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Paper size

There have been many standard sizes of paper at different times and in different countries.

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International paper sizes


International standard paper sizes are now used in all countries except the United States, Canada, and some South American countries.

The international standard is ISO 216, which defines amongst others, A4. ISO paper sizes are all based on a single aspect ratio of the square root of two, 1:1.4142. Basing paper upon this ratio was conceived by Georg Lichtenberg in the eighteenth century, made law in Germany in the 1920s, but did not reach its culmination until the prevalence of photocopy machines from the 1960s made having all paper with the same aspect ratio far more convenient in scaling than any other system.

The largest standard size, A0, has an area of 1 m. A1 is formed by cutting a piece of A0 in half, which retains the aspect ratio. This particular measurement system was chosen in order to allow folding of one standard size into another, which cannot be accomplished with traditional paper sizes.

Brochures are made by using material at the next size up i.e. material at A3 is folded to make A4 brochures. Similarly, material at A4 is folded to make A5 brochures.

It also allows scaling without loss of image from one size to another. Thus an A4 page can be enlarged to A3 and retain the exact proportions of the original document. Office photocopiers in countries that use ISO 216 paper often have one tray filled with A4 and another filled with A3. A simple method is usually provided (e.g. one button press) to enlarge A4 to A3 or reduce A3 to A4. Thus an A4 brochure when open is A3 and can be placed on the copier and either printed directly onto the A3 paper or reduced to A4.

The ISO B series is a scaling of the A series; B1 is half way between A0 and A1 in area. The C series is half way between the A and B series of the same number; for instance, C0 is half way between A0 and B0. This way, C0 is slightly larger than A0, and B0 slightly larger than C0. This was intended to allow one to fit inside an envelope of the other. For instance, a letter written on A4 paper, the standard for this role, fits inside a C4 envelope. A C4 envelope can fit inside a B4 envelope.

The scalability also means that less paper (and hence money) is wasted by printing companies.

The measurements in millimetres are more appropriate for determining the aspect ratio of paper than the less-accurate measurement of book sizes in centimetres. However, there is a tolerance factor that lengths of paper less than 150 mm can have plus-or-minus 1.5 mm and still qualify for the size designation. Lengths from 150 to 600 mm can have plus-or-minus 2 mm, while those over 600 can have plus-or-minus 3 mm.

ISO 216 does not define any sizes larger than A0 and B0, but the German standard DIN 476 puts a factor in front of these. Thus paper designated 2A0 is twice the size of A0, while 4A0 is four times A0.

Although A4 is the standard size in the rest of the world, it doesn't fit in US three-ring binders (and there is a different standard for hole-punched binders to go with the international papers as well). However, the rarer E5 paper is less than a millimetre taller than US Letter size, though it is about five-eighths of an inch narrower. Photocopies from A4 to E5 are simply reduced to 95%, while from E5 to A4 increased to 105%. And notice that, as A4 is the standard size for international firms, their web sites (such as that of ISO itself) are designed to be printed on such paper of greater length. Printing them out without adjustment, on US Letter-size paper, prints the bottom of the page on a second sheet.


ISO/DIN paper sizes (in mm)
A- B- C- D- E-
-0 841 1189 1000 1414 917 1297
-1 594 841 707 1000 648 917 545 771
-2 420 594 500 707 458 648 385 545
-3 297 420 353 500 324 458 272 385 400 560
-4 210 297 250 353 229 324 192 272 280 400
-5 148 210 176 250 162 229 136 192 200 280
-6 105 148 125 176 114 162 96 136 140 200
-7 74 105 88 125 81 114 68 96
-8 52 74 62 88 57 81
-9 37 52 44 62 40 57
-10 26 37 31 44 28 40
ISO/DIN paper sizes (converted to rounded inch values)
A- B- C-
-0 33 46 39 55 36 51
-1 23 33 27 39 25 36
-2 16 23 19 27 18 25
-3 11 16 14 19 12 18
-4 8 11 9 14 9 12
-5 5 8 7 9 6 9
-6 4 5 5 7 4 6
-7 3 4 3 5 3 4
-8 2 3 2 3 2 3
-9 1 2 1 2 1 2
-10 1 1 1 1 1 1

Traditional paper sizes

Traditionally, a number of different sizes were defined for large sheets of paper, and paper sizes were defined by the sheet name and the number of times it had been folded. Thus a full sheet of "Royal" paper was 25 20 inches, and "Royal Octavo" was this size folded 3 times, so as to make eight sheets, and was thus 10 by 6 inches.

