How To Choose the Right Paper Size

Most people never think about paper size, but there are a few instances – like graphic design, scrapbooking, and even wedding planning – when the standard letter-sized sheet of paper just won’t cut it.

Choosing the correct paper size is just as important as selecting an appropriate paper weight and finish, but with all those weird acronyms and abbreviations, it can be difficult to know exactly what size you should purchase. Let’s start with the basics.

Basic Size versus Cut Size

There are two important terms you need to know when it comes to understanding paper size:

  • Basic Size: The size of a sheet of paper before it’s cut down to the size you purchase. Basic size is different for every paper weight.
  • Cut Size: The size of sheet you purchase.

For example, the average sheet of letter-sized paper is 8.5 x 11 inches, but the basic size for a letter-sized sheet is actually 17 x 11 inches – twice the size of your letter paper. Slice the basic size in half, and voila – there’s your cut size.

Understanding Paper Sizes

The logic behind how North Americans arrived at our standard paper sizes has largely been lost. The American Forest and Paper Association speculates that 11 inches, the height of a sheet of letter-sized paper, was roughly ¼ of the arm span of an experienced vatman. However, there is no proof of this and it does nothing to explain how we arrived at a standard width of 8.5 inches, so the real story remains a mystery.

ANSI Standards

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI, for short) determined North American standard paper sizes by defining all paper sizes against the standard letter size sheet (8.5 x 11 inches), called ANSI A. So if ANSI A is a letter-sized sheet of paper, ANSI B is essentially two letter-sized sheets (technically called “ledger” or “tabloid”, ANSI B is also the basic size for a letter-sized sheet of paper).

The ANSI system is similar to its metric equivalent, called ISO 216; in both systems, different paper sizes are roughly halves or doubles of each other. However, in the ANSI system, the aspect ratios are different for each paper size.

What Size Should You Use?

Ultimately, the paper size you should use depends on your intended use, so only you know how large of a sheet you need. The Paper Mill Store sells a large range of sheet sizes, including everything from basic letter-sized paper and cardstock to a large 28.3″ x 40.2″” full sheet, so no matter what size you need, we’ve got you covered. If you’re looking for something a little heavier, we also sell sheets of cardstock in different sizes, from letter size all the way up to 35 x 23″ posters.

There are no rules when it comes to choosing a paper size, so if you want to use a larger size, go for it!

Paper Size Options

There are a few common paper size categories you will most likely encounter: Desktop, Digital, and Scrapbooking.

Desktop Sizes

Letter (ANSI A): Letter-sized paper is standard for office use (and just about every other use) in North America. We sell letter-sized paper in a wide variety of weights, finishes, and colors. Check out the full range of letter sized paper or cardstock.

Legal: Legal-sized paper is only found in Canada and America. Its history is much debated, but it’s possible its size dates back to the reign of King Henry VIII. Back then, sheets of paper were 17 x 22 inches – slice this in half and you get a legal-sized sheet. But then again, legal paper may be longer simply because lawyers like taking lots of notes. Just because it’s “legal” doesn’t mean it can’t be fun – check out our selection of colorful legal paper. We even sell a metallic legal-sized sheet of cardstock for when you want something with a little more glam.

Tabloid- and ledger-sized paper are basically the same thing. They’re both 11 x 17 inches, but “tabloid” refers to vertical or portrait orientation, while “ledger” refers to horizontal or landscape orientation. We sell tabloid and ledger papers in a variety of colors and weights; shop our selection of tabloid or ledger-sized paper now. For a heavier weight, see our selection of tabloid and ledger-sized cardstock.

Digital Sizes

Digital sizes are slightly larger than desktop sizes, and are commonly used by designers or for larger format uses. Pro tip: if you’re planning on printing on a digital-sized paper, always run a print test first.

We sell four common digital sizes – simply select your size and start shopping!

Scrapbooking Sizes

Scrapbooking is such a versatile craft that you can basically use any paper size as long as it fits your design and color scheme. Letter size and 12 x 12 are the most common scrapbooking paper sizes.

Letter: Letter-sized paper is perfect for just about any use. Use it to create a mini-album, a handmade embellishment, or even as a page base, especially if you want to print on it. Here are some of our favorite letter-sized scrapbooking papers and cardstocks.

12 x 12: 12 x 12 square paper is a standard size for scrapbooking pages. We only sell the highest quality paper so our selection is perfect for any scrapbooking use, from page bases to embossed embellishments. Check out our range of 12 x 12 paper – you can even sort by color or paper finish. If you want something a little heavier, consider using a 12 x 12 sheet of cardstock.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Paper Size

If you don’t know which paper size is right for your project, consider the following:

  • Final use: What are you creating? Will you be folding your sheet in half to make a card? Will you be cutting it into several smaller pieces? Will you be using for correspondence, or for a printed photo or poster? The intended use for your paper is the most important thing to consider when choosing a paper size.
  • How much do you want to fit on one sheet? If you’re looking to print multiple items such as postcards or flyers on a single sheet of paper, you may want to consider using a larger paper size.
  • What can your printer handle? If your printer is only capable of printing on letter-sized paper, you should purchase letter-sized paper (or possibly legal-sized if you can adjust your length settings). If you aren’t able to adjust your printer’s width setting, consider using a narrower paper or having your project professionally printed.

Paper Size Matters

Choosing the right paper size is just as important as choosing the right weight and finish. Whatever size you need, The Paper Mill Store can supply it, and we also offer cutting, perforating, and scoring if you want to print multiple pieces on a single sheet. So no matter big or small you need your sheets of paper or cardstock to be, we can help.

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