Whether you're a student, office worker, artist, or crafter, chances are you've encountered the confusing world of paper sizes at some point. From A4 to letter size, imperial to metric measurements, it can be tricky to figure out what size of paper you need for a project or task. Papers have a fascinating world of their own and terminologies like b5 vs a5 make sense when you dig deep. You always look for the perfect pen for your handwriting style, and the same enthusiasm should also be shown when deciding about paper. This handy guide will take you to this fascinating world and break down the most common paper sizes and dimensions to help make sense of everything.
Let’s Navigate The World Of Paper Dimensions Right
It is vital first to peruse the little history behind the paper before we navigate to the dimensional part as it will make more sense then.
A Brief History of Paper Sizes
Before we dive into the different paper sizes, let's go over some background on how these standards came about. Papermaking originated in China around 100 AD, although at that time sheets were made individually by hand so sizes varied. As papermaking technology advanced, the process became more standardized. The earliest recorded paper size standards date back to the 13th century in Europe, which used the "quarto" system based on quarters of a sheet.
Towards the end of the 18th century, a German scientist named Georg Christoph Lichtenberg developed a more organized system of paper sizes. His idea was to create a series of sizes based on halving the sheet area each time. This became known as the "octavo" system. Not long after, the metric system was implemented across Europe. The current standard international paper sizes we have today are based on the metric dimensions of the A series developed in Germany in the 1920s. Many paper sizes used in North America also have roots in the old British imperial measurements.
Paper Size Classifications
Paper sizes can generally be divided into four major classification systems:
The A Series (Metric)
This is the international standard used everywhere except North America and parts of South America. The A series format is based on halving the sheet area for each successive paper size. The largest base size is A0, which has an area of one square meter. When cut in half on the longer side, it forms A1 sheets, and so on down to the smallest size A10. Common sizes used are A4 (210 x 297mm), A5 (148 x 210mm) and A3 (297 x 420mm).
The B Series (Metric)
The B series paper sizes are intended for posters, wall charts, and other large documents. B series formats are designed as multiples of a B0 sheet which has an area of one square meter. For example, B1 is 707 x 1000mm and B2 is 500 x 707mm.
The ANSI System (Imperial)
This system is predominant in the United States, Canada, and parts of Mexico and the Philippines. ANSI stands for the American National Standards Institute, which adopted a series of paper sizes based on the area of a common business letter sheet. The ANSI system starts with Letter size (8.5 x 11 inches) as the base size, with other sizes scaled in relation. Some common ANSI sizes are legal (8.5 x 14 in), ledger or tabloid (11 x 17 in), and ANSI A (8.5 x 11 in).
The Architectural System (Imperial)
Architectural formats are a specialized offshoot of the ANSI system used for architectural drawings and plans. The sizes have names relating to fractions of a large base sheet called ARCH E (36 x 48 in). Common examples are ARCH D (24 x 36 in), ARCH C (18 x 24 in) and ARCH B (12 x 18 in).
Imperial vs Metric: Converting Paper Sizes
With both imperial and metric paper systems in use worldwide, it's helpful to know how to convert between the two units of measurement. Thankfully the math is straightforward. Here are some common paper-size conversions:
- Letter = 8.5 x 11 in = 215.9 x 279.4 mm
- Legal = 8.5 x 14 in = 215.9 x 355.6 mm
- Tabloid/Ledger = 11 x 17 in = 279.4 x 431.8 mm
- A4 = 210 x 297 mm = 8.27 x 11.69 in
- A3 = 297 x 420 mm = 11.69 x 16.54 in
As you can see, imperial sizes are generally rounded to the nearest 0.01 inch while metric is more precise down to the millimeter. Keep these conversions handy when you need to substitute paper sizes in a pinch.
Common Uses for Paper Sizes
Now that we've gone over the origins, classifications, and conversions of different paper dimensions, let's talk about some of the most popular uses for each size.
Letter - The universally understood standard note paper for office documents and correspondence. Letters easily fit into file folders.
Legal - The next size up from the letter, used for legal documents and some official memos.
Ledger/Tabloid - The largest ANSI size, commonly used for spreadsheets, oversized documents, posters, and broadsheet newspapers.
A4 - The ISO equivalent of letter size, widely used globally except in North America. A4 is common for documents, books, magazines, and university work. The combination of A4 paper size with bolt action pen is the most widely recognized combination for writing purposes.
A3 - The next size up from A4, useful for larger presentations, spreadsheet pages, and some newspaper tabloids.
B5 - it sits halfway between A4 and A5 notebook. Driven by Japanese stationary brands, B5 paper size notebooks are a growing favorite among stationary aficionados.
A5 - It is half in dimension and area when compared to A4. The smaller dimension makes the A5 notebooks ideal to carry.
Architectural Sizes - All architectural formats are used exclusively for technical drawings in the design and construction industries.
Understanding paper sizes opens up a world of possibilities no matter what you need paper for. Next time you go to order printed materials, buy a notebook, or submit projects at school or work, you'll know exactly what size you need. So don't be intimidated by all the different dimensions and acronyms - just use this guide to decipher any paper size that comes your way.