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Across the Paper-Size Divide

Monday, 10 February 2014 | By Gerry Mulvaney


By Gerry Mulvaney, European Sales Manager, Landa Digital Printing

There are lots of things that divide North America and Europe – and I am not just talking about the Atlantic Ocean. We in Europe talk about football and the Yanks call it soccer, we are generally dealing in centimetres while across the pond they are still using feet and inches and don’t get me started on the pronunciation of aluminium.

Across the Paper-Size Divide 

In the printing industry we are also divided over paper sizes, with Europe using the international ISO standard while the USA still paddles its own canoe with letter, legal and ledger sizes. This got me wondering why we had such diversity and when I started to look some interesting facts came up.

Global Print Technologies. Continental Paper-Size Standards.

Bologna in Italy is famed for its spaghetti sauce, but it is also curiously the place where the standardisation of paper sizes was first reported. Historians believe that Bologna was one of the first cities in Europe to manufacture paper and the city fathers ruled that any municipal documents were to be recorded only on parchment, to ensure their longevity.

In 1398 a stone tablet appeared in Bologna which dictated the sizes of the paper to be manufactured. There were four sizes; Recute, Mecane, Realle and Imperialle. This stone tablet, now housed in Bologna’s main museum, is the first recorded example of paper sizes being laid down in stone!

So how did we get to an international standard? Well like a lot of standards in Europe, we have got the Germans to thank. The German Institute for Standardisation or DIN to use their acronym, created the paper sizes in 1922, building on work done by the German scientist Georg Lichtenberg, who suggested using a square root of 2 as the basic formula.

Stay with me because this is not too difficult. Using this formula, each size is calculated by halving the length of the longest side of the sheet to get the next size down. With the A0 size as the base measure creating a square metre, each subsequent size, A1, A2, A3, A4, etc. is exactly half the area of the previous size. Simple really.

A-Size Illustration with Letter and Legal

A-Size Illustration with Letter and Legal*

So if the Germans can come up with a perfectly good system that is adopted by virtually every country in the world, how come the USA needs something different? Well the standard US letter size, according to some, comes from the span of the paper-maker’s arm, when the process was a manual one. American Quarto as it’s also known (complicating matters) is apparently one quarter of this average span. The US equivalent of DIN, the American National Standards Institute of ANSI decided to work up rather than down, so the US sizes are based on the Quarto or letter size.

None of this of course is a problem for Nanography®. Benny’s presses are quite happy on either format but when the first beta presses are delivered later in 2014, I will raise a glass of something Italian to toast those long forgotten heroes in Bologna who got the whole standardisation process started.



Landa S10 - Printing Press