The Internet Versus Paper Sizes

Ooh, pads of paper!

– Homer Simpson

We received a lovely original drawing from Ben’s girlfriend Lois for Christmas.



We were and are delighted. Sometimes give her a little kiss for luck in the morning! Lois also paints and sculpts and arranges flowers, in addition to being employed and just generally terrific. (Hey, Lois!)

Lesley arrived matted, so all we had to do was pop her in a frame. I was a little surprised to find that the frame was a little tricky to find; the drawing was matted to A4 size, which (apparently) is not readily available in the states.

Here’s some fodder for your next cocktail party. You know how everywhere in the world uses metric as the primary measuring system except the U.S., Liberia, and Myanmar? I mean, yeah, we still use it, but not as the primary system, I know not why. But did you know that there’s an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard for paper sizes? There IS. And only the U.S. and Canada don’t use it.


I go to some nerdy cocktail parties (via).

The most commonly used paper size in most of the world is A4, which is 210 mm x 297 mm (8.3 x 11.7 inches), while in the states, it’s “Letter” size, 8.5 x 11 inches (216 mm x 279 mm). Canada’s equivalent size is P4, which is Letter size rounded to the nearest 5 mm (215 x 280, which is still almost exactly 8.5 x 11 inches because millimeters are small).

Why should you care, other than cocktail party chitchat? Online shopping. If you are decorating your home, you might peruse Etsy or similar for original artwork or prints, and buy something in an unusual (to you) paper size. A4 and Letter sizes are pretty close, so you might try to display your new acquisition in an off-the-shelf frame and mat. When I was shopping U.S. sites for A4 frames, I saw product reviews saying that the frames were the wrong size — people were buying them to frame letter-size prints.

Don’t do that! I mocked up a few mismatches using a friendly giraffe (via) to show you why it doesn’t work. Here’s a letter-size print in an A4 mat:

Letter-sized giraffe

Letter-sized giraffe in A4 mat: mat on the sides, gaps at the top and bottom

That’s not great, but this is worse–A4 giraffe in a letter-size mat. The mat cuts off the top and bottom of the page, but leaves gaps at the sides (or only just gets to the edge of the mat, depending on how generous the mat is).

A4 giraffe

A4 giraffe in a letter mat

Another standard framing size in the states is 8 x 10 inches (common for photo printing), which is a complete disaster for an A4 print. That giraffe is totally boxed in! Maybe he can lick his way out.

A4 matted 8x10

A4 matted 8×10

And of course an 8 x 10 print would rattle around in an A4 or letter-sized mat. That’s not a problem, though, because 8×10 frames and mats seem to be pretty available most places.

Our Christmas present was already matted to A4 size, and I was able to find an A4 frame online. Frames can be a little expensive and fragile to ship from overseas, but there are several A4 frame options in the states or Canada:

  • Frame shops can do A4 frames and/or mats all day long.
  • Amazon lists a few options.
  • A few Etsy and eBay sellers sell A4 frames stateside.
  • A larger frame can be matted down to the desired size (make your own mats for whatever size you like).

If you are outside the U.S. and Canada and want to frame a letter-sized item, use the same ideas country-specifically.

Thanks for the lovely drawing, Lois!

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