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Size and weight matters… when designing for print

Size and weight matters… when designing for print

By Marc Brabander

What is A4, A1 or 350gsm and why does it matter?

Have you ever seen a DL-size flyer in a brochure stand that is hunched over like a flower that it top-heavy and is in the wrong vase? That’s an undesired outcome for any business promoting their event/services – easily prevented…

The cause of the doubled over effect is simply that the paper is too light-weight for it to stand up – there aren’t enough paper fibres for it to hold its own.

When designing flyers, I always ask “where are you using the flyers”. If the answer is “in a DL-sized brochure stand at the Visitor Information Centre” (or on the front counter of a business) – then I know that the only solution is a stock weight of 250gsm upwards.

What does that mean?
For those interested, ‘stock’ is industry lingo for ‘paper stock’ with stock being derived from its original meaning of
“a product or type of product) usually kept in stock and thus regularly available for sale”. I guess over time it became to mean the same thing within the industry. ‘gsm’ stands for ‘grams per square metre’ and is the official weight indication of the paper.

What size is that?

In Australia the common size that is used is A4, and other A-formats like A2, A3, A5, A6, A7. One simple thing to remember is that A5 is half an A4 (A4 folded on short edge), and A3 is two A4 put side by side (on long edge). This handy reference document will provide you with an overview of the most common sizes.

Size and weight matters… when designing for print

In America they have different sizing, and if you’re used to working in Word, you’ll be familiar with ‘Letter’ size. For designing and printing in Australia, it is best if you set the artwork up as an A-size… it will save you some hassles with printers, and prevents unexpected results.

Some suggested uses for the standard paper sizes are:

A0 (840x1189mm) – Posters, plans, and signs
A1 (594x840mm) – Posters, plans, and signs
A2 (420x594mm) – Posters, plans, and signs
A3 (297x420mm) – Posters, larger newsletters (broadsheet-like), calendars, maps,
Standard document size: A4 (210x297mm) – used for standard letters, contracts, training documents, newsletters, invoices, notices, docket books, small posters, notepads, calendars and so on.
A5 (148.5x210mm) – used for flyers, postcards (scored & folded to A6), compact training handbooks, invitations, docket books, notepads
DL (99x210mm) – used for flyers, promotional cards, greeting cards, gift vouchers, invitations, small receipt/delivery docket books, notepads
A6 (105x148.5mm) – used for flyers, hand-outs, invitations, vouchers, tickets, small notepads, place cards (scored/folded)
A7 (74x105mm) – cards, promo pads, tags, product cards, bottle labels, thank you/get well cards, magnets
Business Cards (90x55mm) – cards, promo pads, tags, product cards, bottle labels, thank you/get well cards, magnets

Going rogue… (being a little different)

You can opt to be different… and I must admit, ‘different’ often gets noticed. Some businesses in the area have opted in the past to print a taller DL brochure so that it stands out in the brochure stand with all the other brochures. Still the same width of 99mm, but taller (297mm instead of the usual 210mm). But there is an additional cost to that.

For a brochure, to be different, you could print 210mm square (instead of A4). Works well, particularly if printed on a heavier stock of 210gsm artboard with matt celloglaze finish. With the smaller size than A4, you lose some space, cost-wise it should be similar to a standard A4 size document.

Time to weigh things up…

As mentioned in the introduction, it’s important to get the paper weight right.

Most brochures you see in the DL brochure holders are printed on 150gsm weight stock. This is fine for a 6-page DL brochure (an A4 folded into three); however, it falls short – literally! – when it is only a single DL panel. If that single DL needs to be able to stand up, you need to go 250gsm.

Business cards tend to be 350gsm artboard. These days the trend is moving to a thicker card stock, of 400-450gsm.

For simple flyers that are sitting on a reception desk or coffee table, or are handed out, you can use anywhere from 100gsm to 170gsm. There isn’t a huge difference in cost, however, printers tend to buy the 150gsm weight paper in larger quantities and as such it often tends to be the cheaper alternative. When you are handing out flyers like this, ‘feel’ comes into play… your audience/customers will feel the flyer and subconsciously associate what they feel in their hands with your business. I often recommend printing flyers on 170gsm satin artpaper for this reason, particularly the DL, A5 and A4 size flyers.

For most business documents that are printed ‘in-house’ by people the paper is predominantly 80gsm laser bond. For documents that will be hole-punched and inserted into binder, we recommend using 90 or 100gsm smooth uncoated laser stock like Colortech+ Uncoated. It is more resistant to tearing when flipped repeatedly in the binder.

For posters that are going in windows, I’d recommend going with a heavier card – like a 250gsm artboard – as it maintains it shape better. I recently printed a poster up for my upcoming exhibition Local Artist Uncovered at the Cessnock Regional Art Gallery.

I found that the 170gsm satin artpaper was affected by condensation, temperature fluctuations and full heat of the afternoon sun. If you are interested in the art exhibition follow the link: Local Artist Uncovered.

If in doubt, specify to your designer/printer what your intended use of your printed items will be and ask for a recommendation.

Going green…

There are so many options available when it comes to paper. One thing that is becoming more prevalent (and relevant) is access to FCS* certified papers, carbon neutral papers, and recycled papers. General recommendation is FCS at least (or the equivalent, PEFC), or a mix of recycled/FCS.

*FCS stands for Forestry Stewardship Council – it is an international network, which promotes responsible management of the world’s forests. A similar such management program is represented as PEFC, which stands for the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.


There are other accreditations of course… ECF – Elementally chlorine-free, TCF – Totally chlorine-free, EMAS (the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme), ISO 14001 (International Environmental Management Standard), Nordic Swan.

The long and short of it…

And that’s about the basics of it. My suggestion is: take the time up front to work out where you are going to use your printed document. Think it through. Talk to your printer.

I love to hear your experiences with paper – the good and the bad… what worked, what didn’t. And if I can be of any assistance, please drop me a line too - call me on (02) 4990 3230 or send an email at marc@binkcreative.com.au

Happy designing/printing!


Marc Brabander
BINK Creative



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