The Beauty of A4

I worked on a poster last weekend. I needed to have 3 versions of the poster for 3 different uses. The client wanted the poster in tabloid, letter and letter-half sizes. And I wished I lived in Europe.


According to the wikipedia article on letter size: "The origin of the exact dimensions of "letter" size paper (8½ in × 11 in, 215.9 mm × 279.4 mm) are lost in tradition and not well documented. The American Forest and Paper Association argues that the dimension originates from the days of manual paper making, and that the 11 inch length of the page is about a quarter of "the average maximum stretch of an experienced vatman's arms." However, this does not explain the width or aspect ratio."


Frustratingly, only some sizes in the American paper system have similar proportions. So although letter paper is half of tabloid, its proportions are completely different. This means I had to spend lots of extra time adjusting design elements to try and make the tabloid design work in letter size. And it still doesn't look quite as good as the original design. That extra white space can make or break a design.


  • Tabloid proportions: 1.5455
  • Letter proportions: 1.2941
  • Half letter proportions: 1.54

The Europeans got it right. Quoted from wiki: "The ISO 216 specifies international standard (ISO) paper sizes used in most countries in the world today. The international ISO standard is based on the German DIN standard 476 (DIN 476) from 1922. Paper in the A series format has an aspect ratio of 1: the square root of 2, although this is rounded to the nearest millimeter."


The ISO 216 also accounted for halving the preceding paper size. So A4 is both half of A3 AND of the exact same proportions. Beautiful! Every single paper size from A0 down to A8 has the aspect ratio of 1: the square root of 2.


I don't even want to get started about working in inches. If this text box is 3.125 inches then I'll make that one 4.375... Hmm, let me pull in a guide to .125 inches. What's 8.75 inches minus .125 inches?


I fondly remember my two short years of working with A3, A4 and millimeters.

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