What is Paper GSM?
When you buy any type of paper the GSM measurement is one of the most important factors to consider, but very few people really know what it even means. People will say it is an indication of quality, while others will tell you it’s just a measure of the paper’s weight. Both are correct, but neither paints a complete picture.
The acronym stands for “Grams per Square Meter”, and while it is the industry standard the name can be different from one location to another. GSM is the most common term in many places, but you might also see it as G/M2 or simply “Grammage” depending on where you shop.
The problem is that this is not exactly the way consumers think of paper. Most individuals certainly don’t buy paper by the square meter, so trying to grasp what it means to say that such a large cut of paper weighs 80 grams or 200 grams is more than a little bit challenging. If you gave me a ream of paper that could cover the floor of my office and asked me to tell you how much it weighed I would have absolutely no idea.
The truth is that nobody really cares what their paper weighs– and why should they– but paper density is an important measure of quality when used to guide decisions for one particular application or another.
So while it can be a quite meaningful measure of quality, and the higher the GSM is the better the paper generally is, that doesn’t always mean the highest GSM is going to be your best choice. This quality range you aim for will be different depending on the type of paper you are purchasing.
Relatable examples of GSM
I’ll give you a few examples of what is typical when it comes to the GSM of paper, which should help us to make sense of things.
For basic printer paper you can expect a GSM in the range of 70-80, while paper for laser printers and color copiers will be in the 80-100 range. This means that paper for more advanced printing jobs is thicker, and that is for a very good reason. Why?
Well, you might already be aware that the paper you buy for your printer can come in a wide range of densities, but you can actually make a wrong choice here. If you buy thin sheets designed for older printers or black and white copiers with a GSM of 60 or so, and then use it in a modern color printer which typically wants sheets in the 90 GSM ballpark, your print might end up wrinkled or even torn from the wet ink. Conversely, for simpler printing jobs, you might be wasting paper if you use a higher GSM.
Another example that really helps to make GSM clear is a simple book. Your typical paperback novel will use paper with a GSM of 80 for its pages, but 200 or more for the cover. This gives the book structure from the outside to keep it strong, but that isn’t necessary for every page.
Most newspapers fall in around 40 GSM because they are not really meant to last, while a nice stiff business card is designed to stick around for months or years in a person’s wallet and can come in at 350 GSM or even higher.
GSM is often considered a measure of quality, but if you want to write somebody a letter you probably don’t want to use 200 GSM paper or you might have trouble folding it to put into an envelope. Bigger isn’t always better. Higher GSM means thicker, firmer paper, so for most applications there is a range from cheap and flimsy paper to more expensive and high quality, but you have to keep within that range.