Printer Paper Buying Guide

For any printed project, the type of paper used can play a major role, if not the starring one, in how the piece comes across. The size of the printer paper, its color, weight, coating, brightness, opacity, and other factors should come into play when choosing the right printer paper for the job.

Not to mention, different kinds of printing paper are designed for specific uses, such as inkjet paper, laser paper, cardstock, and photo paper. However, budget-friendly copy and multipurpose paper can appeal to users with a wide range of printing needs — from high-end reports and general handouts to quality presentations in a portfolio.

There are so many choices of paper available that it can sometimes be difficult to know where to begin looking. This printing paper buying guide can help clarify the possible choices, so your next printed piece can be a success.

Key Factors to Consider When Buying Printing Paper


When buying printing paper, size is an essential factor to consider. Whether you're printing a business card or a large-format architectural plan, there’s a paper size to accommodate any printing job.

Learn More About Paper Size


The higher the weight of a paper, the thicker and stiffer the stock. Cover stocks are at the higher end of the weight spectrum and feel like thin cardboard. Text stocks are papers of regular weight.

Learn More About Paper Weight


This refers to how light interacts with a paper. Measured on a 0 to 100 scale, the brightness of a page will affect the sharpness of a printed job’s images and text. Most paper is in the 90s on this scale.

Learn More About Paper Brightness


A ream of paper is a wrapped pack containing 500 sheets of paper. Copy and printer paper are sold by individual reams and by cases that might include 5, 8, or 10 reams. Other cases are reamless and could have 2,500 sheets of paper not separated into reams. 


While most paper is made from wood fibers, paper can also be made from cloth, synthetic fibers, and even plastic, all serving specialized purposes.

Coated or Uncoated

Printing papers are either coated or uncoated. Uncoated is nonreflective paper, while coated stocks feature matte or gloss finishes and produce sharper, higher-quality printed images.

Eco-Conscious Paper

While many papers are sustainably sourced, some are especially eco-conscious because of the materials used or how fast they biodegrade.


There’s more to paper than plain, white stock. Printer paper can come in a rainbow assortment of colors, ranging from clear, off-white and yellow to purple, tan, and black (and many hues in between). Color paper can pop out in a sea of white, helping a design or graphic stand out with innovative uses.

Premium Paper

Beyond standard paper stock are the premium ones that include all the top attributes of weight, coating, brightness, opacity, and material, making them good for presentations and print jobs where quality matters. For example, paper made from a blend of wood pulp and cotton (commonly 75% and 25%) has a luxurious feel and is made to last, so it can be good for archival projects.

Types of Paper

Some of the major types of printer paper include:

Inkjet Paper

These papers are specially designed to absorb the inks used in the printing process of inkjet printers.

Laser Paper

These papers can better withstand the heat used in the printing process of laser printers, where special rollers fuse colored toner inks to the page.

Photo Paper

Specially formulated for printing high-quality images with an inkjet printer, photo paper can be matte, semi-gloss, or glossy.


Cardstock is thicker and heavier than copy paper and can be used for business cards, report covers, and more heavy-duty applications than document text pages.

Copy and Multipurpose Paper

As the name suggests, these papers are adaptable to different functions, including inkjet printing, laser printing, and photocopying. The papers can come in a wide variety of size, weight, color, and brightness choices. Copy paper tends to be slightly thinner and less expensive than regular printing paper and can usually be a good substitute for it unless the page features heavy ink coverage. In this case, the result might be too saturated and affect image quality.

Bond Paper

This paper has a high content of cotton rags or cotton textile fibers in its composition, giving it a thicker, more substantial texture. The name “bond paper” goes back to the late 19th century when this type of paper was used to print government bonds and other official documents. Today, bond paper is used, for example, for stationary, letterhead, and drawings with pencils, ink, and markers.

Paper Sizes

While there are many sizes of printing paper, some of the common ones include:
Shop All Sizes >

8.5 x 11 or letter size paper: 8.5 x 11 is the standard size for most printers. It’s also the size used for a wide range of standard documents, including magazines, catalogs, letters, and forms.

8.5 x 14 or legal size paper: This paper size – the same width but longer than letter size – is often used for contracts within the legal, real estate, and accounting professions.

11 x 17 or ledger size paper: 11 x 17 paper is used in offices for diagrams and documentation that won't fit on smaller sheets, such as architectural and CAD drawings. The term "tabloid" is also used to describe this size.

Paper Weight and Thickness

Taken together, the paper weight and thickness reveal how sturdy a stock is, with thicker, heavier paper providing greater durability than a thin, light one.

Paper thickness is usually considered when looking at cardstock and, in most cases, measures the thickness of paper in points, where one point (pt) equals one-thousandth or .001 inches. So, 10 pt paper is .01 inches thick, 20 pt paper is .02 inches, and so on.

