Printing Terms

Paper and Book sizes
Counting Paper sheets
Paper weight
Font sizes

Paper and Book sizes

Old English paper and book sizes
Emperor = 72 ins x 48 ins
Antiquarian = 53 ins x 31 ins
Grand Eagle = 42 ins x 28.75 ins
Colombier = 34.5 ins x 23.5 ins
Atlas = 34 ins x 26 ins
Imperial = 30 ins x 22 ins
Pinched Post = 28.5 ins x 14.75 ins
Elephant = 28 ins x 23 ins
Princess = 28 ins x 21.5 ins
Cartridge = 26 ins x 21 ins
Royal = 25 ins x 20 ins
Sheet and 1/2 Post = 23.5 ins x 19.5 ins
Medium = 23 ins x 18 ins
Demy = 22.5 ins x 17.5 ins
Large Post = 21 ins x 16.5 ins
Copy Draught = 20 ins x 16 ins
Small Demy = 20 ins x 15.5 ins
Crown = 20 ins x 15 ins
Post = 19.25 ins x 15.5 ins
Foolscap = 17 ins x 13.5 ins
Brief = 16 ins x 13.5 ins
Small Foolscap = 16.5 ins x 13.25 ins
Pott = 15 ins x 12.5 ins
These sizes were amalgamated from different lists, and the sizes sometimes varied (I may have added some more errors, of course!) Some may be paper sizes and some book sizes.

Folio meant cut in half, quarto cut in quarters, sixmo cut in sixths and octavo cut in eights. For example:

Imperial = 30" x 22"
Imperial folio = 15" x 22"
Imperial quarto = 15" x 11"
Imperial octavo = 7.5" x 11"
You can also have Double (twice the size), Quad (four times the size) or Double Quad (eight times the size). I've given the base sizes to the left, you can work out the other sizes for yourself! Or look at this website:
Traditional English Paper Sizes

Foolscap was so called because it used to have a watermark showing a fool's head and cap. The most common paper sizes in offices were Foolscap (this was Foolscap folio 13.5 x 8.5 in) and Quarto, which was shorter than Foolscap but slightly wider. The following table is taken from a book printed in 1962. From this, it must have been Medium Quarto.

Standard sizes for Commerical Cut Paper
Brief = 13 ins x 16 ins
Draft = 10 ins x 16 ins
Foolscap = 8 ins x 13 ins
Quarto = 8 ins x 10 ins
Medium Quarto = 8.5 ins x 11 ins
6-mo = 8 ins x 6.75 ins
8-vo = 8 ins x 5 ins

Americans used to have similar names with slightly different sizes (which may be leading to some of the different values). See paper sizes in USA - 19th century.

There are many different ranges of imperial paper sizes, each in a different proportion. Each smaller size is half the previous, but these also lead to different proportions. Metric paper have its sides in proportion 1:root 2. When you cut this in half for the next smaller size, the sides remain in the same proportion. This is obviously more sensible, and metric paper sizes were adopted throughout Britain without any fuss at all.

A0 is a square metre in area. A4 is the size of paper that photocopiers and computer printers use. 160,000 sheets of A4 would cover a hectare. Also the length of A4 paper is (as exactly as we can calculate from the evidence that has come down to us),  precisely the length of the ancient Roman foot. Coincidence, of course!

As well as the metric "A" paper sizes, there are "B" and "C" sizes as well. B0 is 1414mm by 1000mm, and C0 is 1297mm by 917mm. They halve in the same way as the "A" sizes. See International standard paper sizes

A0 = 1189 mm x 841 mm
A1 = 841 mm x 594 mm
A2 = 594 mm x 420 mm
A3 = 420 mm x 297 mm
A4 = 297 mm x 210 mm
A5 = 210 mm x 148 mm
A6 = 148 mm x 105 mm

These sides are accurate
to the nearest millimetre.

