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A Brief History About The A4 Paper Size

Comments Off on A Brief History About The A4 Paper Size 05 June 2011

A standard format for sheets used in commerce and desktop publishing is the ISO A4 paper size. The ISO, or International Standard Organization format, is comprised of three basic series entitled A, B, and C. For its versatile uses and maintaining a professional international business image, the scales and shape defined by this system are beneficial. This is also a convenient format for use in determining postal rates.

In the past, no standard sizes existed for sheets used for printing such things as letters, catalogs, magazines or posters. Different ideas about the size, and especially proportion of sheets go back to at least as far as Gutenberg. An eighteenth century German scientist named Lichtenberg first proposed the size that the A4 standard is based upon, and it came into use there in the early twentieth century.

Once begun in Germany, the standard spread quickly to other countries over the next fifty years. The ISO conferred international status on this system in the mid 1970s. In North America, the US and Canada still use the letter size, based on inches. Mexico, the Philippines and some South American countries have adopted the ISO system, yet the letter format is still in common use.

The name given to this standard, based on the metric system, is ISO 216. The basis for the standard is the sheets aspect ratio, or proportion, which is based on the square root of 2. This is a ratio that can be expressed as 1:1.4142. The base size of paper is called AO, which equals one square meter and has the dimensions 841 by 1,189 millimeters.

There are two related scales, B, which is also part of the ISO 216 standard, and C, referred to as ISO 269. All three series are related as a geometric progression, in other words, they are proportionate to each other on a scale of 2 1/8 as measured by the lengths of their sides. B sizes are used for paper sheets whose proportions equate in scale to those of A as geometric means, meaning that a C0 is halfway between an A0 and a B0. The C series are generally used for envelope dimensions.

Shapes based upon the square root of 2 are a special ratio which produces the exact shape on a smaller scale when folded in half on the longer dimension. When a letter formatted sheet is folded, this is not the case. The advantage to this shape becomes clear when one wants to reproduce two facing pages scaled to A4 on an A3 sheet, which will result in a perfect fit.

Besides being convenient for scaling purposes, sheets of this proportion are used for paper folding, like origami, where they may be referred to as A4 rectangles. They are also called silver rectangles, because this shape that remains the same however many times it is folded or trimmed in half is called the silver ratio.

Another benefit of the A4 paper size, and the A series generally, is that since it is in the metric system, and an A0 sheet is one square meter, it is far easier to calculate weights or masses than it is with standard letter size sheets. Any size in the A series breaks down to a fraction of a meter, making the calculations much simpler.

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