Letter vs A4 Paper: Are you using the right size?
For long-time sewists, especially those who are veterans in the digital pattern arena, you probably don’t think twice before you print your PDF pattern. And when a trim line or two don’t show up you probably chock it up to poor pattern drafting or printer issues. Yet, you carry on with your sewing project, and likely it turns out just as beautifully as you expected.
Yes, I was one of you. I was one of those people who prepped her sewing patterns by habit and often was frustrated by less-than-perfect tiled patterns. Recently, I was shocked to find out I'd been printing patterns all wrong for the past several months. And what I learned has made the process so much easier and straightforward.
If you’re brand new to using digital sewing patterns, we suggest you read our How to Use a Digital Sewing Pattern post.
Over the past few weeks we've signed on several new designers from places like Australia, Finland, and the UK. These designers have a different take on fashion and design than what we see in the US. Their patterns include jeans, coats, and pencil skirts and are beautifully unique.
In getting their designs ready for the Indiesew shop, Steve and I have made one very big realization. Paper size is extremely important when printing international patterns. And A4 paper is the standard in every nearly other country besides the US. Yes, just like with the Imperial system and Farenheit scale, we Americans are the odd ducks in the pond on this issue.
What is A4 Paper?
So you’ve never heard of A4 paper? That's okay, many Americans haven’t. A4 paper measures in at 210mm by 297mm (8.26" by 11.69") whereas US Letter paper measures at 8.5" by 11" (215.9mm by 279.4"). Thus, if your digital sewing pattern was designed for A4 paper, some of the trim and pattern lines may not appear on US Letter paper if you’re printing at actual size and vice versa.
The Real Difference
Here’s an instruction pattern piece from the Natalie Top by Liola Patterns printed on A4 paper next to the same pattern piece printed on US Letter paper. You'll notice that top header text is partially cut off on the US Letter paper. Fortunately, the Natalie Top pattern pieces are formatted to print on both sizes of paper. But, if your pattern is not, printing on the wrong size paper can also make trim lines disappear if the margins of the document are narrow. While your sewing pattern may still produce a fabulous finished garment, printing on too-small paper can make the process incredibly frustrating.
How to Know What Size Paper is Best
It’s easy to find out what size paper your pattern is designed for. First, open the pattern in Adobe Reader. Click on File, then Properties. We suggest doing this for both an instruction page and a pattern piece page of the PDF. This will help you determine if the designer has formatted the pattern pieces to be printed on both A4 and US Letter paper.
In the properties screen, under Description you’ll see the paper size noted on the bottom. If you paper has 8.26" x 11.69" (210mm by 297mm) dimensions, and you’re accustomed to printing on US Letter paper, you’ll have to do a bit more research to decide if printing on A4 paper is an absolute requirement. Luckily, we'll get into that below.
If A4 paper is the standard where you live and your pattern was designed for US Letter paper, you'll have to apply the opposite of the instructions below, by selecting US Letter in your print dashboard.
How to Print A4 Patterns
In the general print dashboard, your computer probably displays a small thumbnail print preview based on the paper size you have selected. If all text and trim lines are contained within the preview (on all pages) with US Letter sized paper selected, then you don't need to change any print settings. Your pattern should print just fine.
In the image below you'll notice that some of the page content is extending beyond the white area of the page into the grey area where the margins lie. This means you'll need to change the paper size by clicking on Page Setup, or you'll risk printing a page with content cut off by the margin lines.
Another window should pop up with available paper sizes. Expand the list, and click on A4.
In the general print dashboard, the preview window should now show the pattern fitting entirely in the page.
You can now print your pattern normally. Almost all household printers can print on A4 paper. My Epson Stylus NX430 even has a little line to make sure I line up the paper correctly in the feed tray.
Make sure to change your printer settings back to Letter sized paper for future standard printing.
Where to buy A4 paper
A4 paper can be sourced from Amazon.com. One ream of A4 paper should only set you back about $9. Unfortunately your local office supply stores or print shops likely do not carry this unique paper size.
The patterns we currently sell that are designed for A4 paper are Liola Patterns (instruction pages only) and Make it Perfect. There will be several more designers featured in the coming months that design for A4 paper size. We've taken the guesswork out of purchasing a foreign pattern, by noting the paper size required for each pattern in the Pattern Details on the product page as highlighted in the example below.
While printing on A4 paper might take a few more steps, don’t let this small obstacle stop you from sewing some of our best selling sewing patterns. Order yourself a ream or two of A4 paper so you’ll always have some on hand. You won’t want to miss out on patterns like the Molly Cardigan and Scarves and Cowls, the two clothing items I’ve been wearing nonstop.
Do you have other tips for working with digital sewing patterns? We’d love to hear them! Feel free to comment on this post!
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