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Printer Paper Sizes Explained in Plain Language

Cartoon of person using a multifunction printer scanner that has an error and there is paper flying everywhere.
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Have you ever looked at the cover of a box of printer paper and wondered what all the numbers mean? Have you wondered what is the difference between A5, A4 or Tabloid, and why there are so many confusing numbers on the box? Don’t worry, we’re here to demystify and simplify the confusing world of paper sizes.

Though other paper size standards exist, there are two main systems in use today, the international and North American systems. The international standard, also known as the ISO 216 standard, is used throughout the world. Today, we will focus on the North American system, used primarily in the USA and Canada. The standard includes the familiar Letter (8.5 in × 11 in) and Legal (8.5 in × 14 in), but also some additional sizes you may not use as often.


The North American paper sizes are based on traditional formats with arbitrary ratios. The most popular formats of the traditional sizes are the Letter (8.5 × 11 inches), Legal (8.5 × 14 inches) and Tabloid (11 × 17 inches) formats. You more than likely use these formats in your everyday life. Letter is the standard for business and academic documents. The Legal format is used to make legal pads, and the Tabloid format is commonly used to make tabloids or smaller sized newspapers.

Traditional North American Paper Sizes


Size in Inches

Size in Millimeters

Junior Legal

8 × 5

203 × 127


8.5 × 11

216 × 279


8.5 × 14

216 × 356

Tabloid (Ledger)

11 × 17

279 × 432



In 1995, the American National Standards Institute adopted the ANSI/ASME Y14.1 standard. The different formats of this system are denoted by ANSI followed by a letter. Even though this standard exists, the traditional sizes remain the most widely used. The ANSI paper formats are similar to those of the ISO standard in that cutting a sheet in half will produce two sheets of the next size.

The use of American paper sizes often leads to many problems when it comes to the international exchange of documents and has become less common in universities where students are more often held to international standards when attending conferences or submitting articles to international journals.

According to standard international paper sizes, paper sizes go from A0-A7 and includes a standard business card size (BC). Since most European countries use the metric system, the international standard sizes are measured in millimeters. Luckily, documents can be prepared to be printed on both ANSI and the ISO paper format.


Many copy machines have preset magnification factors for enlarging or reducing a copied document to print it on a different paper size. These presets typically take the form of buttons labelled A3 or A4 and so forth. This eliminates wasted margins and saves you the trouble of trying to guess the right magnification factor, which can lead to wasted paper.

Which paper type you use really depends on your physical location. Some people will want to keep a supply of both ISO and ANSI paper on hand. This includes university students and those who do business internationally or often send mail abroad. Many of your local office supply stores carry both types of paper regardless of the country, but sometimes it may require special ordering. If you’d like to learn more about which printing paper to you need for your organization’s needs, reach out to the print experts at the Gordon Flesch Company.

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