American paper sizes
Letter = 8.5 ins x 11 insAlso in double, half or quarter size
Legal = 8.5 ins x 14 ins
Ledger = 11 ins x 17 insAlso called tabloid
Broadsheet = 17 ins x 22 insAs used in newsprint
Old (untrimmed) paper size = 12 ins x 9 ins
"Dollar bill" = 7 ins x 3 insUsed for origami - larger than a modern dollar bill

If you remove a square from A4, you are left with what has been called the "Left-over Rectangle" which has pecular properties of its own. This is a very close to the proportion of 7 x 3, though larger than a modern dollar bill. The Americans do a lot of origami folding from this size, although they mostly use their Letter size. The Japanese standards use a different method of calculating the B sizes so that Japanese B sizes are not quite the same as the International ones. ISO B5 is 176 mm X 250 mm, whereas Japanese B5 is 182 mm X 257 mm. So careful if you use Japanese Origami books!

History of American paper sizes

A correspondent, Rich, has come up with an interesting point. "Is there a naming convention when describing the size of a book or magazine? Ie: Is a book, or magazine that is 10" wide and 14" long, a 10x14 or a 14x10 object? Cards and photographs for sure appear to be length first, but paper sizes are width first."
Please email me (see homepage of this site) if you have an opinion! Computer printing software uses the terms Portrait and Landscape to describe orientation, and apparently these terms came originally from printing. Portrait paintings are taller than they are wide, and landscapes are wider than they are high.

I've had the following comment about this from Richard Doorbar:
"With regard to your question about width or depth when referring to the printed page or printed sheet.
It was accepted in the repro and printing industry that the depth was always quoted first, i.e. Crown = 20x15 inches (20 inches deep x 15 inches wide) Double Crown = 30x20 inches (30 inches deep x 20 inches wide) etc., these measurements would have been for portrait sizes. For landscape sizes the smaller measure would have been quoted first i.e. A4 landscape = 210x297mm.
In the case of paper size the depth is still written first i.e. SRA2 = 450x640mm, viewing sheets for sheet fed presses as landscape sheets. The way page sizes were written would confirm whether they were landscape or portrait. This practice does not seem to have been adopted by computer software programmers who from my experience in most of the programmes I use place the width before the depth.
Most of the old conventional practices and definitions from the industry, especially Letterpress blockmaking and type composition, have either been completely lost or are now applied in different ways. Before computing the terms and reference we used in the industry and the traditional way that measurement was applied was understood by all in the industry, leaving less room for error."

Russ sent the following about another industry: "Found your comments invited in response to your correspondent Rich, regarding naming conventions for books & magazines. I'm a hologram designer by day & when we refer to end product use we always use North/South first, then East West measurement to descibe a product- there's my 2 cents worth!" That means presumably that the depth is given first, then the width.

Harry Molloy gives a more technical answer raising a new point: "Having spent 45 years in print I was always trained and indeed I have always trained others that the standard way to describe plain paper as 450x640mm refers to standard  'long grain'  paper therefore 640x450mm would be supplied as 'short grain'. Likewise plain A4 is normally cut from SRA2 as 210x297mm, however if cut from SRA1 it would revert to 297x210mm to indicate the grain direction on that material. Grain direction can and does have an effect on some laser printers, so its best to be aware. On bottle labelling it is essential that labels are produced with grain running left to right, if produced head to tail would cause labels to peel off bottles. Grain direction is also important when producing printed cartons as if printed wrong grain will create a tube , rather than a box. These are some of the reasons unprinted material must be properly specified so as to identify whether  long or short grain is being supplied.
On all printed matter it is correct to measure the head to tail measurement first followed by the left to right.
      297x210mm = portrait       210x297mm = landscape
The naming problems in print only began in the computer age some 30 years ago when US made graphic arts programs (Adobe Stuff) consistently showed width x depth - which is the American way - NOT the British way. Likewise  envelopes should be measured from the open edge down, thus a Wallet is 110x220mm and a pocket is 220x110mm Provided everyone in the UK- graphic artists and print production students are properly educated then it will be easier for all concerned, and much less confusion resulting from wrong naming conventions."

Richard Doorbar's comment above mentions 'SR2'. Someone else has asked for other SRA sizes. I have got the following from this website.

ISO RA & SRA sizes

These oversized papersizes are used by printers. The dimensions in millimetres are rounded to the nearest value.


I'm not sure why the question marks are there!


