Print Design for an International Market

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Print Design for an International Market

In an earlier article, we discussed the problems American businesses might have with color theory when trying to expand overseas. This demonstrates that American businesses trying to expand internationally can run into a number of problems, both big and small, from any number of odd directions. One aspect of internationalization which tends to blindside these businesses is also one of the easiest to prepare for: stationery, envelopes, and business cards.

Paper standards

As paper sizes go, the division is pretty simple: there’s North America, and then there’s the rest of the world. Traditional American paper sizes are based entirely on widespread adoption rather than any mathematical standard, and paper ratios are not preserved from smaller to larger versions, which makes scaling a published document from one size to another something of a chore.

Format Size in Inches Size in Millimeters
Junior Legal 8 x 5 203 x 127
Letter 8.5 x 11 216 x 279
Legal 8.5 x 14 216 x 356
Tabloid (Ledger) 11 x 17 279 x 432

In an attempt to standardize North American sizes somewhat, ANSI/ASME Y14.1 was published in 1995. The ANSI system assigns letters from A to E to various paper sizes, like so:

Format Size in Inches Size in Millimeters Ratio
ANSI A 8.5 x 11 216 x 279 1.2941
ANSI B 11 x 17 279 x 432 1.5455
ANSI C 17 x 22 432 x 559 1.2941
ANSI D 22 x 34 559 x 864 1.5455
ANSI E 34 x 44 864 x 1118 1.2941

Following this standard, a document created to fit an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper (ANSI A) can be scaled easily to fit other sheets with the same ratio, i.e. ANSI C or ANSI E.

The international standard, known as ISO 216/DIN 476, is far simpler. This standard begins with a single sheet of paper with a height-to-width proportion of 1.414:1 (the square root of 2) and an area of one square meter. Starting from this sheet, known as A0, each successive sheet is equal in size to the previous sheet cut in half along the short axis.

Format Size in Millimeters Size in Inches
A0 841 x 1189 33.1 x 46.8
A1 594 x 841 23.4 x 33.1
A2 420 x 594 16.5 x 23.4
A3 297 x 420 11.7 x 16.5
A4 210 x 297 8.3 x 11.7
A5 148 x 210 5.8 x 8.3
A6 105 x 148 4.1 x 5.8
A7 74 x 105 2.9 x 4.1
A8 52 x 74 2.0 x 2.9
A9 37 x 52 1.5 x 2.0
A10 26 x 37 1.0 x 1.5

Using the ISO standard, resizing print designs is a breeze, since every sheet size maintains the exact proportions. You’ll notice that A4 is very close to the North American letter size, and in fact is used for the same purpose. However, the sizes are just different enough that it can be difficult or impossible to resize a letter-sized print design to fit the A4 standard without some redesign.

Envelope standards

Envelopes follow a number of standards similar to paper sizes (obviously, when you think about it), but have the added complication of having governmental regulations imposed due to mail sorting and delivery requirements. Generally, envelope standards can be divided into three broad groups: North American, Japanese, and International, with few interchangeable formats between them.

These standards are very extensive and beyond the scope of a blog post. For more information you can find pages online like this one with exhaustively thorough explanations of this subject.

Business cards

Unlike the previous subjects, there is no set standard for business cards. However, it may be slightly more difficult to find local printers in other countries who are capable of printing cards with the exact proportions of your current design. Note that the A8 (52mm x 74mm) paper size above is fairly close in dimensions to an average U.S. business card (51mm x 89mm), and is often used for that purpose. In any case, be prepared to have to redesign your cards to match the capabilities of your printers overseas.

Other printing considerations

The prevalence of the ISO 219 standard worldwide may require your business to require slight changes to magazine or newspaper print advertising, brochures, posters, flyers, handouts, and other print media. Even if you have an in-house graphic design department, it can be beneficial for your business to consider bringing in a company with expertise in international marketing to help rebuild your print designs for an international audience. As a multicultural company with international customers, we have unique knowledge and experience in this area. Contact us today and we will be happy to discuss this and other possible pitfalls of expanding your business internationally with you.

About Matcha Design

Matcha Design is a full-service creative B2B agency with decades of experience executing its client’s visions. The award-winning company specializes in web design, logo design, branding, marketing campaign, print, UX/UI, video production, commercial photography, advertising, and more. Matcha Design upholds the highest personal standards for excellence and can see things from a unique perspective due to its multicultural background.  The company consistently delivers custom, high-quality, innovative solutions to its clients using technical savvy and endless creativity. For more information, visit

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