Tutorial - Understanding Paper Weights

I want to thank Paula for volunteering this tutorial on paper weights. This is one of those topics I've always felt was hard to talk about on the internet, where there's no way to feel the differences, but Paula gives great information I think you will find really helpful. Be sure and visit her blog at Handmade by Paula.

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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!

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Thanks again, Paula!

Everyone, remember, if you see an interesting technique or if you have one you would like to share, please email me at
kate@operationwritehome.org. Also, you can find archives of our previous tutorials at the Cardmaking Resources page of the OWH website, and lots of great information in the Cardmaking Glossary.

Jean B in PA –   – (August 9, 2011 at 5:53 AM)  

Thanks, Paula. I actually got some packages of leftover papers and card stock from a printer and never understood the labels on them before! It is pretty amazing that you can feel the difference that 4 g per sq. meter can make.

Velda  – (August 9, 2011 at 9:04 AM)  

Thank you for trying to make this confusing info a little more understandable.

Kathryn  – (August 9, 2011 at 9:06 AM)  

Thanks for helping us understand this labeling system. I think I'll print out your chart and stick it in my purse to help when I go shopping. :)

Barb  – (August 9, 2011 at 10:40 AM)  

Wow, was this ever useful! It really opened my eyes! I know the papers I like, especially for coloring with Copics, by feel, but that is not always possible when the packages are wrapped --- or online! Great job putting this together --- and thank you!

airbornewife  – (August 9, 2011 at 12:14 PM)  

I only use Stampin' UP! card stock for my bases and then the GP white for layers/stamping and some Michael's Black/Kraft for layering.. I have stuck with those for years because I know how thick they are.. now I can figure out what other papers are based on the information you have shared. thanks for posting, very informative. ~ Pam

:: BlueInks ::  – (August 9, 2011 at 2:06 PM)  

Thank you, for taking the time to explain this to us!

I have been frustrated in the past, that some of the papers do not even note the pound weight. One of them was your example! LOL

Vicki  – (August 9, 2011 at 2:35 PM)  

Thanks so much for clarifying this!

sf_crafter –   – (August 9, 2011 at 7:01 PM)  

Your explanation was very helpful. Thanks very much.

Anonymous –   – (August 9, 2011 at 11:52 PM)  

Thanks for sharing your insights into paper/cardstock weights Paula. I totally agree that I would LOVE to see EVERY manufacturer include the weights on labels. I've passed on sealed paper packs on many occasions because the information wasn't available and I didn't want to end up with wimpy cardstock. Sharla V.

MelissaS  – (August 10, 2011 at 11:25 AM)  

Oh, now I get it! Thank you so much for clearing this up. It's so frustrating to make a card and find the base stock I have is "flimsy." I never knew about the gsm count but will be more aware of this next time I have to get cs!

delightfuldaisy  – (June 5, 2012 at 6:01 AM)  

Thank you SO-O much for explaining these paper weights! I was thrilled to see the chart comparing the types of paper and weights! This post is extremely helpful!

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