What’s the ‘gsm’ or ‘g/m²’ paper weight mean?

Here’s a short post to explain what the different paperweights mean. In particular how they affect ‘art’ paper. Paper weights are measured in ‘gsm’, ‘g/m²’, or ‘lbs’ (Pounds).

Some pads of paper just have the weight in ‘gsm’. But others also, include the weight in ‘lbs’.

Weight in ‘gsm’ or ‘g/m²’

gsm‘ or ‘g/m²’ (e.g. 160 gsm or 160 g/m²) is the more common measurement and means ‘Grams per Square Metre’. This is the weight in grams of a sample sheet of paper one meter by one meter.

Weight in ‘lbs’

‘lbs’ (e.g. 80 lbs) refers to the weight of 500 sheets (a ream) of paper.

Green watercolour pad of paper with a finger pointing and asking the question, 'What's this paper weight gsm mean?'

What this means to you

With either measurement, the paper gets thicker as the number increases. Also generally, the thicker the paper the more expensive it is. This does not necessarily mean that the quality of the paper goes up. As there are some very good, quality papers at a lighter weight. However, if you do a lot of rubbing back on your work, a thicker paper is probably better. Experimenting with different papers to find which works best for you is always a good idea.

A Guide to paper weights

Below is a guide as to the main different groups of papers and cardstock and their uses. In everyday environments and in particular art paper for drawing and painting on. I’m using the gsm measurement as this is the most often used.

35 – 60 gsm Lightest type of paper, eg. Airmail, a Daler Rowney Layout Pad is 50 gsm, light Tracing Paper.

65 – 100 gsm Everyday office paper is usually between 80 – 100 gsm. Notebooks and a ream of photocopy paper A4 is usually 80 gsm.

100 – 170 gsm Posters and good quality Cartridge Paper for Sketchbooks. Daler Rowney Red & Yellow Cartridge Sketching Pad is 150 gsm.

200 – 300 gsm Thicker paper, stiffer, but still bendable. Pastel, charcoal and multi-technique paper can be 250 gsm. Many business cards are 300 gsm. Most of the Watercolour Pads come in at 250 – 300 gsm.

350 – 450 gsm Better quality business cards are 400 gsm. Some Oil & Acrylic paper can be 400 – 450 gsm.

700+ gsm Mountboard comes in at 700 gsm or more, depending on the cardstock.


If you have any other thoughts on paperweights please leave them in the comments below.

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