Grammage - a lamentation


For those who might be interested, here is a quote from
a correspondence some time ago:

In The Imperial system, a certain paper size (not a certain paper!) was
measured in lb per ream – but a ream of writing paper contained 480 sheets
and a ream of posters/printing paper contained 516 sheets.

Paper size, then? Well, in Sweden an A4 sized paper is the same,
irrespective of what it is intended for. So was your
Elephant size. But your Royal sheet has one size when it is
intended for writing, and another when meant for posters/

> If it is considered bond, perhaps 90# is very close to the 300 gsm.

This exactly proves why the “Imperial” system for paper identification
is of no use whatsoever! In this particluar case (i.e. Arches), their
300gsm = 140lb and their 185gsm = 90lb.

It is much easier with our Metric system. Irrespective of how small/large a paper
sample you have, you can always tell the proper gsm for it, irrespective
of how many sheets per ream it is sold in and/or how large the base
sheet is!

An example: I have in front of me a very small paper sample.
It measures 97mm * 70mm.

To simplify calculations, we transform those mm into m:
0.097m* 0.070m. Multiply those two figures to get the area of
the sample in square meters = 0.00679sqm.

Weigh the sample: the scale reads 0.54g.

Insert these values into the simple formula
Xgsm = SampleWeightInGrams / SampleAreaInSqm.

X = 0.54 / 0.00679, which equals 80gsm.

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden


Paper weights are horrible in the imperial system. Not only is it per “ream” (and that reams are non-standardized in themselves), but “20lbs” can mean different things depending on the kind of paper you’re using. And it doesn’t help that there are conflicting references online. For example this site:


gsm/1.48 = basis weight in lbs

Which … somewhat works for “Text / Book weight” (whatever that means) except when it doesn’t and, well, that’s just one of six different types of Imperial scales according to that table:

I mean I thought fathoms, miles per gallons, yards, feet, and inches were weird, but that’s just beyond insanity. I think the worst part is this is still very much in use in Canada - I would understand this would survive as an historical artifact documented in Wikipedia, but this is what you prominently see on labels here in Montréal (except when they decide not to and put GSM instead).

It’s ridiculous. But so is life in a multicultural society sometimes. :wink:

The handy conversions I’ve started internalizing are:

  • 90gsm / 60lbs book: somewhat normal paper
  • 148gsm / 100lbs book: somewhat thin photography paper
  • 216gsm / 80lbs cover: cardboard-y, not quite thick enough for sturdy continuous use
  • 240gsm / 90lbs cover: cardboard, target weight for my calendar project

I still have to figure out the rest, to be honest. Notice how the left column grows regularly while the right column is irregular?

What I don’t get is what “bond, text/book, cover, bristol, index, tag” comes from… What do they mean? How do people use that kind of stuff?



Well… If you really would like to dive down into ancient descriptions and origins, I have a few links I could send you :slight_smile:

I am brought up with Swedish terminology, so that is why I immediately know what a, say, “40 grams papper” means, feels like & is used for. Having worked with ad agencies and printers of all sizes for decades, one has to learn the lingo. And I guess it is exactly the same for an Imperial AD, whose life rotates around Text, Book, Elephant, Fool’s Cap (a.k.a. foolscap), &c.

Now, in order to try to make life a trifle easier: when picking papers for your cal, would you prefer to think in Metric terminology or in the Imperial one?

If you think that this is a quagmire, think of the poor old Italian alchemist, who found a recipe for Real Gold™ in an old manuscript: you take a dram of this and a dram of that and admix a pound of something. Problem was that he had to know in which Italian city the manuscript was penned, since a pound in those days meant different weights in different districts.

Oh, joy!

Have fun!

Typographically Yours,
Claes in Lund, Sweden


Sure, I’m genuinely curious. :slight_smile:

I’m thinking more and more in gsm, as it’s unambiguous. Those imperial people keep on saying “80lbs” and “90lbs” as if it means something (and it sometimes does) but in practice I just find it real confusing, because they basically never mention if it’s cover or text or bristol or frigging liverpool or whatever it is. :slight_smile:

So far, I’m looking at 240gsm for the calendar, as that’s what one photo shop advised me to use, but a friend who used to do a lot of print stuff says 200gsm should be enough. I have made prints with 148gsm and they do feel a little too flimsy for something that will be hooked to a nail for a year…


What size? (in mm, inch, whatever, as long as you state it!)

To continue with the quagmires:
“Size” means at least two things in the paper world:

  1. Width and height.
  2. The “glue” that holds the fibres together.

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden



Here is a little something to keep you busy:

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden


Sorry, “US Letter”, that is 8.5x11 inches (279.4mm x 215.9mm, yaaay).


That’s one of the remarkable things about life: it’s never so bad that
it can’t get worse.
- Calvin



All right, @anarcat

Your size (!) is about the same as a European A4.

Spontaneously, I’d pick a 250 or 260 gsm paper,
matte or glossy.

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden


awesome, thanks. i was recommended 240gsm+ as well, and another friend said 200gsm+ would be enough.


I like heavy paper. Feels good in the hand and doesn’t wrinkle as much. :slight_smile:


Morning, @anarcat,

Here is a suggestion that would make it easier for you to decide.

Ask the print shop to send you a dummy in correct size, correct number of pages,
correct bindning (wire-o?). Or simply buy a copy of last year’s cal, to let you have the feel of the thing.

Do you have a (professional) paper shop nearby? Do they have a dummy shop?

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden


hey @Claes,

So a little more context… I have a sample from last year made from a mass-produced, “go to the pharmacy, put a USB key in and we print you a calendar with your family picutres” process. That’s basically my standard: colors are okay, paper seems sturdy… My problem is I don’t actually know what gsm that paper is. I’ll try to get that information.

As I said, I also made a few test prints. The 148gsm definitely felt too flimsy, and I have yet to try out the 200/240gsm.

A “dummy” is a good idea - I could probably do that with those shops. My problem with the print shops is they charge about as much as the pharmacy: 15$/calendar, which I find a bit too expensive for my budget. I want to print between 20 and 30 calendars, so 15$ each means basically 450$ (CAD). That’s a lot of money for a small project like that… And yes, ideally, the process would be the reverse of this, I would get paid for my photographs, but I’m really just “amateur” at this point and those will be christmas gifts…

Long story short, I’m trying to keep costs under control. :slight_smile:


Oh, and one of the shops said they would print on a Carolina Cover 10 pts C2C… I’m drifting off-topic here, but here are the papers I’ve considered so far:

Ideally, I’d just find a ~210 or 240gsm, C2C (or C2S? who knows!) that would feed in one of the printers I have access to and just do this cheaply. Those are the printers:

… but yeah, maybe I should move this to another thread. :slight_smile:


Oh, grumble, grumble, grumpf!!!
Since we talk about gsm, you can measure it yourself!
See my first post, above.


oh wow, you mean actually weighting the thing! Duh! Thanks for hand-holding my brain on that one - i’ll just do that! :slight_smile:





Sorry, what’s that? :slight_smile:


If you are a sweet talker (sweet writer?) you just might be able to
obtain a sample pack from them?


interesting idea, i might just try that :wink: