Music by the Pound : Types & Weights of Paper for Printing Music

As a generation producing music notation on computer software and laser printers, we are fortunate not to have to consider as many factors when picking out a paper for music reproduction. For instance, there are no concerns about how the ink from a fountain pen spreads on a specific paper; or whether or not fibers from the paper get caught in the pen when copying.

These days, most good quality papers designed for laser printers or photo copying produce great results for typeset scores and parts. With white paper, we want to pick a paper stock with a good brightness rating (the higher the number, the brighter the paper). And, importantly, we want a paper that is heavy enough that it won’t curl up on the music stands, but that isn’t too heavy to go through our printer.

If you have the manual for your printer handy, it’s worth checking to see what the heaviest recommended paper is possible to feed through the trays.

A number of symphony orchestras and commercial copying houses in the US use laser quality paper of 70lb to 80lb text weight for parts and 60lb to 70lb text weight for scores.  If you’ve been buying 20lb bond paper from your local stationary store or office supply, you might think that 60lb text is a very heavy card stock. But, in fact, 60lb text is the same thickness and density as 24lb bond paper – only a little heavier than the 20lb bond paper you might currently be using.

Sometimes in the US, heavier stock such as 50lb Cover or 100lb Text weight paper are used for parts.

All paper you buy at Stationary or Office supply stores are cut from larger parent sheets. Regardless of whether you work with US or International paper sizes, when you buy a ream of paper of a specific “weight”, it is actually referring to the weight of 500 sheets of that paper type’s parent sheet size. Each different type of paper has a unique  parent sheet size, which affects that paper’s “Basis weight”.

Heavier paper is by nature less translucent, which makes paper in the range of “24lb Bond / 60lb Text” – “28lb Bond / 70lb Text” suitable for double sided score pages.

Each different paper type comes in several common “basis weights, which are generally availabe.  For instance, “bond” type paper comes in a number of common thicknesses (weights). In the US, the most common weights of bond paper are 20lb, 24lb, and 28lb, but bond paper is also available in other weights.

The parent sheet size for Bond type paper in the US is 17″x22″. If 500 sheets of these 17″x22″ parent sheets weigh 20lbs, regardless of the final cut size, a ream of paper, whether cut to A3, A4, Tabloid or Letter will be labeled “20lb Bond”. If that same paper is slightly heavier, 500 sheets cut to the parent sheet size weights 24lbs, that paper at any cut size will be labeled “24lb Bond”.

500 parent sheets of different paper types can have a very different “basis weight”, due not only to the density of the paper, but also the dimensions of the cut parent sheet.

Here is a list of some common paper types and the size of the parent sheets used for determining their basis weight (US):

PAPER TYPEPARENT SHEET SIZE
BOOK / TEXT / OFFSET25"x38"
BOND / LEDGER / MIMEO / DUPLICATOR17"x22"
COVER20"x26"
BRISTOL22.5"x28.5"
INDEX25.5"x28.5"
TAG24"x36"

In the chart below, the basis weights for each paper type is listed in boldface type. Grammage (gsm) is included for international comparison:

BOOKBONDCOVERBRISTOLINDEXTAGGRAMMAGE (gsm)
50*20*2734414574
60*24*3340495589
70*28*38475764104
80*3144546573118
813245556774120
903549607482133
913650627583135
1003955678291148
1024056698393151
11043607490100163
1194765*8097108176
12047668098109178
1465880*99120134216

 

In the chart above, the most common weights for a particular class of paper are marked with an asterisk*.

Page size plays a big part in the density / durability / weight of paper you will need. For instance, if you are printing parts on A4 or Letter paper, a good paper (if your printer supports it) which will print nicely double sided if needed and won’t curl up on the stands is 24lb bond / 60lb text.

Particularly for parts, as the paper dimensions increase, you’ll want to increase the weight slightly as well. So, for 9″x12″ pages, you’ll want something along the lines of a 70lb text / 28lb bond weight paper, and if you are preparing 10″x13″ parts pages, you should consider 80lb text / 32lb bond.

In terms of brands of paper, there are a number to choose from, and depending on where you live, you’ll have different choices. Three brands my company uses for music reproduction are:

Do you have a favorite brand of paper you would recommend to the music notation community at large for music scores and parts? Do you have more information about European basis weights or paper types? Please share in the comments!

~robert

11 Replies to “Music by the Pound : Types & Weights of Paper for Printing Music”


  1. Good info for a confusing subject. You might want to discuss long and short grain direction as well.

    If you’re making saddle-stitched booklets, the weight of the paper is also dictated by how thick the booklet is. 70# is probably going to be too thick for an 80-page part.


