Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Sir Adavis
The last time you picked up a pack of printer paper, chances are that it was 20-pound, letter-sized bond. If you bought discount paper, it was probably 16-pound bond. While letter-size paper is the standard computer paper size, there are other sizes and thicknesses you can use that will often better suit your needs.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The standard computer paper size is letter-size paper, which is 8.5 inches wide and 11 inches long.
Default Paper Sizes
The majority of printers used in offices today are designed for paper that is 8.5 inches wide. Wider paper will often not fit in the printer, and narrower paper can tend to shift from side to side while the print job is being processed.
The standard sizes of paper in the United States include:
- Letter-size paper: 8.5 x 11. Used for letters, brochures and flyers, it has an aspect ratio of 1:1.2941.
- Legal-size paper: 8.5 x 14. Slightly longer than letter-size paper, it's commonly used for brochures and flyers. It has an aspect ratio of 1:1.6471.
- Tabloid/ledger paper: 11 x 17. Twice as long as letter-size paper, it's also used for flyers and brochures. It has an aspect ratio of 1:1.5455.
- Half letter-size paper: 8.5 x 5.5. Used for postcards, greeting cards and small flyers, it has an aspect ratio of 1:1.5455.
Paper Thickness and Weight
In the United States, paper thickness is measured by its weight based on 500 sheets, which is one ream. The reasoning behind this system is that paper is extremely thin, and it is difficult to measure its width, so thickness can be easily determined since 500 sheets of thick paper weigh more than 500 sheets of thin paper.
However, there can be variation from one company to another since the paper is weighed before it's cut. You'll notice that 500 sheets of 20-pound paper doesn't actually weigh 20 pounds. The shorthand "#" is often used for pounds on paper packaging.
- Bond paper: The most common paper used in offices today, this is to what most people refer when they describe printer paper. Bond paper comes in 16, 20, 24, 28, 32 and 36 pounds.
- Text paper: This is used in commercial printing, usually for brochures and stationery. It comes in 50, 60, 70, 80 and 100 pounds.
- Book paper: Used primarily for printed books, catalogs and magazines, book paper comes in sizes ranging anywhere between 30 and 115 pounds.
- Cardstock: Also known as cover paper, this is thick, stiff paper resembling light cardboard. It comes in sizes ranging from 60 to 120 pounds.
- Index paper: Used for index cards, postcards and folders, this comes in 90, 110 and 140 pounds.
- Tag paper: Used primarily for things like signs, price tags and door hangers, this is very thick and sturdy paper. It comes in thicknesses ranging from 100 to 200 pounds.
Note that for most office printers, anything thicker than cardstock may not be compatible.
Size of Printer Paper in Pixels
While the resolution of images on your screen is usually measured in pixels, the resolution on paper is usually measured in PPI (pixels per inch) or the synonymous DPI (dots per inch). Just as the size of an image you see on one screen compared to another is determined by the quality of your screen's resolution, the number of pixels on a piece of paper is determined by your printer and software settings.
In short, there is no direct comparison from pixels to the size of paper without first looking at your printer's print quality and the quality of the image on your computer. For the best quality, professional printers recommend that you use a software setting of 300 PPI, which can be done from your printer settings (high-quality setting) or from some programs like Adobe Photoshop.
At 300 PPI, a standard letter-size piece of paper will be:
- 2550 pixels wide (300 pixels/inch x 8.5 inches)
- 3300 pixels high (300 pixels/inch x 11 inches)
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.