although we do have to check the size and thickness of the letter as well.)
  • It helps to get the most efficient use of the paper when printing large runs. No printer will print A5 leaflets onto A5 paper; they will print multiple copies of the A5 onto larger sheets and then cut them down. This process of imposition saves plate-making, time and associated charges on the press, keeping your costs down. The ISO A sizes divide neatly into the standard paper sizes used by printers, thus minimising waste.

Common things that go wrong

  • Not setting the document size correctly before starting work is the most common error we see.
    Remember that America uses different page sizes? Well most of the software we use in the UK is marketed by US companies and they set the defaults to US Letter pages sizes. Check and set your page size to the correct ISO A size before starting work. American printers use different size paper to the UK.
  • Putting multiple copies onto a page, makes it difficult for the printer to keep your costs down, as they have further pre-printing work to separate your job into a single impression, especially if they are printing many different jobs on the same sheet.
  • Creating the PDF at the wrong size. PDF software often has independent settings to the document software for output page size and it is worth checking these two.