You need to print out invitations for your next hit party, so you head to your local paper store or hop online to pick out cardstock. Then you find yourself staring down weight measurements trying to assess the relative thickness of cardstock.
Cardstock thickness is measured in terms of cardstock pounds. Here’s the catch: there is no typical cardstock weight, nor is there a perfect one-size-fits-all weight for every occasion. Even more confusing? A thick and a thin cardstock can both weigh 80 lbs.
To understand how that happens, you have to understand the US paper density scale, which will, in turn, help you identify the right cardstock for a given situation.
With that in mind, we’re going to go through various cardstock weights you might use for different occasions, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Think of it as your all-purpose guide to understanding and using cardstock.
What is paper weight? How is paper weighed? And most importantly, how do you know the right paper weight for your project.
Here’s a look at all the basic information you need to understand paper weight.
Before we get started, there are a few definitions that will help you navigate the topic.
Paper grade refers to the type of paper, with each grade tailored to specific uses. Common paper grades include cover (a.k.a. cardstock), text, bond, etc.
Basis weight refers to the designated weight of uncut paper per 500 sheets. It is not to be confused with equivalent weight, which can be used to compare the weights of differently sized paper.
Caliper and points are easy to confuse, but you don’t need to worry about keeping them straight–they refer to the same thing. Caliper is a measurement of paper thickness expressed in thousandths of an inch, and points is a measurement of thickness using the same metric. The thicker the caliper/higher the points, the higher the basis weight tends to be.
How Paper Weight is Measured
Paper weight is measured using three measures of sturdiness:
- By pounds (lbs)
- By point
- By density
You may wonder why the weight of a cardstock says 65 lb when the reams of paper don’t weigh 65 lb. That’s because weight in pounds isn’t calculated by the ream, but rather by the weight of the uncut paper. So, if 500 sheets of uncut cardstock weigh 65 lbs, it’s called 65 lb stock.
Point is calculated by the thousandths of an inch thickness of sheets of paper. A sheet of paper 0.010 inches thick is 10 pt cardstock, 0.015 inches thick is 15 pt cardstock, etc.
Density (which is calculated based on grams per square meter) is the universal metric measurement of paper density. In North America, this is converted to either pounds or points. Our site uses pounds for the sake of simplicity.
Why “Paper Weight” Doesn’t Fully Describe the Weight of Paper
As you can see, weight doesn’t fully describe the calculation process used to assess paper weight. It’s actually a combination of two things: weight and thickness.
This is actually a good thing for consumers, even though it is confusing. Because weight takes into account the actual thickness of the paper, you can use weight to determine whether a sheet of cardstock is too thick for your home printer to handle.
On the other hand, paper weight may be standardized, but the methods of producing paper are not. This means that weight can mean something quite different between one manufacturer and the next.
The Basics of Paper Weight
In North America, paper weight is calculated based on:
- Paper grades
- Base ream
- Basis weight
Here are the 10 common paper grades:
- Bond (stronger and more durable than average paper due to cotton content)
- Book (designed for specialty use in books, booklets, and magazines)
- Bristol (made from paper layers glued together under pressure, excellent for paperback book covers)
- Cover (also known as cardstock, used in business cards, postcards, menus, and more)
- Index (stiff, thick paper with a smooth finish, used in commercial printing, index cards, and postcards)
- Newsprint (low-cost paper used in newspapers, advertising, and publications)
- Offset (designed to hold ink and resist tearing in offset printing)
- Tag (sturdy and stiff, used in tags, placeholders, and store signage)
- Text (commonly used in commercial printing for brochures and announcements)
- Specialty (paper subject to special procedures for specialized uses)
The base ream is the size and paper count used to determine the density of a paper grade. Finally, the basis weight is the calculation of the weight of the paper grade based on its count and base ream. Keep in mind that similar paper weight can vary due to the characteristics of the paper.
What Counts as Lightweight/Medium Weight/Heavyweight?
Lightweight paper can print in most consumer-grade home printers and is usually up to 60 lbs. This kind of paper can be folded without scoring and can be translucent or average printer paper.
