What’s the Deal with Copy Paper?


What’s the Deal with Copy Paper?

An Article That is Worth the Paper It’s Printed on…

Even in today’s digital world, most businesses go through a lot of paper. As you might expect, paper is the number one most price sensitive category in office supplies.

The so-called paperless office has yet to arrive, and it’s hard to believe that it ever will. So, no surprise then; a lot of businesses focus on how much they spend on paper. As a result almost all office supplies companies shout about their big splashy deals on copier and printer paper reams.

Why does this matter?

Chances are that your business spends quite a bit of money on paper. If your team is ‘on it’ it’s likely that they will be able to sniff out some (seemingly) good deals on paper for you.

But there may be a catch:

Paper pulp is a commodity which means there is a ‘bottom dollar’ price below which your suppliers cannot sell paper without losing money. Ergo, if your supplier wants to keep advertising big ‘discount’ deals on paper reams they might be promoting something of a lower quality in order to hit a price point.

In most cases there is nothing underhand going on – they will be honest about what they are trying to sell to you… but it’s important that you know what you are buying.

You might be happy with lower quality paper for some internal documents. But not for everything. And what happens if the paper doesn’t go through your printers properly?

But hang on. How confusing can it be? It’s only paper, right?

Well, yes. Fair comment. It’s not exactly brain surgery. However, let’s not be too dismissive. Paper comes in a lot of different forms. And having a little knowledge is not always enough. It’s not just a case of thinking “I know I want 80gsm A4 printer paper because that is what I have always used”.

Depending on other characteristics of the paper, you might find a 75gsm paper that goes through your printer and looks better in your presentation folder than the 80gsm you have been buying.

Here’s the bottom line:

To make life simple we thought we would produce this FREE guide to the basics of paper.

So, let’s have a quick rundown of different characteristics and types of paper, their qualities and benefits, and break through a bit of the needlessly confusing jargon so it’s easy for you choose the right type of paper for your business needs and your printer.

Five points to paper perfection – Coating, Opacity, Weight, Smoothness and Brightness:

A lot of people know that ‘weight’ is a thing to consider, just like the example above where we talked about ‘80gsm’ vs ‘75gsm’ paper. However, weight is just one of five key characteristics that can make a sheet of paper ideal for one job and completely unsuitable for the next. So, let’s look at what Coating, Opacity, Weight, Smoothness and Brightness might mean for your printer and your print jobs.


Printer papers have different surface coatings. Most commonly there are matte, dull, or smooth. Smooth surfaces are most commonly used to create a glossy effect – ideal for printing images or photography.


What is opacity? Very simply, if something is opaque, you cannot see through it.

So, the greater the opacity of the paper, the less see-through it is. The opacity of a sheet of printer paper indicates how much the print will show through on the opposite side. Heavier weight papers often have greater opacity than lighter weight papers. So weight is an important factor, however it’s not always the only factor, so opacity is measured separately on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 representing transparent sheets and 100 representing completely opaque sheets.


Although it might be hard to discern manually unless you are a real paper geek, printer paper comes in a range of weights. The weight results from the thickness of each individual sheet. Paper weights are quoted as grams per square metre (gsm).

As a rough guide to help you relate to what different paper weights mean, a book cover board would be something like 200gsm or over, whilst paper with simple text printed on it might range from 50gsm (a lightweight paper from a cheap paperback novel) to 170gsm (heavy paper that you might see in a top quality magazine or brochure).

For the paper you typically might buy for your printer or copier the weight will be indicated on the printer paper’s packaging. The weight of the paper is often the key factor in determining whether it is suitable for the job it is intended for. For example

  •  75gsm bond paper – ideal for everyday print and copy tasks.
  •  90gsm mid-weight paper – provides crisper images, would be ideal for important documents and also for double-sided printing.
  • 150gsm poster paper – deal for signs, flyers and promotional prints.

The thicker the paper weight, the more durable it is. However, thicker paper goes through printers at a slower rate.


