So here's the thing. When I send an order to a printing shop, I never know what kind of paper I really need. So I just ask them what paper they'd propose me after I explain them the futur use of the print. (ie: flyers, congress name badges, etc.)

Since I didn't have any references, I ordered a couple of free samples from some printing company, such as Moo, Jukeboxprint, PFL and VistaPrint. Of course, it gave me an idea about their product and some paper weights, but I don't find it professionnal enough, neither complete enough.

Also, their standard seems to be quite different. For paper weight, some use "Pt", other use "#" (as in 120#). Sometimes it's "Lb", other times it's "gsm". It's really confusing. I know, there is conversion charts (ex: http://www.akeygroup.com/media/images/Paper-Equivalent-Weight.gif), but it would be nice to have a universal physical reference. Pretty much like any color reference bar :

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So, does anyone know where I can find that? If such thing exists.


  • 1
    one minor tangent: when bidding printing (at least booklet-catalog size projects) the paper is often the most expensive part. It is also the part that varies the most, so if you want bids that you can compare, require that all bids use the same paper stock. You can informally speak with them during this process about stocks that they might recommend, and then you can re-visit the paper choice with updated bids from your "short list" of potential print providers. – Yorik Nov 16 '16 at 15:16
  • The answers below are technically fine and speak a lot of sense. From a practical, newbie point of view don't get hung up on this too much. Like fonts, find a foundation that works for you and get to know them well. Ditto a solid printer(s) who will have decent house stocks and offer reliable advice when you need a special Job - appreciate that you don't have the expertise to pick the right stock - the printer or paper merchant does. Create a swatch book (with them) of weights & finishes in your go to stock - helps with clients. Contact paper wholesalers for samples (can inspire creativity). – Applefanboy Nov 21 '16 at 10:57

Such a thing does not exist, unfortunately. The sheer number of paper and board suppliers, the vast number of substrates that most of them produce and the constant innovation mean that you could never really have a universal standard set of papers. Even if you were to source something standard (like 150gsm semi gloss coated) from a handful of different suppliers, there would be variances in the appearance and feel of the stock from each one.

The best course of action, in my option is:

  • If you have a favourite printer (or printers) then ask them for a sample of each of the standard stocks that they carry. Most printers will have a range of papers and boards that will cover most eventualities. They should be able to supply with some kind of folder or book with a sample of each, labelled up with the spec, weight, recycled percentage, etc for each one.
  • Secondly, ask those printers who their paper suppliers are and approach the suppliers directly for more information and samples. They will probably have too many different products to send you a sample of every one, so you may have to narrow it down for them or request samples on a case by case basis. By approaching suppliers that your printer(s) already use, you know that they will be able to get you anything that you request, assuming that it will work with their machinery.
  • Finally, hunt the internet for print trade publications (many of which offer free subscriptions) and try to attend the occasional trade show (Packaging Innovations is a good one in the UK) so that you can pick up on new innovations and ideas. Remember that if you find something very new or 'out there' then it is a good idea to check it's viability with the printer before showing it to a client or making it the crux of your project.

Above all, experience is the key. The more projects you complete and more substrates you deal with the more you will learn and understand. Eventually, you will get to a point where you can look at a paper sample (or feel it between your fingers) and just know what weight it is, whether it's coated or uncoated, etc. You will also develop and taste for certain substrates and a dislike of others.

As with all things creative, it's rather complicated and very subjective.


You can not "standarize" that much because they refer to diferent things.

Let me explain a bit some units.


Paper sheets are made of, oh well, paper, and the easiest way to measure biiiiiig chunks of paper (Rools actually) is weight.

Weight is the first unit here.

If you make a paper twice the thicness you have twice the material. The first formula is a bit streight.

But as there are diferent sheet sizes: International, American, sometimes with some extra cm here and sometimes extra there, you need have a standard "size" unit, which is a square meter. So the unit is [g/m²] (grammage, gram per square meter, gsm in English)

Lbs or Kg

As a designer I would not "rely" on this unit, because this unit is dependant on the real size of the sheet. If you have a big sheet of paper, 500 pices of this (ream), will weigh more than 500 pices of a small one, both papers of the same thickness and gsm. This unit is for things like transportation.


But in thicker papers, you can not rely on weight alone, but how really thick the cardboard is, so you need a "thickness" unit. Pts. One paper can be lightweight but thick. The unit is a 1/1000 of an inch. 10 pt. is 0.010 in. (This is not the typographic unit, that is a totally diferent one)

You can have some equivalents to pts

You can see them in the table you gave. 3.2 pts = 0.0032 caliper inches. And the mm equivalent is just a matter of dividing them with 2.54.

Type of paper

But the type of paper is diferent, the expected quality of each paper is diferent. Some papers, aditionally to the paper has coatings, which makes the paper to be heavier. Some papers are more dense than others, so given some gsm mean something diferent about how thick and firm the paper is. This depends on the type of fiber, preasure, chemicals, humidity.

But there are diferent brands

One brand could use diferent materials, diferent processes, diferent presure to the press. Each one want to inovate something. So each brand can call its paper No. 1, 2, or any scale they want.

But you are the one

That needs to know the usage, the texture, the sensation. It is not a mathemathical problem.

1) Choose some main types or brands. for example a "Super White Coated" paper. Buy a sheet of each gsm, and cut them and fold them into a letter size or A4 sample "magazine". I had one where the first page were for example a 100 gsm, the second a 120 gsm, the third 135 etc.

I had one self made catalog of coated paper, one for uncoated, and two for specific types of cardboard.

2) Know the limits of the paper your favorite printhouse has.

Some machines will not print a too thick cardboard because it can potentialy mess up the machine, so it has no sense to have a sample of that paper you will not use.

3) There are thousand types of paper. Some are hand made. I saw one echological that have seeds inside it. If you spend your life making a catalog of them you will not have time to do something with them. So simply Take a decision to work with some brands, and know how they behave.

4) Do not try to be "that creative". I did had some paper catalogs sometime. Unless you are making artesanal stuff, like wedding invitations, there is a chance you will not use them at all.

5) But if you do need to choose exothic papers, do that as a project based decision. Choose one for this wedding. buy it, work with it, enjoy it, and for the next project buy another diferent. Save some phisical samples of papers you know how they behave.

6) Some papers can not really be printed at all. Either too thick, or too much texture, or too absorbent. Use silk print, or some kind of flat bed inkjet as a last resource.

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