Medium weight paper is generally between 65 lbs to 80 lbs–picture the type of paper typically used in cards and you’re in the right ballpark. Heavyweight paper runs from 80 lbs to 200 lbs and can be used in anything from business cards to hang tags to booklets, as it is sturdy and substantial.
Paper Weight by Paper Type
In case you hadn’t guessed yet, 80 lb cardstock is a different animal from 80 lb printer paper. The truth is, the type of paper can significantly change what the weight means.
Cardstock is thicker than regular printer paper but thinner and more flexible than cardboard, sort of a happy medium between the two. It’s also referred to as cover paper.
Our white cardstock comes in the following weights:
- 65 lb
- 67 lb
- 80 lb
- 100 lb
- 110 lb
- 130 lb
- 160 lb
Our pastel cardstock is available in 67 lb cover. Bright color cardstock is available in 65 lb cover. Our beautiful collection of Curious Metallic cardstock is available in 80 lb cover, as does our linen cardstock. Our gloss cardstock (8.5 x 11 and 11 x 17) are both available in 80 lb cover.
Our parchment cardstock is a beautiful addition to any project, with colors like:
- New Champagne
- Natural Cream
- Smoke Gray
- Ice Pink
- Spring Green
All of our parchment cardstock, regardless of color or size, is available in 65 lb bond. This means it may still be thin enough and flexible enough to print in your home printer, but make sure to check the weight limit of your printer and the caliper (thickness) of the paper.
What’s in a Weight?
Keep in mind that the thickness and weight of these cardstocks may be quite different. Our gloss cardstock is technically the same weight as our Curious Metallic cardstock, but the inclusion of a gloss finish means the paper will not fold as easily, since the paper is stiffer and it may actually be thicker.
It’s also important to remember that paper weight may be affected by the blend of materials used to craft this particular batch of paper. This means that our 65 lb bond parchment cardstock is technically the same weight as our bright color cardstock but may have a completely different feel and behave entirely differently when folded.
Remember, printer paper is fairly standard, but outside of regular office staples, paper is actually quite diverse. It depends on the manufacturer who created the paper. Even though manufacturers use the same paper weight measurements, the content of the paper within that measurement can be completely different from a paper with the same weight using the same measurement.
That’s because paper weight isn’t solely a function of the weight of the paper–it’s also affected by the point and density of the paper in question.
Similarly, our 65 lb cover bright color cardstock isn’t necessarily one weight below our 67 lb pastel cardstock. You may have noticed that our cardstock weights don’t progress in even increments. That’s because paper weights don’t tend to progress at even intervals.
How Do You Choose the Right Paper Weight?
So, if paper weight is so variable and the actual metrics used to determine it aren’t actually concrete, how do you know what paper weight is the right fit?
You’ve already gotten started on the first step, which is educating yourself about paper weight and getting comfortable with measurements.
The second step is knowing your project. What are you trying to achieve with this cardstock? What does it need to do?
Does it need to be durable? If so, a heavier cardstock will usually serve you better, though this type of cardstock may be too heavy for most consumer-grade printers.
Is it a flourish, or the backbone of the project? If it’s a flourish, you have to think about the other paper you’re going to use–cardstock accents that are too heavy may seem disproportionate to the rest of the project. If it’s the backbone of the project, you’ll be better served by a heavier cardstock.
Does it need to fold, or will it be one flat sheet? If it needs to fold, you have a choice to make. Lighter cardstock is easier to fold with your own two hands without any added work. Heavier (i.e. thicker) cardstock can fold, but it may require scoring for the fold to look attractive. Alternately, if you just need one flat sheet, you’ll have to think about whether you want the paper to feel lighter in the hands or if it needs to be durable.
Will it go in an envelope (traveling through the mail with a layer of protection) or will it travel through the mail on its own two legs (as in the case of a postcard)? Postcards are considerably thicker than letter paper or even other cardstock because they have to outlast a trip through the postal system unharmed.
Generally speaking, heavier cardstock is good for two things: durability and elegance. It doesn’t fold, tear, or warp as easily, so it can withstand more abuse. But heavier cardstock (used in the right context) can also feel elegant in the hand thanks to the weight of the paper itself.
