Cardstock: Everything You Need to Know


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Cardstock can be used for so many types of projects from scrapbooking to painting. But, it can be overwhelming to look at all of the options. Weight, thickness, coating. What does it all mean and how do you pick the right one for your project? Don’t worry, we’re going to clear up all the cardstock confusion. 

Cardstock is a heavy paper that ranges in weight from 65lb to over 150lb. Lighter cardstock can be used in printers and is great for cutting and folding for scrapbooking or card making. Heavier cardstocks can be used for posters, business cards, and anything that needs to stand up on its own or be sturdy. 

Choosing the right cardstock can make the difference between your project being a success or being the reason you need to go back to the store to buy a different option. Let’s dive into all of the factors you need to consider to buy the right cardstock for your next project.

Cardstock Buying Cheat Sheet

Surprisingly, paper is complicated. There’s actually a lot that goes into determining its thickness, weight, grams per square meter, and more. It’s actually a treasure trove of fun facts to annoy your friends with at the next trivia night. We’ll dive into all of that later, but what if you just want to go out and buy some freakin cardstock without having to read a science textbook? 

Here’s a quick way to know what cardstock you need and the numbers to look out for, even without knowing what they mean (source). We’ll also cover some common cardstock questions that could be just what you’re looking for.

Light weight

65lb-80lb, 8pt-9.5pt, 176gsm-216gsm

Great for: 
Using with a printer, crafts using hand scissors, projects with basic folding, “non-sturdy” projects

Medium weight

80lb-110lb, 9.5pt-11pt, 216gsm-270gsm

Great for:
Some printers (check printer specs), fancier cards or invitations, crafts using high-quality hand scissors

Heavy weight

110lb+, 13.5pt+, 298gsm+

Great for: 
Cutting machines, sturdy posters or flyers, crafts not intending to fold

(source)

Generally, lightweight cardstock between 65lb-80lb is what most people are used to and want for the majority of their paper craft projects. Going above that can start to feel heavy and hard to use. 

The only times I’ve gone into the heavier weight categories are when I was using my Silhouette cutting machine and didn’t have to struggle through using hand scissors and when I knew my printer could tolerate it and I wanted to print table cards that felt fancier than lightweight cardstock.

If you’re still not sure though, head to the craft store with this guide pulled up on your phone and feel the different types of cardstocks they offer. Once you feel them, you’ll get a sense of the weight that will be best for you. 

What Cardstock Is and Isn’t

You may have heard the word cover stock and wondered how it was different from cardstock. Luckily, it isn’t! If you see anything related to “cover,” know that you’re getting the same thing as regular old cardstock.

Index paper is almost cardstock, but it’s not as thick. This can be a good choice when you want a paper that’s flexible, but more stiff than printer paper. It’s thin enough that you won’t confuse it with cardstock. It can feel strange though. 

Bristol paper is a thick drawing paper that is made by gluing sheets together under pressure (source). This paper is great for drawing and has a felt-like texture. This is a great choice for art, but isn’t cardstock as we normally think of it. 

Bond and text paper are basically printer paper, so you’ll want to avoid those if you’re in search of cardstock.

We could go on and on about all of the types of paper, but you’re here for cardstock! It’s good to keep those other names in mind so that you know what not to buy when you’re looking through all of the options. Alright, let’s get back to cardstock and what you should keep in mind.

What Types of Decorative Cardstock Are There?

There are a lot of fun types of cardstock to choose from with some of the more popular ones including matte, glossy, metallic, embossed, felt, linen, lettra, and cockle.

Matte is what would be considered “uncoated.” If you plan to do any type of writing, drawing, or painting on your cardstock, you should get matte. Pen and paint will eventually dry on glossy and metallic cardstock, but it can take a long time and it’s likely it will smear.

Glossy, metallic, and embossed cardstock can be beautiful options for die-cuts or scrapbooking. I’ve made some beautiful gold leaves out of metallic cardstock which were much more beautiful than simple yellow matte cardstock would have been. If you’re wanting to make something fancier, these cardstocks can be great choices.