From a correspondent:

"Until the size system we have today came in in the late 1960's it seems as though manufacturers had a free rein. I have found a reference to postal letters being no smaller than 4 x 2 3/4 ins, presumably they might otherwise get lost. The John Dickinson Lion Brand envelope catalogue for March 1961 suggests sizes of 3 1/8 x 5 3/8, 3 1/2 x 6 which seems to have been made in a large range of papers and colours, 4 1/4 x 5 3/8, 4 x 6, 4 x 9.
Window envelopes 3 1/2 x 6 and 3 3/4 x 6 1/2 also 4 x 9.
Business Banker envelopes were in a variety of sizes from 4 x 9 up to 8 x 9
and pocket envelopes from 9 x 4 up to 15 x 10."

Counting sheets of paper

24 sheets = 1 quire
20 quires = 1 ream

The metric quire has 25 sheets rather than 24 (making the ream 500 sheets rather than 480).

My dictionary defines a 'printer's ream' of 516 sheets. It seems that a printer's ream is different from a writer's ream. Perhaps printers wanted to have some spare for wastage!

A quire originally meant 4 sheets of paper or parchment folded over and sewn to make 8 leaves. These bundles of paper are then sewn together in their turn to make the whole book. As paper became thinner, the quires could be made larger and larger, so now quires can be 26 or more leaves.

Paper weight

The basis weight of a paper is the designated fixed weight of 500 sheets, measured in pounds, in that paper's basic sheet size. It is important to note that the "basic sheet size" is not the same for all types of paper. While different paper types have different basic sizes, papers can still be compared by using equivalent weight.

Paper type Basic sheet size
Rag Paper
17 in x 22 in
Coated Paper
25 in x 38 in
Cover 20 in x 26 in
Tag Stock 24 in x 36 in
Index 25.5 in x 30.5 in

In metric, you measure gsm (grams per sq metre).

Caliper refers to the thickness of a sheet of paper expressed in thousandth of an inch. This measurement is taken with a micro meter. Normally, paper caliper should not have more than a + or - 5% variance within a sheet. Generally, the relation between caliper and basis weight is that the greater the caliper (the thicker the paper), the greater the paper weight.

See this website for more details.

Be careful when using this convertor below. There are variances within the same basis weight due to other characteristics of the papers. Similar weight papers may vary between different paper manufacturers. I've calculated the conversion using straightforward lb/gm and in/metre conversion, but it doesn't seem quite the same as the website above. Perhaps there are other factors involved!

500 sheets of basic sheet size weight in pounds (lb)

gsm (grams per sq metre)

Font sizes

Depth of type face Type size indicated by name
72 points = 1 inch
6 picas = 1 inch
brilliant = 3.5 points
emerald = 6.5 points
pica = 12 points

In fact, if you print off 72 point letters on a computer, you may find that the letters are less than an inch. On my computer and printer using Word in Times New Roman, 'a' is half an inch, and 'A' is three quarters of an inch. A letter which goes below the line, like 'g' or 'y'is slightly less than three quarters of an inch. So the distance from the top of the tallest letter to the bottom of the deepest letter is still slightly under an inch. On the other hand, the distance from the top of one letter on one line, to the top of the same letter on the line below is definitely more than an inch. All this may vary from one word processor to another, from one computer to another, and from one printer to another. It certainly varies from one type face to another. Some styles of lettering are distinctly shorter than others, even for the same font size. The best way to estimate size is to print out a sample!
An email has pointed out the following: "Font sizes were originally based on the size of the block on which the letter was mounted, rather than the size of the actual letter itself.  So, a 72pt typeface did not necessarily mean that the letters themselves were exactly one inch tall, but the blocks on which they were mounted were all one inch. "

From the same person, the following explanation of the terms Upper and Lower Case used of letters (where upper case means capital letters): "A lot of people don't know the origins of Upper Case and Lower Case.  Letters were kept in large compartmentalised drawers (cases), and for the common typefaces (where you needed to store a lot of letters) there were separate cases for capitals and small letters.  The composer (the guy that made up the print) would place both cases on angled shelves in front of him with the capitals case above and behind the other one.  Hence Upper Case and Lower Case.  The Upper Case tray had compartments of equal size and was set out alphabetically (except for some reason 2 letters - I think it was 'J' and 'V' were at the end after the 'z') whereas the Lower Case tray was set out with the letters used most nearest to the front, and with larger compartments for letters like 'e' than for 'z'."

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