Lighter cardstock is useful in cases where you need to fold the cardstock and where durability isn’t as much of a concern.
Of course, that’s all fine and good in theory, but what does that look like in practice? Here’s a look at how to choose the right weight for various projects.
Best Cardstock Weight For Invitations
One of the most common questions from our customers is the right cardstock weight for wedding invitations. You know you need thick cardstock for invitations, but you don’t really know what that entails in real numbers.
When you’re thinking about wedding invitations, you’ll have to consider the printing process and the type of invitation. Your at-home printer may not be able to handle heavier invitation cardstock, and thick cardstock for invitations must be scored before it can be folded.
Most consumer-grade printers can handle 80 lb to 100 lb paper, but not all can, so make sure to check your printer’s weight capacity. That said, heavy papers typically start at 80 lbs and up, and bond paper, for example, can be as light as 20 lbs or as heavy as 72 lbs.
Generally, for invitation cardstock, you don’t want to go any lighter than 53 lbs, but thicker cardstock will look and feel more formal and elegant.
Best Cardstock Weight For Greeting Cards
If you’re considering the best weight cardstock for card making, you have two considerations to work with.
First, since greeting cards are generally folded, you need a cardstock that can fold either on its own or with scoring. That leaves you with a wide margin of error for weights, which is why the second consideration helps narrow down greeting card thickness: since greeting cards have to be sturdy enough to make it through postage in good condition, you need a cardstock that’s relatively sturdy.
In terms of greeting card weight, this translates to a heavier cardstock that will need scoring to fold. Standard greeting cards range from a 65 to 80 lbs cover, while heavy greeting cards are available in 100 lbs cover and above. If you’re printing at home, go for standard greeting card weight.
Best Cardstock Weight For Postcards
Postcards are a bit simpler since they’re a single rectangular sheet. That said, what you consider a postcard and what the U.S. Postal Service considers a postcard may not be the same thing.
To qualify for First Class mail postcard price, your card must be:
- At least 3 1/2 inches high x 5 inches long x 0.007 inches thick
- No more than 4 1/4 inches high x 6 inches long x 0.016 inches thick
As you can see, standard postcard weight leaves some room for error.
Cover paper (60 lbs to 120 lbs), index paper (90 lbs, 110 lbs, and 140 lbs), or tag paper (100 lbs to 200 lbs) are usually the best choices in terms of postcard thickness and postcard weight. Keep in mind that the heavier the paper, the thicker the postcard.
Best Cardstock Weight For Certificates
As usual, the best cardstock weight for certificates is not one-size-fits-all–it depends on the certificate itself. Like wedding invitations, you have to consider the printing method (i.e. the printing capabilities and printing style) and the formality of the certificate.
Remember, thicker cardstock is heavier and looks more formal, so if you’re looking for a formal certificate cardstock, certificate thickness is a major factor. Weigh this against the printing method–if you’re doing a DIY certificate and only have access to a consumer home printer, you generally can’t go higher than 100 lbs.
That said, cardstock for certificates is generally on the heavier side to add elegance. Don’t be afraid to reach for 100 lbs paper if you’re looking for a certificate that will look great for years to come.
Got your cardstock straight?
If you’re still struggling to make sense of one weight against another or how to select the right weight for the paper grade, a cardstock weight chart is your best friend.
If you’re stuck, keep this cardstock thickness chart at hand for easy reference. It will help you figure out roughly what weight you’re looking for based on your paper grade of choice.
Keep in mind that the type of paper will also change the weight you need from it, and the weight range that’s acceptable will vary widely based on the paper grade. Text paper is usually heavier than bond paper even if it’s used for the same purpose, so 20 lbs of bond paper does not directly translate into 20 lbs of text paper.
The Right Cardstock Thickness for Every Occasion
Here’s the good news: we can help you find the perfect cardstock thickness for any occasion, whether it’s a wedding, a holiday greeting, or just a friend you want to surprise.
If you need somewhere to get started, check out our white cardstock or any of our other cardstock products. And make sure to keep this post on hand so you know you’ve ordered the right weight for your project.
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