Felt cardstock has been textured to feel soft, like felt. This can be a fun choice to add some texture to your project, but not a great choice for writing or painting.

Linen cardstock is really cool. It actually has cross hatched fibers to make it feel and look like cloth. I’ve seen it used for cards, menus, and business cards, so it can be printed on.

Continuing on our fabric trend, lettra cardstock is made out of 100% cotton. As the name implies, it was designed for letter pressing. These specialty cardstocks can be expensive and lettra is one of the most expensive of the bunch, so don’t be shocked by the price.

Vellum can be confusing because it’s both a paper type and a paper finish. As a paper type, vellum is that light and airy paper that is often used as a translucent decorative layer. As a paper finish, vellum is a coating that is smooth but also has a bit of a tooth to it that works best for dry media. 

When buying vellum cardstock, be sure to get the right kind. A lot of times, the labels can be confusing. Most of the time, a paper with a vellum finish will have another paper name next to it. For example, “Vellum Bristol.” It’s a bristol paper with a vellum finish. On the other hand, if you’re looking at vellum paper, you will only see the word “vellum.” You’ll probably also see the word “translucent,” which is another giveaway that you’re looking at the paper and not the finish.

If you’re buying vellum in a store, it will be easy to tell the difference, as one will be see through and the other won’t. If you’re buying online, look at the photos and read the description carefully.

Now that we’ve talked about all of the fun variations of cardstock, let’s talk about some common cardstock questions that can come up.

Can Cardstock Go Through a Printer?

Lighter weight cardstock can go through a printer. In general, anything under 80lb will go through your printer pretty nicely. That said, check the specifications of your printer. Some printers can handle a heavier paper than others. 

It’s also good to know how temprementally your printer is. My printer is very old and gets confused by normal printer paper, which means that I have very little luck with cardstock. We’ve developed a nice love-hate relationship over the years and I can sense when it’s having a bad day. 

If you know you’re going to be printing a lot of cardstock, it may be worth upgrading your printer to one that can handle it. Cardstock is pretty cheap, but it doesn’t take many paper jams and wasted cardstock to make it worth it to buy a printer that consistently prints well. 

Can Cardstock Be Recycled?

Normal cardstock that doesn’t have a coating can be recycled. Coatings could include gloss, embossing, foil, metallic sheen, or anything else that is put onto the paper. Textured cardstock that have nothing added to them are ok to be recycled. Basically, ask yourself if there is anything on your cardstock aside from paper? If no, feel free to recycle. If yes, reuse or put in the trash.

Can I Paint on Cardstock?

You can paint on cardstock. For the best results, you’ll want to use heavy cardstock, acrylic paint, and limit how much water you use. If your cardstock gets too wet, it can start to pill, warp, ripple, or tear. This is why watercolor isn’t a great choice for cardstock–try to get specific watercolor paper for that. 

Dry brush painting can work really well with cardstock since it eliminates the water factor. You can also prime your cardstock with acrylic gesso. This will preserve the paper and limit the amount of paint it absorbs. Coat both sides of the paper if the paper has acid in it, or just the side you’ll be painting on if it’s acid-free. Ideally, acid-free paper is better for making sure your art stands the test of time, so try to grab some acid-free options when you’re at the store.

What’s the Best Cardstock for Scrapbooking?

Lighter cardstock is the best choice for scrapbooking. Since the cardstock will be glued to the pages, there’s no need for the cardstock to be extremely sturdy. If you use heavier cardstock, you’ll only make your scrapbook thick, especially if you stack a number of layers on top of each other. 

It’s also easier to cut lighter cardstock with hand scissors, which is often the best technique for scrapbooking. Lighter cardstock will be much easier to work with overall and give you the best result.

That said, there’s one case where heavier cardstock would be a good choice for a scrapbook. Let’s say that you are making an upscale scrapbook with a limited amount of pages and you have easy access to a cutting machine. Heavier cardstock can look more elegant than lighter cardstock, especially when cut with a machine like a Cricut or Silhouette. It tends to have cleaner lines and sharper edges. If you want a fancier scrapbook that looks more upscale, use a heavier cardstock and reduce the amount of layers and pages you have.

