Paper – what is GSM?

When we talk about different types of paper, we often use the phrase ‘GSM’, so it's well worth understanding what this term means. A lot of people think they know, but it is quite a specific term and it’s worth knowing exactly what it refers to when you’re ordering your print.

Paper – what is GSM? What does GSM mean?

GSM is a popular technical term in the world of paper and litho or digital print, yet many people don't fully understand what it means, what it doesn't mean, and how it is measured.

GSM stands for Grams per Square Metre.

Paper is measured by weight. If you weigh a sheet of paper that is 1 metre x 1 metre in size, the weight of that sheet in grams is the GSM value of that paper type.

What DOESN’T GSM mean?

GSM refers ONLY to the weight of a 1m square sheet of the paper, in grams. It is not an exact measurement of how thick a sheet of paper is, or how stiff it will be. This applies to paper used in litho, digital or wide format machines.

It's true that heavy papers are usually thicker and stiffer than light papers, but two different papers could both be 400gsm, and one could be thicker and stiffer than the other.

Also, it does not relate to the finish of the paper – you can read about gloss, silk and uncoated here.

Paper weights in practice – what to expect

While there are no rules when it comes to choosing a paper type, different printed items generally have a GSM range that is most suitable in terms of cost, practicality and quality requirements. Let's look at a few here:

90 - 120gsm

This is the typical range of the type of paper you’d use in your printer or photocopier, and buy in boxes from Staples or Rymans. It's ideal for letterheads, compliment slips and pads, especially when using uncoated paper that's easy to write on.

120 - 170gsm

This is a thicker range, generally used for posters, and for cheap leaflet and flyer printing. It’s economically priced yet looks and feels good. This is the typical range for handouts and leaflets like takeaway menus and event flyers.

200 - 300gsm

This is the more premium end of the paper weight range and is suitable for quality print where a weighty look and feel are very important. It’s not quite a card, but rather a thick and sturdy paper, much like the covers on glossy magazines that you’ll see in newsagents.

300 - 400gsm

This is basically card territory now, with 300gsm being industry standard for nightclub flyers and street handouts, and 350 and 400gsm being very common for high-quality printed business cards. This card will stand up under its own weight and rigidity, (like a Christmas card), and is the premium paper available in digital printing.