Paper is ubiquitous. We learn to read and write on it. Half of what we buy is packaged in some form of it. Our mail is filled with it.
But then, when you begin making decisions on things like packaging, business cards, hang tags and brochures -- you realize just how little you might understand the complex world of paper!
Here we demystify Basis Weight, Metric Weight and Thickness --- three different, sometimes interchangeable and sometimes not, ways to evaluate paper -- as well as paper versus paperboard versus corrugate.
Comparing Paper Weights and Thicknesses
U.S. Basis Weight (Bond, Book, Index, Cover, Tag, Points, Offset): Raise your hand if you’ve often wondered (especially after trying to figure out how to add 1/4" and 3/8" and 1/16” together) why the US doesn’t just follow the straightforward metric system! In typical fashion, the US Basis Weight system is the most confusing of the bunch.
Here’s how it works: The “Basis Weight” is defined as the weight of 500 sheets of paper in its basic unit uncut size (i.e. before the paper is cut to letter size, legal size, etc).
The confusing part is that different types of paper have different uncut sizes. Common types of paper include: Bond, Text, Book, Cover, Index and Tag.
For example, let’s compare bond and cover paper.
- Bond Paper: An uncut sheet of Bond paper is 17 x 22 inches
- Cover Paper: An uncut sheet of Cover paper is 20 x 26 inches.
If 500 sheets of a bond paper (in its uncut dimensions of 17 x 22 inches) weigh 20 lbs, then that paper is labeled 20 lb. If 500 sheets of cover paper (in its uncut dimensions of 20 x 26 inches) weigh 65 lbs, then a ream of this paper is 65lb.
Metric weight (GSM): The metric system doesn’t differentiate by paper type or use. Instead, grammage reflects actual weight of one sheet of paper cut into a 1 x 1 meter square. Since the same size sheet is always being weighed, regardless of the characteristics of the paper, GSM (grams per square meter) is a clear and easy to digest way to evaluate paper weight and thickness.
Points: While the above two measurements describe the weight of paper, points describes the thickness of paper. Points are measured with calipers, and each point represents 1/1000 of an inch. So, paper whose thickness if 0.012 inches is 12-point paper.
The following table provides a basic comparison of some of the more common types of paper types, thicknesses and weights.
Paper versus Paperboard versus Corrugate
Paper-based packaging is generally made with either paper, paperboard or corrugate. What’s the difference? In summary, paper is thinner and lighter than paperboard, and corrugate has fluting.
Paper: There isn’t a technical and perfect delineation between paper and paperboard, but paper is typically used to describe thinner, “flimsier” material than paperboard. Categories of paper include Bond, Text, Cover, Book and Index. Our 100% Recycled Kraft Mailers, as well as our various packaging paper options are all made with paper of varying thicknesses and weights. Our 100% Recycled Padded Mailer is made with two layers of kraft paper with a layer of shredded recycled paper sandwiched inside.
Paperboard: The term paperboard is generally used to describe stronger, stiffer paper-based material, that is 12 pts or more points in thickness. Paperboard is used to produce a variety of different types of packages such as cereal boxes. When paperboard is made with 100% recycled material, it is often referred to as “chipboard” or “bending chip.” Our 100% Recycled Tuck Boxes, 100% Recycled Rigid Mailers, and 100% Recycled Apparel Mailers are all made with paperboard.
Corrugate: Corrugate (sometimes referred to as “cardboard” though this isn’t really accurate) is what shipping boxes and some retail packaging are made out of. Corrugate consists of two layers of linerboard (kraft paper that is usually around 10 pts) with a layer of fluted kraft paper in the middle. This dual layer of linerboard and fluting allows corrugate to have a significantly lower cost and use less material than a paperboard of equivalent strength would be. Additionally, corrugated is the most readily and easily recyclable paper-based packaging out there (and secures the highest market pricing from reclaimers), in part because shipping boxes are likely to be fairly clean - free of contaminants such as staples, ink and residue.
The actual flutes in corrugate vary across two main characteristics – their height (which creates the thickness of the cardboard sheet) and how tightly or loosely they are waved or “fluted.” The following chart describes the most common types of flutes used in shipping:
The following chart describes the most common types of flutes used in shipping:
|B Flute||1/8” thick, 42-50 flutes per foot||Resisting crushing, stacking strength. Good for folding and printing, and therefore, good for presentation style boxes such as Tab Locking and Literature Mailers. Lower price vs C or E flute.|
|C Flute||11/64″ thick, 39-43 flutes per foot||Provides good cushioning and strong enough for medium weight boxes. An effective surface for printing (though slightly less so than B flute).|
|E Flute||1/16” thick, 94 flutes per foot||Strong crush resistance. Excellent surface for printing. Excellent for folding. Becoming more popular in ecommerce presentation boxes. Reduces box storage space.|
The above chart describes “single wall” boards. Corrugated sheets can also be double wall or even triple wall for added thickness and strength. Double and triple wall corrugated flutes are described by the flutes of the two or three sheets used together. Multi-wall corrugated is typically only used in larger industrial containers and rarely used in traditional e-commerce.
The vast majority of e-commerce shipping boxes are made with single wall flutes, and are typically B, C or E flutes, all of which strike an appropriate balance of creating strong boxes that are relatively lightweight.
So...how should I compare all of my paper packaging options?
Paper is so great because, now that it has been around for so long, it is available in so many different forms! And because it is so readily and easily recycled, it is typically available with a high level of recycled content across all of these forms. This is clear just be looking at how varied EcoEnclose’s selection of paper-based ecommerce packaging is!
What does all of this mean for you?
If you’re looking at mailers to ship your goods: Opt for our Kraft Mailer if you ship something flat, lightweight, non-fragile and non-bendable (i.e. that wouldn’t be ruined by bending). Opt for our Paper Apparel Mailer to ship bulkier apparel and similar gear. Opt for our Padded Mailers if you need a layer of cushion to protect your goods. And opt for our Rigid Mailers (either our Extra Strong Tab Locking ones or our Self Sealing ones) if you want to prevent whatever you are shipping from being bent.
If you’re not sure about shipping boxes or mailers: Shipping boxes are typically more expensive, space intensive for storage, and more operationally complex (because you have to assemble and tape boxes when you fulfill orders). However, shipping boxes work particularly well for:
- Bulky items or products with a height, depth and length over 2”
- Companies shipping multiple products at a time
- Monthly subscription services
- Fragile items
- Companies focused on the exceptional presentation and branding
- Oddly shaped items
If you’re debating between a box and a mailer, the best way to choose is to get free samples and do actual testing with your products.
If you know you’re looking for shipping boxes: If you’ve decided on shipping boxes, you have three main decisions after that: What box style do you want What flute do you want What kind of void fill or packaging paper do you want Our Definitive Guide to Shipping Boxes gives you an in-depth look at all three of those questions.
Still not sure how to move forward? We'd love to help! Contact us anytime at [email protected] or 888.445.6575.