Is There Any Outdoor or Waterproof Cardstock?

There are special types of waterproof paper that can work great outdoors for things like signs and flyers. This can save you the hassle of trying to laminate endless amounts of cardstock. Waterproof cardstock doesn’t come in a wide variety of sizes, but the perk of it being waterproof makes up for it. 

I would suggest experimenting with waterproof cardstock before you get married to it. It feels different than normal cardstock and may take time to get used to. There’s nothing worse than expecting your finished product to turn out perfectly the first time, only to have to redo it. Experiment with it and see how it feels.

Is Cardstock the Same as Construction Paper?

Cardstock and construction paper are not the same thing. Thinking back to your days in elementary school, you can probably remember how construction paper felt. It tends to be softer and tear more easily. That’s what it’s meant for! Construction paper has a lot of great uses, but it’s not the most durable paper out there. 

As a kid, I used to get frustrated with how much the paper would pill and tear when I tried to use markers on it. Though, the perk is the softer edges which reduce the risk of papercuts. I’m sure there are a lot of teachers that are grateful for that! 

Cardstock is much thicker than construction paper and higher quality. I wouldn’t get construction paper for anything other than crafts that are being done purely for fun. I love how easy it is to work with construction paper, but also wouldn;t count on it to be long-lasting.

Can I Laminate Cardstock?

Speaking of laminating, if you don’t want to buy special waterproof cardstock and want to make your regular old cardstock weatherproof by laminating it, you can. There’s no general rule here and will vary depending on the laminating machine you have or use. All laminating machines will have guidelines on the max thickness of cardstock they can use. If you’re planning to go to a copy store, give them a call and they’ll know how thick your cardstock should be for the best results.

Alright, now that we’ve covered some cardstock basics, if you’re interested in the fun specifics about the different types of cardstocks, read on!

How Cardstock Weight Works

When shopping for cardstock, you’ll see pounds (lbs), points (pts), and grams per square meter (gsm) all over the place. Pounds and points are just different ways to measure a paper’s weight. That’s why we can say that 65lb and 8pt paper are the same thing. Their just different measurements in the same way that 12 inches is the same as 1 foot.

Understanding Paper Pounds (lbs)

A 65lb paper doesn’t actually weign 65lb?! True. The pound measurements is based on the weight of the entire ream. A ream of paper has 500 sheets in it, which means that a cardstock marked as 65lb came from a 500 page ream that weighed 65lb (source). That’s a fun fact for your next trivia night!

For most of us, the weight of a paper doesn’t really matter. It’s not like we’re heading to the store to grab a 500 page ream of 65lb paper. The only reason the weight matters is because it gives us an idea of how thick it is, which is where points come in.

Understanding Paper Points (pts)

Paper points don’t exactly describe a paper’s weight in the same way that pounds do. The points, or caliper, tell how thick the paper is. Based on the thickness, you can gage how heavy the paper is. 

Each point is 1/1000 of an inch. Paper is pretty thin. This means that if you get an 11pt paper, it’s .011 of an inch thick. This is thicker than an 8pt paper that comes in at .008 of an inch and thinner than a 13pt paper that comes in at .013 of an inch. 

Understanding Grams per Square Meter (gsm)

Grams per square meter (gsm) is the metric version of pounds (source). There is 1gsm for every .000204lbs, which is why the gsm numbers for paper end up so big. Unless you’re buying cardstock from an online store that’s based in a country that uses the metric system, you probably won’t see cardstock that only has a gsm measurement without a lb measurement to go with it.

The Moral of the Cardstock Story

It’s amazing how complicated a thing like cardstock can be. When you get caught up in the weight, thickness, and different finishes it can make something as fun as crafting into a scientific study. 

Don’t get caught up in it.

Paper is really fascinating and has a lot of trivia-worthy stats to go with it. That said, we’ve all been using paper since we were toddlers without having to know how or why it was made. 

Enjoy knowing these fun facts about cardstock….and then go have fun using cardstock! Getting your hands dirty with your craft materials is the best way to understand how they work and what they can be used for. 

Diana Fitts

Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana's latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.

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