Paper Is Not Just Paper

Updated: Apr 13

Understanding Paper Options for Your Book


Tips for SelfPublishing Authors


By Michael Heath / selfpublishingUS.com

In Places There Are Places, Kathryn Gage
Paper Is Not Just Paper

In an episode of the mockumentary sitcom The Office, three college interns discuss what they learned while serving a summer at the fictional Dunder Mifflin paper sales company. One intern says that he learned that a ream has 300 sheets of paper. Another intern corrects him by stating a ream has 500 sheets. The original intern turns back to the camera to say, “Oh, I guess I didn’t learn anything.”


Aficionados of The Office (I am one) love the show’s deadpan humor. Unless you work for a paper sales company, knowing how many sheets of paper comprise a ream may be useless information. However, if you are publishing a book it is actually a smart move to know something about paper.


Standard sheets used in book production are 25” x 38” in size. The paper weight refers to the weight of a ream. Fifty-pound paper comes from a ream weighing -- you guessed it -- fifty pounds. Common weights used in trade (bookstore) quality novels and non-fiction books are 50 lb., 55 lb. and 60 lb. Mass market books like the dime novels found near the grocery store checkout counter are typically printed using 45 lb. paper. The thickness of paper, known as caliber, is measured as papers per inch (PPI); i.e. the thicker the paper the lower the PPI. The PPI is important in calculating the spine width. If you have a graphic designer creating your cover, he or she will determine how wide the spine needs to be.


Papers are either coated or non-coated. Uncoated papers are used in novels and non-fiction books while coated papers are used in image-rich books like children’s picture books and photo books. This smooth-to-the-touch paper is utilized for its opacity so that an image on the backside cannot be seen on the front side. Materials used in the coating process make the paper heavier. Common coated paper weights used in picture books are 80 lb. and 100 lb. Children’s picture books usually utilize matte paper, which is easier on young people’s sensitive eyes due to its lower reflectivity. Gloss paper is often the choice for coffee table and other photo books where higher sheen gives the images extra definition and depth.


Discussing paper choices with your graphic designer or book printer before going to press is always a good idea. Learning a little bit about paper is a good way to be prepared for such a conversation. That’s a lot better than being like a Dunder Mifflin intern and not learning anything.


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