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Understanding Types of Paper: From Standard to Specialty Paper

types of paper

Paper surrounds us from every direction, from glossy magazines to the cardboard boxes in which your cereal comes in. You might think it's just a paper, but there's a surprising amount of variety out there! Whether you're printing a professional report or need something eye-catching to wrap a gift, selecting the suited paper can significantly impact the outcome.

This guide will help you navigate most of the different types of paper for printing – the workhorses, the fancy stuff, and the nitty gritty in between.

Paper Specs: Weight, Thickness, Size Explained

Paper Specs Weight Thickness Size Explained

Understanding paper specifications is key to choosing the right paper material for your project. Let's break down the essentials:

GSM/Basis Weight:

This refers to how much a standard-sized unit of paper weighs. It's a response to the “What does the weight of paper mean” query.

GSM (grams per square meter) is widely used, while 'basis weight' in pounds is common in the U.S. Lighter weights (like standard copy paper) are around 20-lb or 80 GSM, feeling thin and flexible. Cardstocks get upwards of 100 GSM, resulting in a sturdy, substantial feel. Generally, higher GSM/basis weight means heavier, thicker paper.


Measured in micrometers (or 'Caliper'), thickness influences both the feel and how the paper handles in a printer. Thicker paper can add a sense of importance to documents but can also be more prone to jamming. On the other hand, thinner varieties of tissue paper, suitable for wrapping and stuffing, might not have the same issues due to their lightweight nature.

Standard Sizes:

Letter, Legal, and Tabloid are the sizes you'll encounter most. A chart would be immensely helpful to visualize them side-by-side, but let's remember that paper sizes also vary depending on the region!

Paper Size

Dimensions (in inches)

  • Letter

8.5 x 11

  • Legal

8.5 x 14

  • Tabloid

11 x 17

Note: Large format paper sizes, such as Tabloid (11 x 17 inches), are excellent for big projects, including posters, signage, and architectural plans.

Certifications: Your Sustainability Guideposts

Certification Your Sustainability  Guideposts

Working with different types of papers comes with caution. So, it's best to be aware of sustainability practices. See the following.

FSC (Forest Stewardship Council):

Ensures paper comes from responsibly managed forests, promoting biodiversity and ethical practices.

Recycled Content:

Look for percentages! Papers with high recycled content (ideally post-consumer) keep paper materials out of landfills.

Other Eco-Certifications:

There are several regional or niche certifications (like chlorine-free bleaching), so do some research based on your location or specific needs.

Note: Sometimes, the most eco-friendly option might not be perfectly suited to your project. For example, if you need a rare, super-smooth specialty paper for fine art prints, a fully recycled option might not exist. In these cases, prioritize responsible sourcing (FSC) as a compromise. The goal is continuous improvement, not absolute perfection!

What is "Printer Paper"?

What is Printer Paper

The term "printer paper" usually refers to the standard copy paper that's perfect for everyday printing needs. It has a specific weight (often a 20-lb bond) and moderate brightness level. This paper is your go-to for basic documents, reports, drafts, and projects where clear black-and-white printing is the primary focus. But within this category of "printer paper," there's still room for variations.

Types of printer paper

Even standard printer paper has room for customization depending on your needs:

Papers to write on:

It includes:

  • Standard printer paper is perfect for various writing needs, such as drafting a novel or jotting down notes.

  • Matte photo paper, with its non-reflective finish, is also suitable for writing.

  • Laser printer paper, specially designed to handle the high heat of laser printers, can be written on as well.

Inkjet vs. Laser:

Many papers work for both types of printers, but some are specifically optimized for either inkjet or laser printing. Choosing the correct type impacts how the ink interacts with the paper for the best image quality.

Moreover, laser paper types can handle the high heat of laser printers. It's typically heavier, smoother, and less likely to bleed compared to standard or inkjet paper.


Brightness levels in printer paper range from standard to ultra-bright. Higher brightness results in slightly increased contrast and slightly more vivid colors.


While matte and smooth are the most common finishes, some printer papers offer subtle textures or a slight sheen for a different aesthetic.

Consider this question, “Can you write on matte photo paper?” which is one of the most frequently asked questions. The answer is: Yes, you can! With its non-reflective finish, Matte photo paper is suitable for writing, although the ink may take longer to dry compared to standard printer paper.

Matching Printer Paper to Your Project

Is copy paper the same as printer paper? Let’s see if there are any similarities between them.

The comparison between copy paper and printer paper is essentially the same, typically used for everyday printing needs.

  • For basic documents and drafts, it's most cost-effective to use standard copy paper.

  • For reports or presentations with a text focus, matte paper provides a more professional look.

  • Bright white paper is the best choice for flyers or graphics with minimal color, adding vibrancy and contrast.

Always consider paper specifications like weight, thickness, and size for the best printing results.

Specialty Paper | 101 Guide

Specialty Paper 101 Guide

Specialty papers, including vellum and cardstock, are designed for specific tasks and offer unique characteristics like texture, weight, finish, or color. These papers are suitable for a variety of applications, such as crafting, professional printing, and laser printing projects. Moreover, with its translucent, smooth finish, vellum paper is commonly used for tracing, architectural plans, and crafting elegant invitations.

When selecting a specialty paper for your project, consider the following:

  • Utilize coated inkjet paper to add detail and color to photos or image-heavy documents.

  • Opt for a matte or brighter white laser-compatible paper for professional-looking text documents.

  • If a thicker paper is required, explore cardstock, available in various finishes and weights.

  • Textured or linen-finish papers are recommended to create brochures or invitations with a standout design.

Laser printers, which use dry toner, allow for advanced techniques:

  • The foiling technique can add metallic accents to invitations or cards.

  • Embossing can create raised textures and patterns, delivering a high-end feel to packaging or business cards.

A Sneak Peak Of Construction Paper

A Sneak Peak Of Construction Paper

Construction paper is another example of paper, often used for crafting and children's projects. It is a heavier and coarser material than standard printing paper. It comes in either 9x12 inches or 12x18 inches. Technically, you put construction paper in a printer, but be careful! It's thicker than regular paper, so it might cause jams. Check your printer's instructions to see the maximum paper weight it can handle.

Can you print it on construction paper? It might not be as crisp as printing on paper designed for printers. But if you want a special effect, it's worth trying!

To clear the air, you must know that cardstock is not the same as construction paper. Both are thicker than regular paper, but cardstock is smoother and sturdier, while construction paper is more flexible and has a rougher texture. Cardstock is commonly used for crafting, scrapbooking, and creating business cards, brochures, menus, and postcards due to its durability and professional feel.

Read More: The Essential Guide to Effective Packaging for Baked Goods

Final Remarks!

Printing papers are as diverse as the projects they bring to life. From the daily workhorse copy paper to the luxuriously textured cardstock, understanding the different types of papers profoundly impacts your printing outcomes. So, try out different types, weights, and finishes.

Whether you're printing a simple document or a high-end brochure, there's a paper out there that's just right for your project.

Finally, we'd love to hear from you. What are your favorite papers to use? Do you have any exciting project ideas you're keen on trying out with different paper types? Connect with our expert at Half Price Packaging to make your projects worthwhile.

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