No matter what medium you use to create your drawings, the final output will almost always be plotted onto paper. Even for digital files, an architectural paper size is necessary to define the extents of the document.
Whether it’s manual drafting, CAD, BIM, or 3D, knowing what paper size to use can help you breeze through the final steps of your drawing. In this article, we go over the most commonly used paper sizes in the architecture industry.
What is standard paper size?
Paper sizes have been largely standardized since the 20th century, adapting to factors such as mass production, printer requirements, and global application.
Through decades of use with modern printers and storage, standard paper sizes have continually been streamlined to be better optimized for content, and more adaptable for different regions, printers, and screens.
Much like the use of metric and imperial units for measurement, there are two major standard sets being used for architectural paper sizes. North America uses ANSI (American National Standards Institute) sizes, while ISO (International Standards Organization) sizes are the official standard for the rest of the world.
North American paper sizes
Standard paper sizes in North America include loose paper sizes for general use, ARCH series paper sizes intended for architectural sheets, and the ANSI series beginning with the 8.5×11” base size.
Loose paper sizes are readily available in stores and can often be found in a home or office printer. Letter size paper is the most common, being used for the majority of standard documents from resumes and invitations to bills and bank statements.
It is also known as short bond paper, or regular size typewriting paper. Legal size, also known as long bond paper, has the same width as letter size but is three inches longer to accommodate more text for important contracts and bylaws.
Tabloid and ledger are used for more specific publications requiring the additional space for images and graphics.
North American loose paper sizes
- Letter: 8.5 x 11” (216 x 279mm)
- Legal: 8.5 x 14” (216 x 356mm)
- Tabloid: 11 x 17” (279 x 432mm)
- Ledger: 17 x 11” (432 x 279mm)
North American arch series paper sizes
- ARCH A: 9 x 12” (229 x 305mm)
- ARCH B: 12 x 18” (305 x 457mm)
- ARCH C: 18 x 24” (457 x 610mm)
- ARCH D: 24 x 36” (610 x 914mm)
- ARCH E: 36 x 48” (914 x 1219mm)
- ARCH E1: 30 x 42” (762 x 1067mm)
North American ANSI (American National Standards Institute) paper sizes
- ANSI A: 8.5 x 11” (216 x 279mm)
- ANSI B: 11 x 17” (279 x 432mm)
- ANSI C: 17 x 22” (432 x 559mm)
- ANSI D: 22 x 34” (559 x 864mm)
- ANSI E: 34 x 44” (864 x 1118mm)
ISO (international paper size) paper sizes
The ISO standard, particularly the international ISO 216 A-series, is widely accepted around the world as the standard for paper sizes of all uses. All sizes in the series retain the same aspect ratio, which simplifies scaling and resizing content from one size to another.
Additionally, each size is exactly half the size of the previous, meaning an A4 paper can be folded in half to make a perfect A5.
The sizes are in order with A0 being the largest, and A10 being the smallest. A4 is typically used for general business, school, and personal documents, and architecture offices regularly make use of the larger A3, A2, A1, and A0 sizes for large sheets and drawings.
- A0: 33.1 x 46.8” (841 x 1189mm)
- A1: 23.4 x 33.1” (594 x 841mm)
- A2: 16.5 x 23.4” (420 x 594mm)
- A3: 11.7 x 16.5” (297 x 420mm)
- A4: 8.3 x 11.7” (210 x 297mm)
- A5: 5.8 x 8.3” (148 x 210mm)
- A6: 4.1 x 5.8” (105 x 148mm)
- A7: 2.9 x 4.1” (74 x 105mm)
- A8: 2.0 x 2.9” (52 x 74mm)
- A9: 1.5 x 2.0” (37 x 52mm)
- A10: 1.0 x 1.5” (26 x 37mm)
Blueprint printing paper sizes
Architects generally use ARCH C (18×24”) or ARCH D (24×36”) for house plans and blueprints, especially in North America. In other regions, A1 (23.4×33.1”) is the most common size for blueprints.