In the United States, the weight of paper stocks is usually done in pounds, which is the actual weight of 500 sheets of the “basis size” of the paper in question. Since the basis size may vary, comparing paper weights can be hard to do. For example, a 28-pound multipurpose paper is probably not the same weight or thickness as a 28-pound premium or cardstock paper.

Lower numbers, including 20 pounds and 24 pounds, are the most common weights for standard copy and multipurpose paper, while higher numbers indicate a heavier, thicker sheet.

In most cases, the thicker the sheet, the heavier it is, although there are cases where a dense paper can be heavy without being thick.

The weight and thickness of the paper used in a printing job can make a big difference in its quality and cost. For example, mailed pieces are usually charged by weight, so lighter, thinner stocks may work well. Professional presentations, resumes, and correspondence often call for heavier, thicker stocks, as do jobs that aim for archival quality.


Paper Brightness and Opacity

Brightness refers to the amount of light that reflects off a sheet of paper. When selecting paper brightness, think about what is going to be printed on it. Images printed on a bright paper appear quite vibrant.

However, images of so-so quality may look washed out when printed on a bright paper. Black text tends to stand out on most paper brightness levels, so text documents only need an ordinary level brightness in the 80s and low 90s when measured on a scale of 100. A colorful design or fine-art reproduction may require the highest level of brightness.

Opacity measures transparency, or how much can be seen through a sheet of paper. It ranges from 100% opacity (such as greeting cards, with no light shining through) to 0% opacity (such as see-through tracing paper). Opacity becomes important when printing on both sides of a sheet of paper. Printing that shows through from one side to the other can detract from legibility.

On the other hand, some creative designers might want a see-through paper to combine images printed on both sides of the sheet to make a single intended effect.

Recycled and Sustainable Paper Stock

Nonrecycled paper, sometimes known as “virgin paper,” is made from all-new materials, such as wood pulp or cotton. Recycled paper can be manufactured from:

  • Pre-consumer material: Scrap material left over from a manufacturing process
  • Post-consumer waste: Materials, like newspapers, used by people in their homes or other settings

According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines, “A paper can be called recycled only if it contains 100%  post-consumer recovered fiber. If the post-consumer content is less than 100%, the paper should be called recycled-content paper.”                          

Sustainable papers come from carefully controlled forests that are replanted and renewed. They meet specific environmental standards, helping users support practices that better protect forests and the environment.

You’ll also find papers with an FSC certification. The Forest Stewardship Council is a widely respected not-for-profit organization that seeks to protect the world’s forests by monitoring and improving timber production. The FSC has worked with key players in the lumber industry to inspect and track timber and pulp through production chains, ensuring that woodlands are managed sustainably. Any paper products certified by the FSC are created with sustainable practices.

While some businesses might be hesitant to use recycled paper since its texture and quality can differ slightly from virgin paper brands, FSC-certified products are virtually indistinguishable.

Generally speaking, recycled paper may cost more than non-recycled paper because recycled paper costs more to process.

Some Questions to Ask Before Buying Paper

Will the paper need to be perforated?

Perforated paper has a series of pre-cut holes that allow the user to easily detach precise sections. It is commonly used for forms, billing statements, tickets, and invoices.

How will the paper be stored?

If the paper is going to be exposed to extreme temperatures or dampness, you should try to choose a paper resistant to these challenges.

Do you need to write on the paper?

In that case, an uncoated, untextured paper might be a good choice.

Will the paper be used outside, exposed to the elements?

There are paper choices designed to survive outdoors, regardless of weather conditions, rain, or snow.

Do you need to mail the printed paper?

A thinner, lighter sheet would work well since postage is charged by weight.

What kind of durability do you need?

Usually thicker, heavier paper is stronger. However, the coating also plays a part in sturdiness. A thick, uncoated paper will turn to sludge when wet, but a thin, UV-coated paper will whisk the water away.

Premium Paper for Premium Results

While premium paper comes at a higher price point, it’s a good choice for printing projects that require better textures and coatings, higher brightness, and greater attention to detail, making everything look better.

It can be used for jobs that include:

●      Resumes

●      Portfolios

●      Reports

●      Business proposals

●      Sales brochures

●      Announcements

●      Presentations

Premium copy and multipurpose paper are designed to run through any kind of office printing or copying equipment and yield high-quality documents with great brightness and durable weight.

Armed with the proper paper basics, you can turn an ordinary print job into a memorable publishing experience. If you’re looking to get creative, check out our article 11 Projects You Can Use a Printer for at Home.

About the Author

Peter Giffen is a writer and editor who specializes in business and technology.

All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.