Letter vs. A4 Paper Size

Here in the USA we default to “letter” size paper (8.5 x 11 inches), whereas in the Middle East offices they use A4 paper (210 x 297 mm or 8.3 x 11.7 inches). Why the difference?

There is actually an ISO standard (ISO 216) for paper sizes. In the A series, A0 paper is one square meter in area with an aspect ratio (x/y) of [X] , so if you fold that in half, you get A1 paper, and if you fold that in half, you get A2 paper, and if you fold that in half, you get A3 paper, and if you fold that in half, you get A4 paper. Now, guess what you get when you fold that in half….?

The ISO standard also has a B series and a C series. B1 size paper is halfway between A0 and A1, and B2 paper is halfway between A1 and A2, etc. B series paper sizes are used for posters, books, envelopes and passports.

The C series is only used for envelopes, as defined in ISO 269. Now, for you real geeks out there: the area of C series sheets is the geometric mean of the areas of the A and B series sheets of the same number. That means that C4 is slightly larger than A4, such that an A4 letter fits nicely inside a C4 envelope. Likewise, a C4 letter fits inside a B4 envelope. How cool is that?

Here is a handy-dandy table with all the dimensions of the A, B, and C series paper sizes in both mm and inches.

(From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_size)
ATT75073 1 ATT64577 2

Now, back to those crazy North Americans, who are a bunch of mavericks and have to do things their own way. In the USA, Canada, and Mexico, they use 8.5 x 11 inch “letter” paper (also called ANSI A), 8.5 x 14 inch “legal” paper, and 11 x 17 inch “tabloid” or “ledger” paper (also called ANSI B). The ANSI paper sizes also follow a fold-it-in-half rule (see above).

The thing to remember is this: If you are composing a document in North America that will be printed outside of North America, you will have to go to the Page Layout tab in Word, click on Size, and change it from Letter to A4. Then you will have to scroll through your whole document and adjust picture sizes or do a “Keep With Next” on certain items so they don’t break across the page in an ugly way. It’s much easier if you start with the correct size paper setting in the first place!

Profound Quote of the Day:

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

–  William Wordsworth, English poet, 1770–1850




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