Paper Matters Blog
How to Read a Paper Ream

It never fails—you’re ready to print an important document, and find your printer is out of paper.  If you’re like most people, a quick trip to the store or a check online can leave you feeling overwhelmed and confused by the number of office paper options.  And what in the world do all those numbers and symbols on the front of a paper pack mean? Do you try to understand the information or instead make your selection based on pretty packaging or price?  Understanding how to read a few key pieces of information on any paper pack (called a ream) will go a long way toward helping you choose the right paper for your desired results.

Let’s start with the easy stuff:

1. Sheet Size

Make sure to choose a sheet size that is compatible with your desktop printer or office copier. The most common size is Letter (8.5” x 11”), but Legal (8.5” x 14” – preferred by law firms and legal offices) and Tabloid or Ledger (11” x 17” – great for newsletters or signs) are also common sizes.  And keep in mind – it’s easy to see the difference in sizes when you’re purchasing paper in a store, but be careful to select the right size when ordering online.

2. Sheet Count

The number of sheets contained within the ream or paper will be clearly displayed on the front of the package. A 500-sheet ream is considered the industry ‘standard’; however, mega pack (750 -800 sheets) and mini pack (typically 200 sheets) options are also available.

3. Recycled Content

This number indicates the percentage of post-consumer waste recycled fiber used in manufacturing the paper. Recycled content comes from material collected from consumer waste streams, such as homes and offices.  The most common is 30% recycled content, but 50% and 100% are available as well.

Are you ready to become a paper pro?  Let’s keep going…

4. Basis Weight

This is typically a number ranging from 20-32 lb. in the office paper category. While not the technical industry definition, the key to remember about basis weight is the higher the number, the thicker and sturdier the paper.  The most economical option is 20 lb. paper, great for everyday black and white home and office printing.  Heavier basis weights are sturdier to withstand repeated use, thicker for a more substantial feel and will minimize show-through with two-sided printing.  Consider heavier basis weights when printing full color copies and/or important documents such as proposals, presentations or resumes.   If you have a burning desire to learn how the paper weight number is determined, this helpful blog from our friends at Paris provides a great explanation.

5. Brightness

Brightness is typically a number ranging from 92-100. The higher the number, the brighter white the paper appears.  Higher numbers equal more contrast between the sheet and the text and images – resulting in bolder images and brighter colors.  The most common and economical option is 92 bright, which is great for everyday printing.  Multipurpose papers typically range from 94 to 96 bright and are well-suited to minimal color or two-sided printing.  Higher bright papers (in the 98-100 bright range) are ideal for color-rich images, graphics and for making text stand out.  In many cases, heavier weight papers will also have higher brightness levels, providing the perfect combination for professional printing results.  If you’d like to learn a bit more about brightness rating scales, our Paper 101 video may shed some additional light.

Just a few more symbols to go…you’re almost an expert!

6. ColorLok®

This logo communicates that the product meets the ColorLok® standard, which can apply to either laser or inkjet printing. Inkjet benefits include vibrant colors, bolder/sharper text and graphics, and reduced smearing. Laser benefits include better print quality and performance, fewer paper jams, and longer life for your printing equipment.

7. Environmental Certifications

Third party certifications show that a paper met specific environmental standards from an organization other than the company that made the paper. Choosing a ream of paper with these logos ensures that you support practices that better protect forests and the environment with your purchase.

  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

this endorsement communicates that a portion of the proceeds of the product goes towards conservation and preservation efforts, including the protection of our land, endangered species and habitats.

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified

this certification communicates that products or ingredients are sourced from farms or forests that are managed to rigorous environmental, social and economic standards, designed to conserve wildlife, protect workers and increase livelihoods.

  • Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certified

this certification communicates that products made from wood/paper come from forests managed to rigorous environmental and social standards, supported by the world’s leading conservation organizations.

  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®)

SFI® is an independent, not-for-profit forest and paper certification program that integrates the perpetual growing and harvesting of trees with the preservation of wildlife, plants, soil, water, and air quality. In order to be certified, participants in the SFI program must undergo a thorough, third-party review of their operations.

Still unsure if you’re choosing the right paper? The back of the ream typically holds additional product features and benefits to help you make the right choice.  If shopping online, this information may often be found in the product details section as well.  Happy shopping!

Related Blogs

How to Choose the Right Office Paper for Your Project, Priority and Budget

Top 5 Tips for Choosing an Environmentally Responsible Office Paper

Life made easier with Lettermark™ Punched and Perforated Papers

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Vanecia Carr
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