In praise of ISO 216, or why ‘PC LOAD LETTER’ is the Gipper’s fault.

Not only does America not use SI (metric) measurements – and the less said about that the better – but the USA and Canada comprise the only two countries in the world who don’t use ISO 216 paper measurements.

Unless you’re a designer or a printer, you probably think this doesn’t matter, but ISO 216 has probably done more to save paper wastage (and thus for conservation of resources) than just about any other measure. As Wikipedia says:

The ISO 216 formats are organized around the ratio 1:sqrt{2}; two sheets next to each other together have the same ratio, sideways. In scaled photocopying, for example, two A4 sheets in reduced size fit exactly onto one A4 sheet, an A4 sheet in magnified size onto an A3 sheet, and an A5 sheet scaled up onto a A4 sheet, in each case there is neither waste nor want.

Simply put, designs created for one size scale up or down to other sizes with no waste.  A poster can be turned into a postcard, simply by adjusting scale. Of course this isn’t a boon for designers, but for everyone else, it’s great. Beyond that, because each size is a known area in square meters, and papers is measured in grams per square meter, anyone with three measurements (paper weight, grams per square metre, and number of pages) can calculate the final mass of any volume of paper. So, freight and postage calculation is a snap.

In any case, the North American refusal to adopt ISO 216 (and Ronald Reagan’s decision to standardise on the ‘Letter’ paper size) is the reason you’ve spent so much time in front of printers that are beeping and flashing PC LOAD LETTER.

Ronald Reagan’s legacy: office rage. Thanks for that Nancy.

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