Monday, May 12, 2014

Paper & Envelope Sizes Explained

In Britain and Europe metric ISO 'A' sizes are the most common when placing orders for printed materials.  Most people relate the size of their printed product to A4 – because this is the most common and widely used and applied size of paper throughout Europe.  

Direct2Print accept files of all sizes – although when using our online pricing calculator on our HOME PAGE (   clients would “scale up” to the next appropriate ‘A’ size. So for example – if business cards were required the client would select the smallest available size of A7 even though the typical size is 85mm x 55mm.

With a large number of North American companies established in the United Kingdom, Direct2Print are often requested to print manuals and documents that were originated in the United States and set up according to different sizes of paper.  When we print US sized papers we scale to fit to an A4 page – which tends to result in more white space at the top and bottom of each printed page.  

Paper size settings are the main cause of digital printing problems.  Many software packages are still defaulted to US paper sizes – and can cause pagination problems when printing on European ISO sizes.

Providing files with ‘bleed’ and ‘crop marks’ is another area of difficulty when accepting files for printing – especially for those customers without any formal graphic design training.  If the artwork is set up correctly printing from file is an easy process (see previous blog on setting up artwork guidelines - ).  If the artwork is not prepared correctly it becomes the main contributory problem for subsequent quality problems with printing. 

As a business, Direct2Print are classified as a “small format” print specialist because the digital print equipment operated can print up to a maximum of SRA3 size (450mm x 320mm).  ‘SRA’ and ‘RA’ sizes are slightly larger than the A sizes and allow us to trim “bleed” off the paper and card so that printing can be to the edge for most printed products.  We try and get as many prints out of each SRA3 sheet to reduce any wastage to the minimum possible.

Small format printing output is usual for most forms of business stationery or promotional printing – although large commercial presses can combine many jobs on the same print run and offer significant cost savings.  These printers are often known as “jobbing printers” and tend to concentrate on volume production – often as a trade –only print supplier.

Large format printing is normally for A2 sizes and larger and is typically for posters, banners, exhibition displays and other large point of sale displays.  Direct2Print can supply any large format printing but this is through our production unit and can be ordered offline or online at .

The starting point for calculating an actual finished ‘A’ size is an 'A0' sheet which consists of an area of one square metre.  Folding this sheet in half results in an 'A1' sheet, then folding an 'A1' sheet in half gives an 'A2' sheet, and so on.  

Because the height and width are in the ratio one to the square root of two the proportion of the sheets remains the same. This feature makes it very simple to adapt one design for several different purposes (for example a postcard, leaflet and poster).  Everything is in proportion and can be scaled according to the size of the paper.

Because 'A' sizes are so widely used in Europe, ‘SRA’ and 'A' size paper and card is comparatively cheap compared to odd sizes because many machines are optimised for handling them.  

Remember when designing printed products 'A' sizes are always the most cost-effective option when choosing a size to print.  If your finished product is not within these ‘A’ sizes there is often a significant extra cost for cutting or trimming.

The actual sizes and their typical applications are as follows:

Size Dimensions Uses
A0 841 mm x 1189 mm Posters
A1 594 mm x 841 mm Posters, wall planners
A2 420 mm x 594 mm Posters, wall planners, calendars
A3 297 mm x 420 mm Posters, calendars, 'tabloid' magazines
A4 210 mm x 297 mm Letterheads, documents, brochures and reports
A5 148 mm* x 210 mm Programmes, booklets, brochures, leaflets 
A6 148 mm 105 mm Postcards, leaflets, invitations
A7 105 mm 74 mm Tickets, folded business cards

(*often set to 148.5 mm wide) 

Other commonly used size based on the 'A' size system are one third of 'A4' (99 x 210 mm). Two thirds of 'A4' (198 x 210 mm) which is also sometimes used as is the square size 210x210mm.  The one third A4 size is also popular because it fits neatly into the most popular sized envelope. Direct2Print have used all of these derived formats very effectively for leaflets and company brochures over the last 30 years.

Here is the same information in a visual format:

Envelope Sizes

Envelope sizes are calculated on a different scale. The international envelope size range has been developed to accommodate A size sheets - the range of envelope sizes is designated the ‘C’ series. The ‘C’ series of sizes are based on a basic sheet size of 917 x 1297mm.

These C series envelope sizes are formulated to take ‘A’ series paper exactly.  For example, C4 for unfolded A4, C5 for unfolded A5 and C6 for unfolded A6.  

One of the most popular envelope sizes, DL, is however an exception to this rule. The DL designation is derived from the German DIN Lang, ‘DIN’ being the German equivalent of the ISO standard, and ‘Lang’ meaning long.   

Envelopes come in a wide variety of shapes and colours from basic manila through to glittery silver and gold colours and specialist papers.

It is important also to consider the cost implications on the printed product size for when it comes to mailing or postage costs.   Size can have an important bearing on the production and mailing cost of any activity or project.  For example, there are some important points to consider when calculating the costing of any marketing campaign.

There is the extra printing cost of non-standard sized documents and products.
The standard envelope sizes are designed to accommodate ‘A’ sized printing and will consequently be more cost-effective to purchase than irregular sized envelopes due to their greater availability and lower production costs.
The envelope size has an impact on the postage costs.  When Royal Mail changed the basis of calculating postal costs to “Pricing in Proportion” it had a big impact on the popularity on different sizes of envelopes – C5/A5 became a far more economical postal size than C4/A4 which needed the large letter postage rates.

This may seem all very confusing and complicated but we hope this guide helps you make informed decisions about any printing you may be planning.  For more information contact Direct2Print free on 0800 0346 007 during normal working hours for any further assistance.

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