  2. This is nicely done.

    I’m glad that you discussed the various paper types (book, bond, cover, ect…), and the fact that they don’t share an evenly graded weights scale between one another.

    I’d only add in as a fairly minor point that “text” and “book” are synonymous as paper types, and can share the same column in your chart of basis weights.


    1. Thanks, Jim! In response to your comment, I’ve updated the parent sheet size table in the post to show alternate names for the same paper type.

      ~robert


  3. Hi Robert

    Our paper of choice for choral music here is 100gsm paper in B4 size. Luckily there are two B4 sizes, just to make things simple. There’s the one that certain Hewlett Packard printers have settings for (257mm x 364mm), which is from the Japanese Industrial Standards set, and a slightly slimmer one (250mm x 353mm), which is from the ISO, and which, for example, Sibelius has inbuilt settings.

    But, can you buy either kind here in the UK over the counter? No. We have to buy A3, which is expensive enough anyway, far more expensive than double the price of the paper which is half the size (namely A4), and cut it down. Different paper suppliers puff their chests up and say they can supply *anything* when they get in touch, but soon admit they can’t just supply B4 in relatively small quantities. ‘It’s just not a standard size’, they say. Well, it is, or there wouldn’t be a name for it.

    If you’re buying paper in the UK (can’t speak for the rest of Europe), the easiest things to pick up are 80gsm, 90 gsm & 100gsm, in A4 size. A3 as I’ve said is easy enough to get but it’s expensive, and most places only stock 80gsm. Anything else you have to make yourself.

    If someone knows different please tell me!

    Neil

    1. Hi I’m in the process of selecting paper for scores and it seems to me that the UK is so poorly served in almost every way compared with other US and many European countries. It’s useful to have this information. Thank you all.

      Joanna


  4. In response to a question on the Finale forum about obtaining paper in modest quantities suitable for music printing in the UK, I posted the reply below. I should probably add to that that since the Scottish Music Centre has a small staff, it might be best if I find out the info from there that I mention and post it here later, rather than possibly have people from other parts of the UK asking for this information when it is not required urgently.

    Claire Clifford Stationary in Glasgow can supply B4 paper in boxes of 2000 sheets that is used for very many of the parts and scores printed in Scotland, and which to my eye is eminently suitable for the purpose. There seems to be something not working with the buttons on their web-site, but an e-mail to mail@claire-clifford.co.uk should get a quick response (they will supply to anywhere in the UK). The B4 paper appears to have Japanese rather than international dimensions, but I think this is fairly normal in the UK.

    You might also like to e-mail the Scottish Music Centre info@scottishmusiccentre.com to ask from where they get all the paper they use, its dimensions, weight &c. They print scores and parts for a wide range of composers and musical genres, but they certainly won’t be buying paper in industrial quantities …

    David Ward


  5. I use 32lb [bond] paper which is about 120gsm. In fact I use it for everything I print.
    It sits better on a music stand, and people I give anything to notice it too.
    I almost always do music on Letter size even though I have a large format printer.
    I suppose the real reason is simply because I can go to Staples and get a package of 32lb/120gsm letter size without a special order.

    Rob Enns


  6. Robert,

    Many thanks for this great info…now I am wondering what paper SIZES you recommend for different ensembles or situations. I have seen some MOLA guidelines, but haven’t always seen them observed. How standard are they? I haven’t done a lot of recording, but I’ve seen all sorts of paper sizes from huge to sub-atomic…So what size do you recommend for orchestra? Wind ensemble? Chamber ensembles such as brass quintets? Recording sessions where musicians are sightreading? etc…

    Thanks for this blog–it’s a great place to learn!

    Jim Williams


  7. To add to what I’ve said above,the Scottish Music Centre IS now buying paper in bulk, but someone from Claire Gifford has replied to me to state that they can provide Duo Office 100gm white paper B4 364mm x 257mm at £42.86 for a box of 2000 sheets.

    I can confirm that this paper is non-glossy and eminently suitable for full scores, and also for those parts, such as shared string parts and percussion scores, which may print best on something larger than A4. The results I have seen have been with a high grade laser printer, but the paper is said to be suitable for ink-jet printing as well.

    On the web-site, Claire Gifford seems to offer a wide range of A4 paper, some of which is likely to be suitable for parts. The B4 needs to be ordered by e-mail or telephone.

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