How Is Paperweight Measured?

When we talk about different types of paper, you may be familiar with terms like silk and uncoated, especially if you’ve ordered business cards before. What you may not be familiar with though is the phrase “gsm”. This phrase, or in reality unit, is the measurement given to a type of paper and its mass.

GSM is a very important term to understand when it comes to the print industry. Unfortunately, it often gets confused with thickness. You’ll find out if you read on why that isn’t the case.

weighing scales for paper

What Does GSM Stand For?

So now we know that gsm is used as a unit of weight for any given paper stocks, what goes gsm actually mean?

Well, all paper is measured in grams. You may have already guessed then that GSM stands for grams per square meter.

“How do we measure gsm then?” I hear you asking! If you were to weigh a sheet of paper with a sheet size of 1-metre x 1-metre, no matter how thick it is, the total weight of that sheet in grams would equal the gsm value of that paper.

The gsm of that piece of paper always stays the same once measured. The gsm value doesn’t drop the smaller the paper or grow the larger the paper is.

Does GSM Mean Thickness?

confused lady shrugging

Not really, and that’s where the confusion starts. 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.

Indeed, 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.

Thickness Vs. GSM

comparison of 400gsm versus other thicknesses

Stay with us, because here comes the explanation as to why a heavier paper isn’t always thicker.

Take for example a 400gsm silk paper and 400gsm uncoated paper (if you’re not clued up on the paper finishes, you can read our gloss silk and uncoated paper guide). Because both papers are 400gsm, they both weigh the same.

The difference in thickness only becomes obvious when you understand that Silk is a more compact type of paper whereas uncoated is a little spongier. Because of the extra pockets of air in the uncoated paper (which don’t weigh anything), it appears a little thicker than the silk even though their weight is the same.

What GSM Should I Use?

different paper thicknesses

The answer to the above question is that it depends on what you’re printing. 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. Below we’ll give you some gsm ranges and what products are best suited to them.


90 - 120gsm

This paperweight is what you’ll most commonly find in your desktop printer or notepad. It usually is seen as an uncoated paper type as it’s perfect for writing on.

We’d recommend using this paperweight for letterheads and other printed items like compliment slips.


120 – 170gsm

A little bit thicker than the paper you’ll be most familiar with, the 120 - 170gsm paperweight range is best suited for posters or cheaper flyer printing. While we always recommend care and attention go into choosing the right paper type, this is still a good budget option. Takeaway menus are also a common printed item on this paperweight.


170 – 300gsm

Now we’re getting into the premium end of the paperweight range. Best suited for flyers or invitations where a weightier look and feel is 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

We’ve now approached card territory where 300gsm would be what we deem as a minimum for business card printing. Usually, your average business card is between 350 and 400gsm as it offers a nice sturdy paper which will last in a wallet or pocket. This card will also stand up under its own weight so is perfect for greeting card printing.


400 – 700gsm

If you’re looking to impress with your business cards, then we have tons of paperweight that are between 400 and 700gsm. All of these paper options are double thickness and made in house. We essentially fuse two lighter papers together which gives us an ever-thicker result. We often see people opt for this thickness for luxury wedding stationery also.