Understanding Paper Weight

When it comes to paper, especially cardstock and specialty papers, you’ll often see it described in terms of its “weight”. Paper weight is admittedly one of the more confusing aspects of choosing paper, and we receive questions about it all the time. While paper has been around for centuries, paper weight is a relatively new term that often means different things to different people. But understanding weight is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Here’s a general guide to help you choose the right weight for your needs.

Understanding Paper Weight

In short, weight refers to the paper’s thickness, with the higher the number, the thicker the paper. In the U.S. this is often measured in pounds (also written ‘#’ or ‘lb’) but you might also see the European measurement of GSM (grams per square meter) tossed around. The American system is less unified and uses a different weight for different categories of paper, but since we’re based in the U.S. we’re going to be talking in terms of American pounds here.

It’s important to understand that with the American system, cardstock weight and text paper weight are two different things. This means that 80# cardstock is not the same thickness as 80# text paper. In fact, 80# cardstock is actually much thicker than 80# text paper. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. But when comparing weights among the same type of paper (comparing cardstock to cardstock for instance) a higher number always denotes a heavier paper.

Here’s how to differentiate between the different types, thicknesses and weights of paper.

Cardstock Weight

Cardstock is known for being a thicker, sturdier paper that’s perfect for formal invitations and stationery, business cards, and greeting cards. Cardstock weight can range anywhere from 45# to 200# or higher.

Cardstock Weight Common Uses

65#

A thinner cardstock that’s perfect for craft projects and layering. Its low weight makes it perfect for die-cutting, paper punching and scrapbooking.

80#

A medium weight cardstock that goes through most home printers easily. Because it’s so versatile, it’s one of the most popular weights for all types of projects. You can use it for DIY invitations, wedding stationery, greeting cards, resumes, flyers and business cards.

100#

On the heavier side, 100# cardstock gives any project a professional look and feel. In my experience, it can go through most home printers without a problem, but I highly recommend testing a sheet first! Professional printers and office laser printers should be able to print on it just fine.

110#

A favorite for wedding invitations and stationery, 110# cardstock feels sturdy while still retaining a light elegance.

130# and up

This is what we refer to as heavyweight cardstock. It’s great for paper crafts, but if you plan to print on it, save this for professional printers, embossers, and letterpress printing.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a cardstock weight:

PRINTING

If you’re printing at home, 80# stock is usually the maximum recommended. I have gone as high as 100-120# when hand-feeding paper through the rear feed tray, but I always make sure to test it first. Industrial laser printers can usually handle much heavier paper, but again, test a few sheets before you invest in the heavy stuff.

STYLE

Formal stationery and projects often look more professional on heavier cardstock. Meanwhile, business cards and greeting cards work great on 80 – 100# cardstock.

POSTAGE

The heavier the cardstock, the more postage you will need when mailing invitations or greeting cards!

Text Paper Weight

Text paper is a thinner paper often used for printing office documents and flyers. Because it’s so versatile, you can pretty much use it on any printer and for any project without having to worry about jamming, extra postage, or the like.

Text Paper Weight Common Uses

50#

Thin, inexpensive, all-purpose paper that’s often used for copying and printing documents.

70#

A bit more substantial than common copy paper, this paper weight is perfect for brochures, menus, letterhead and important documents.

80#

While 80# text paper is thinner than 80# cardstock, it often makes an economical alternative that can be used for wedding programs, heavier menus, fine brochures and sometimes even invitations.

100# and up

This is a thick paper that is often reserved for professional and commercial printing.