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design and page size




about paper sizes

in North America, the most common letter paper size has had a formal standard specification, ANSI A, since 1995. (remember however that the ANSI-series A is different in size and proportion to the ISO A-series paper sizes described in ISO 216.) yet people also refer to this 279 x 216 mm size as '8.5 by 11' or as 'US Letter'. this size was developed in the late 1600's by Dutch paper craftsworkers, as one quarter of the area of a handmade paper mold. today, paper is mostly manufactured by machines, so the main difference from a production standpoint is how the rolls of paper are cut into formatted sheets by paper cutting machines.

the international standard for paper size, ISO 216, specifies an A series of paper sizes that can be cut from an A0 sheet that has an area of 1 meter square, with an aspect ratio of 4th root of 2 (approx 1.189) by the inverse of that number (approx 0.841). this sheet can subsequently be cut in half to produce two A1-size sheets that have the same proportion. and an A1 sheet can be cut in half to produce two A2 sheets, and so forth, down to A10 size, all featuring the same proportion.

because the ISO A-series paper sizes all have the same proportion, users can enlarge or reduce A-series documents with a photocopier to the next larger or smaller A size respectively with no wasted paper space.


design comparison of paper sizes

a comparison of text areas for ISO A4 and ANSI A paper sizes also reveals implications for the pagination of documents. use of the same font size, the same non-proportional margin, and the same text copy were applied to the following paper sizes with the following results:


table-01—area comparisons for letter size and portrait orientation

sizedocument areatext area
ANSI A215.9 x 279.4 mm
(0.0603224 m2)

(0.0508 m2)
A4210 x 297 mm
(0.063 m2)

(0.05263 m2)


table-02—copyfit comparisons for letter size and portrait orientation

ANSI A47613


table-03—copyfit comparisons for letter size and landscape orientation

ANSI A31618


table-04—copyfit comparisons for letter size and landscape 2-column layout

ANSI A31253

in each orientation or layout; more text could be spread on the ISO A4 paper size formats than on the ANSI A paper size formats, especially in terms of more words per page. for larger documents that feature a lot of text, the use of ISO A4 paper sizes can mean fewer pages. fewer pages can mean less production costs for producers, in addition to less time spent dealing with pagination tasks for users.


options for design

today, many documents are distributed electronically for print on demand. depending on a particular operating system and software application: A4-sized documents can be reduced to 94% (with extra side space) [scale-to-fit 91.22%] to fit on an ANSI A page size. ANSI A sized documents can be reduced to 97% (with extra top or bottom space) [scale-to-fit 93.3%] to fit on an A4 page size. from a technology standpoint, many copy machines, computer printers, software applications, and operating systems are integrated to accommodate a variety of page sizes. (a number of operating systems and software applications moreover support the use of metric units.) some file cabinets are also configurable for both ISO A4 and ANSI A paper sizes. consumers in North America can also obtain paper stock from a paper wholesaler and have it cut in an ISO A-series paper size. some direct suppliers of paper in North America even market papers that are already cut to A4 size.

from a design standpoint, selecting page sizes designed for ISO A4 proportions can help you to reduce, reuse, and recycle information products in comparison with uses of other legacy page sizes; and can thereby enhance the value to your business and to your customers.


works referenced


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