Different printer types can benefit from different levels of printer paper smoothness. Laser printers have a thing called a ‘fuser’ in them. This is basically like an ‘oven’ inside the printer that ‘bakes’ the toner powder onto the page (that’s why pages are always hot when they come out of your laser printer). Laser printers often require smoother paper to produce the best results. Meanwhile inkjet printers mostly use water based inks, and they can benefit from textured papers, which are better suited to absorbing the ink.


You might be thinking, “I just want white printer paper. Surely that’s not difficult?”

Well, you’re right of course. But, although the vast majority of printer paper sheets come in a white tone, they are spread across a scale of brightness levels. This is usually labelled on the printer paper packaging, with the ‘brightness’ given a numerical value. In simple terms, higher numbers provide sharper images. The brighter the paper, the better a print will look. Most printer papers range between 80 and 100 on the brightness scale.

Worth thinking about for your documents – make sure you are showing them off to the best effect!

How can you actually use this?

In practical terms, it’s helpful to know what to look for on the packaging of different printer and copier paper reams, and also on the website of your chosen office supplies and stationery supplier.

Most often you will see paper listed by ‘type’ or its intended purpose. It’s not always quite as straightforward as finding something that has ‘Printing Paper – A4’ written on it but if you understand the qualities and features of paper, like the characteristics listed in the quick guide above, you will hopefully find it easy to select the perfect sheet for your current print job.

For example:

  • Inkjet paper – as you would expect, this is designed to work with inkjet printers… but there are lots of types of jobs you might use an inkjet printer for, so inkjet paper refers to photo paper, glossy paper, business card paper and greeting card paper, all of which have the qualities to go through inkjet printers… but not all of which are the same.
  • Laser paper – laser printers can benefit from specially designed laser paper (remember what we said about ‘smoothness’ above?)
  • Matte paper – this is most commonly used for everyday printing tasks like document printing. A matte paper has a white coating which allows the ink to dry quickly, so it’s good for document printing on an inkjet printer. The quick drying times reduce the risk of smudged or blurred images and text, but beware… images are often not as sharp as when printed on other, glossier, types of paper. If your document has a lot of images in it you may want to avoid a matte paper.
  • Glossy paper – this is traditionally used when printing documents with lots of images, or photographs, due to its ability to produce sharp, vibrant images. The glossy surface accurately absorbs the ink, creating images of high clarity and accuracy. However, a point to be aware of is that ink can be smudged or blurred with fingerprints. Glossy paper sheets can stick together and may even stick to other surfaces.
  • Photo paper – a heavy-weight glossy paper, photo paper is designed primarily for printing photography. Available in a range of different sizes and weights, photo paper has a glossy finish and a specially-designed texture which allows ink to dry quickly, producing high clarity prints. This is usually quite pricey, but it’s designed to produce good results for a very specific purpose.
  • Bright White Paper – with a smooth, non-textured, surface bright white paper is often ideal for double sided printing. The brightness of the paper ensures that both sides of the paper are printed on without the print affecting the other side. Obviously, this does require your printer to have a ‘duplex’ function (a function allowing double-sided printing).
  • Card stock – typically used to print business cards and post cards, card stock paper is significantly thicker than other types of printer paper. It is strong and sturdy but goes through printers slowly (and some printers cannot take it at all).

Finally, Size Matters:

Size is the final, and in many respects most important, factor when selecting the correct reams for your printer and the jobs you are looking to complete.

Here is a short guide to paper sizes and the jobs for which they are most commonly used.

  • A4 – 210mm x 297mm – everyday letters, files and documents.
  • A3 – 297mm x 420mm – twice the size of A4. Often used for small posters, print outs of spreadsheets or larger, more complex, documents.
  • SRA3 – 320mm x 450mm – slightly over the size of A3 allowing room for ‘bleed’ and trimming.

Looking at the internationally recognised ‘A’ paper sizes, a simple way of understanding them is to think of a sheet of A4 as the most standard document size. If the ‘A’ number is higher than 4, the paper will be smaller than A4. If the A number is lower than 4, the paper will be bigger than A4.

So, A5 is half the size of A4, and A3 is double the size of A4.

Thanks for reading, and if you think that this information will be of use to someone else you know, please don’t hesitate to share it.

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