I have a document that recipients are expected (or are likely) to print on their own. It is not clear whether the majority of users will be US or non-US, so there isn't a clear preference for letter or A4 paper.

Assuming that I can't know how many recipients will want letter and how many will expect A4, what would be the more appropriate page size to use for a PDF?

To put it another way: which will cause less issues for users:

  • printing a letter sized document using A4 paper


  • printing an A4 sized document using letter paper
  • 4
    How many of the recipients from the US, and working mostly with US-related material?
    – einpoklum
    Sep 19 '14 at 22:43
  • I would also consider who is printing, using a non-standard format might raise your costs.
    – curious
    Sep 20 '14 at 16:16
  • The audience is split relatively evenly between US and non-US users, so there isn't a clear majority. The document is distributed in PDF format, but it is of a nature that many users print on their own using desktop software so that they can refer to it quickly. Sep 24 '14 at 12:53

I've found it best to target letter height and A4 width - i.e. the lowest common denominator solution.

  • 2
    This strikes me as an argument to moderation. It exactly fits no one's needs.
    – wchargin
    Sep 20 '14 at 3:55
  • 3
    Exactly fits? No. But it will fit both, as if the width is less than A4 and height is less than letter then it will fit on both sizes.
    – Hanna
    Sep 20 '14 at 5:11
  • 1
    It's the opposite of an argument to moderation. In this case, it does meet both needs.
    – DA01
    Sep 20 '14 at 5:17
  • Yup, and the only cost to this compromise is that there will be more whitespace in either height or width - hardly a major cost. +1 Sep 20 '14 at 16:23
  • This solution thinks outside the box, and I never would have considered it! I've set the page size to 595x792pt, and have tested printing letter and A4, in actual size and using the scaling feature in Acrobat, and the results are fairly consistent. I feel like there should be a "gotcha" with this (other than the whitespace already mentioned) but I haven't found one yet. Sep 24 '14 at 12:47

Unless you have a very strong US-biased group of clients, use A4. A4 is an international standard, while Letter is only used in the US and Canada.

It is also not necessarily true that "someone using an A4 filing system would have no problem fitting the smaller letter sized into the system" as Scott claimed, since Letter is wider (215.9 mm) than A4 (210 mm).

  • 2
    (Letter is also used in Canada) Sep 19 '14 at 19:08
  • 3
    "US-biased" or "US-based"?
    – Mico
    Sep 20 '14 at 8:39
  • @Mico Here in Germany, we are very US-biased and still prefer A4 ;-)
    – Uwe Keim
    Sep 20 '14 at 9:24
  • @Mico "US-biased", i.e., having a "greater than average" proportion of US-based people. (Whatever that might mean.) Sep 20 '14 at 14:25
  • @UweKeim - I'm a US citizen based in Switzerland, and I'm perpetually confused between whether to use A4- or Letter-sized paper...
    – Mico
    Sep 20 '14 at 16:44

A4 does not fit onto letter. But I'm sure you know that.

In the end, for someone using a letter-sized filing system, A4 presents a problem due to its additional height. Pages have to be folded to fit or legal size filing has to be used.

But.... Someone using an A4 filing system would have no problem fitting the smaller letter sized into the system.

  • While this question was more about the issues users would have scaling page sizes down to fit their locale, I actually hadn't considered physically filing if a user has access to paper in both sizes. Sep 19 '14 at 13:44
  • 4
    Because filing paper that's "too high" is impossible but filing paper that's "too wide" is trivial? Sep 20 '14 at 14:26
  • 3
    I can warrant as someone who had to deal with these issues (European living in the US) that fitting a letter paper into an a4 sheet protector produces not very acceptable results and you'd generally want to fold it. I mean you can fit it, but it's hard to get in and out and not very readable afterwards, so you don't really win anything. Can't speak for commercial filing systems though, no idea how it works with those.
    – Voo
    Sep 21 '14 at 13:52
  • 1
    nothing irks our secretaeies more than printer saying load letter. So not a good idea for general audience.
    – joojaa
    Sep 21 '14 at 16:12
  • 3
    Ideally you would not choose between A4 and letter. But rather, you'd produce both if your market uses both. The cost of producing both goes a long, long, way to customer satisfaction.
    – Scott
    Sep 21 '14 at 16:48

If you distribute your document in PDF format, PDF viewers can automatically resize to fit the local paper size when printing, so there's no real problem printing.

Visually I think text looks better on page with larger left/right margins rather than a large top/bottom margin. For this an A4 doc resized to fit letter will look nicer than a letter doc resized to fit A4 (IMHO).

I'm in the UK, so I would use A4 as a default. As mentioned above, A4 is an international standard, Letter is used in US/Canada but not much outside of that.


In my humble opinion it all depends on where you live, In Portugal we don't use Letter format only A4. If you are not sure you should go with the Letter format, same reason as the other 2 answers, letter fits in A4...

All the best.


Which paper you should use depends on what country the people who will be printing your document live in.

Wikipedia is not a perfect document but often has a good summary. Open: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_size Then scroll down to the section on: North American paper sizes

US paper sizes are currently standard in the United States and are the most commonly used formats at least in the Philippines, most of Mesoamerica and Chile. The latter use US Letter, but their Legal size is one inch shorter than its US equivalent.

Mexico and Colombia, for instance, have adopted the ISO standard, but US Letter format is still the system in use throughout the country. It is virtually impossible to encounter ISO standard papers in day-to-day uses

  • 1
    This is a very old question, but OP already stated they don't know who is going to print the file. The idea is to save the file in a format that can be printed anywhere without issues, which is already addressed by the accepted answer.
    – Luciano
    Jun 11 '20 at 15:25

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