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What is GSM in the world of paper and printing?

Posted in Printing Tips and Tricks, Perfect print design on 18 November 2020


In short, GSM stands for Grams per Square Meter. There are thousands of varieties of paper and board which have a wide range of properties. The use of the term GSM is a good way for paper manufacturers and printers to identify them. The higher the GSM number, the heavier the paper.

According to Brittania The paper specimens must consist of at least 10 sheets with a total area of not less than about 600 square centimetres (100 square inches). Since the properties of paper change with moisture content, all tests are conducted under standard conditions.

Ok, so that’s how they measure the paper, what does this mean to me?

Our customers often ask which the best type of paper is for their project. When you are ordering you will need to make a decision about what paper weight to use.  This is understandable, because when you order online you can’t see or feel the paper, so it’s a bit of a worrying prospect making an order when you don’t know what to expect.

Let us give you an idea of paper weights and what they may look or feel like:
  • 35 – 55 gsm is a very thin paper, this would commonly be used for newspapers or books with thousands of pages.
  • 90 – 100 gsm is what we would describe as photocopy paper. This is used for everyday printing of newsletters, handouts and admin stuff, this is what you would usually get when you buy a pack of 500 A4 sheets in a supermarket. This is a great weight to choose if you need your print to be corner stapled. It’s what we use to print our free printable times tables and the inner pages of our hardback and paperback books.
  • 120 – 140 gsm is a premium paper. This is good for prints, flyers, notices and anything that needs a bit more sturdiness than bog standard paper.
  • 200 – 300 gsm is a thin card, it will still bend easily, but will stand up nicely when folded. This is good for greetings cards, certificates, brochures, and good quality posters.
  • 300 – 400 gsm is a thicker card and would be used for business cards, high quality greetings cards, postcards and brochure covers.

At Doxdirect the paper weights we offer are 80 gsm, 100 gsm, 120 gsm, 130 gsm, 160 gsm, 170 gsm and 300 gsm. We use 400 gsm for our business cards.

When ordering you will notice that the different weights are either plain or satin. It’s personal preference which one you go for, but you can use this as a general idea:

  • Plain – matt and bright white, better for large amounts of text
  • Satin – soft sheen, off-white, ideal for full coverage.
What’s the difference between thickness and gsm (what does calliper mean?)

There is another way to describe the property of paper and that is its thickness (or caliper). This is the thickness of a single sheet of paper which is measured in thousandths of an inch (or points), or millimetres using the metric system. According to PrintWiki Caliper is measured using a micrometer, a device which measures minute thicknesses such as paper by applying a static load for a set period of time. The thickness of the paper can differ according to texture, fibre and density, but a GSM of 100 would measure roughly 0.147 of a millimetre.

Thanks for reading and we hope that helps the next time you’re placing an order!