Imperial sizes were used in the United Kingdom and its territories. Some of the base sizes were as follows (all in inches):

Name Imperial US mm Ratio
Emperor 72 48 1829 1219 1.5
Antiquarian 53 31 1346 787 1.7097
Grand Eagle 42 28 1067 730 1.4609
Colombier 34 23 876 597 1.4681
Atlas 34 26 34 26 864 660 1.3077
Imperial 30 22 30 22 762 559 1.3636
Pinched Post 28 14 724 375 1.9322
Elephant 28 23 28 23 711 584 1.2174
Princess 28 21 711 546 1.3023
Cartridge 26 21 660 533 1.2381
Royal 25 20 25 20 635 508 1.25
Sheet and Half Post 23 19 597 495 1.2051
Medium 23 18 23 18 584 457 1.2778
Demy 22 17 22 17 572 445 1.2857
Large Post 21 16 533 419 1.2727
20 15 508 394 1.2903
Copy Draught 20 16 508 406 1.25
Crown 20 15 20 15 508 381 1.3333
Post 19 15 20 15 489 394 1.2419
Foolscap 17 13 17 13 432 343 1.2593
Small Foolscap 16 13 419 337 1.2453
Brief 16 13 406 343 1.1852
Pott 15 12 381 318 1.2

The common divisions and their abbreviations include:

Name(s) Abbr. Folds Pages
Folio fo/f 1 2
Quarto 4to 2 4
Sexto or Sixmo 6to/6mo 3 6
Octavo 8vo 3 8
Duodecimo or Twelvemo 12mo 4 12
Sextodecimo or Sixteenmo 16mo 4 16

Foolscap Folio is often referred to simply as 'Folio' or 'Foolscap'. Similarly, 'Quarto' is more correctly 'Copy Draught Quarto'.

Many of these sizes were only used for making books (see bookbinding), and would never have been offered for ordinary stationery purposes.

Current U.S. paper sizes

Current standard sizes of U.S. paper are a subset of the traditional sizes referred to above. Letter, legal, and ledger/tabloid are by far the most commonly used of these for everyday activities.

There is an additional paper size to which the name "government-letter" was given by the IEEE Printer Working Group: the 8-by-10 inch paper that is used in America for children's writing and was prescribed by Herbert Hoover when he was Secretary of Commerce to be used for U.S. governmental forms. Apparently this would enable discounts from purchase of paper for schools. As photocopy machines later proliferated, citizens wanted to make photocopies of the forms, but as the machines did not generally have this size paper in their bins, they could not do so, thus Ronald Reagan had the U.S. government switch to letter size. 8" 10" is still commonly used in spiral-bound notebooks and the like.

US paper sizes are currently standard in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

See switch costs , network effects and standardization for possible reasons for differing regional adoption rates of the ISO standard sizes. A related phenomenon may be the QWERTY keyboard layout, among other examples.

Name Inches mm Ratio
Quarto 10 8 254 203 1.25
Foolscap 13 8 330 203 1.625
Executive 10 7 267 184 1.4483
Government-Letter 10 8 267 203 1.3125
Letter 11 8 279 216 1.2941
Legal 14 8 356 216 1.6471
Ledger, Tabloid 17 11 432 279 1.5455
Post 19 15 489 394 1.2419
Crown 20 15 508 381 1.3333
Large Post 21 16 533 419 1.2727
Demy 22 17 572 445 1.2857
Medium 23 18 584 457 1.2778
Royal 25 20 635 508 1.25
Elephant 28 23 711 584 1.2174
Double Demy 35 23 889 597 1.4894
Quad Demy 45 35 1143 889 1.2857
STMT 8 5 216 140 1.5455
A 11 8 279 216 1.2941
B 17 11 432 279 1.5455
C 22 17 559 432 1.2941
D 34 22 864 559 1.5455
E 44 34 1118 864 1.2941

See also

External links

Last updated: 08-01-2005 00:49:02
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12