ARCH D and A1 are similar in size and aspect ratio, providing adequate space for plans with a manageable size for transporting, viewing, and handling in the office or on site.
What’s the difference
The main differences are the dimensions and aspect ratios, with ARCH series paper holding a ratio of 4:3 or 3:2, and ISO A-series paper maintaining a single aspect ratio of 1:√2.
North American paper also stays in line with imperial measurements, keeping round numbers for its dimensions in inches, while ISO paper is more precisely measured with millimeters.
The physical size of paper printouts will also vary slightly, as manufacturers include a gripping margin to account for the mechanical requirements of printers. As the paper is fed through, the printer will use these gripping margins to move the paper without interfering with the page content.
Paper size management
Many projects have unique drawing requirements, and it can be tempting to use paper sizes that fit each project specifically, but it’s important to have consistent paper size management for presentation, printing, storage, and submission.
It’s best to use standard sizes to keep your practice streamlined and compatible. If there is a situation requiring intermediate sizes, ISO B-series paper can be used instead. Using custom paper sizes may require manual cutting, and it could also cause viewing issues on screen or on site.
It is also worth noting that A0 paper, being over one meter long, can be problematic when trying to roll, carry, or set down. A0 is double the size of the standard A1 blueprint, and although it allows for more content on the sheet, it should only be used when absolutely necessary.
Physical size plays a large part in ease of use, whether it’s a single sheet or a roll with hundreds of sheets. With the sheer size of A0 paper, a roll can start to get inconveniently heavy as more sheets are added.
Similarly, though, if too many small sheets are being used, it may be more convenient to switch to a larger size to reduce the pages in the sheet set. In order to avoid these problems, a proper evaluation of the project requirements and drawing needs should be carried out before work commences, and the decision on paper size can save valuable time later on.
What are the most common architecture paper sizes
The most common paper sizes for architectural documents are ARCH C and ARCH D. A1 is also regularly used around the world for standard size sheets.
For large scale projects, A0, ARCH E, and ARCH E1 are commonly used. These sizes are often used for masterplans, city layouts, or drawings for display. A3 is frequently used for early design documents, preliminary presentations, sketches, and small plans.
Often accompanying the larger architectural sheets are regular sized documents containing things like signed submission forms, quantities and estimates, or supplementary information about the project. These documents are usually on Letter or A4 size paper.
What is Arch E size paper?
Arch E is a large paper size measuring 36 x 48 inches or 914 x 1219 millimeters. It is a member of the North American architectural paper series, intended for use in the AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) industry.
Arch E has an aspect ratio of 4:3, and is commonly used for large-scale urban planning, building complexes, and maps.
What are the 4 standard paper sizes?
The four standard paper sizes are Letter, Legal, Tabloid, and Ledger. They are known as North American loose paper sizes and are widely available on store shelves in the US and Canada. While many countries around the world also use these sizes, the ISO A-series is the official standard for regions outside of North America.
What is 18×24 paper called?
18×24” paper is known as ARCH C. It is one of the standard paper sizes in the Arch series for architectural documents. ARCH C is similar to the international A2 size paper, which is 16.5×23.4” or 420x594mm. In millimeters, ARCH C measures 457x610mm.
What is paper weight?
There are various degrees of thickness available for paper depending on your needs. Paper weight is used to express these differences, and there are three systems of measurement around the world.
In the US, the Basis Weight system is used, which indicates the weight of a 500-sheet ream. The Caliper system is the second form of measurement, which uses the actual thickness of a single sheet of paper in thousandths of an inch.
The international metric system uses GSM measurement, or grams per square meter. GSM gives you the mass per unit of area, meaning the greater the GSM, the thicker and heavier the paper.
Architects create designs for buildings and spaces, but the bulk of the work is first expressed on paper. From the mind to the paper, to the site and then construction, paper continues to play an integral role in the daily lives of architects.
It’s important for members of the industry to be familiar with the different sizes to create an efficient workflow aligned with other architects and allied professionals.