Mesh vs Microns

I find that much confusion with data sheets arises because not everyone measures things the same way!
This month we look at particle size and the question: What is the difference between Mesh and Microns?

What is Mesh?

The Mesh system is the old imperial standard for measuring particle size and is still widely used in countries like India and China where particle size is measured using screens.

Originally it was the measure of a woven filter cloth's ability to remove contaminant particles. This system simply counted the number of strands or yarns per inch of woven media. Hence, a 100 Mesh media has 100 yarns per inch of media.
Thus the higher the Mesh size, the smaller the particles that are able to pass through that filter cloth or metal screen. The symbol used for Mesh is #.
This system is not exact because it depends, for example, on how thick the strands are. Over time, various Mesh systems were developed such as the Tyler, the American ASTM and the British BSS systems. These are similar but with some variations, so for the purposes of this article I will be using the ASTM system (to see how they compare, click particle size). 

What is a Micron?
The micron is a metric measurement and you could say that it is a more modern measure of particle size. A micron is also called a micrometre, with symbol µm or simply µ. We now have instruments like the Sedigraph which uses sedimentation and X-rays to give accurate micron readings of particle size. This is especially important for very fine minerals where screening becomes difficult, e.g. < 20 microns.

To get an idea of the size of a micron, I find it is useful to remember that there are 1000 microns in one millimetre, or 0.5mm is 500 microns.
Pluck a piece of hair out of your head (ouch!) and look at it. Your hair is about 100 microns thick. If it was as thin as 40 microns, it would be invisible – humans just cannot see something that small without using a microscope.
The following chart gives the micron size of some common particles:




Smoke, TiO2




Lung Damaging particles


Atmospheric Dust




Flour mill dust, kaolin


Cement dust


Pulverized coal, CaCO3


Commercial dust







I notice that Western mineral producers have moved away from Mesh sizes to the more accurate micron measurements. However Mesh sizes are still widely used in the East. So to compare one mineral to another, we need a conversion table (Note: this link takes you to one of many conversion tables that are available on the Internet).
325 Mesh
This is a Mesh size that you see a lot, especially on kaolin data sheets. You may be offered a "325 Mesh kaolin", for example. What does this mean?
Well, if you go to the conversion table you will find out that 325 Mesh is 45 microns (some tables say 44 microns). So a 325 Mesh kaolin means that most of the particles are smaller than 45 microns.
Particles that remain on a 325 Mesh/45 micron screen are usually called the "Residue", which should be a small amount (< 1%). In our kaolin operation, we often called this the grit content. It would be written on the data sheet in one of the following ways, which basically all mean the same thing: 

% > 325 Mesh


Sieve residue 325 Mesh


325 # (% Max)


Residue (> 45 micron)


+ 45µm


Retention on BSS 350 Mesh


You will notice that 325 Mesh on the ASTM system equates to 350 Mesh on the British BSS system.
Similarly, if you are offered a 400 Mesh talc for example, you can assume that 99% of the talc particles would be smaller than 37 microns (400 Mesh = 37µ).

The D50 (also written D50) is the mean or average particle size of a mineral. E.g. D50 = 2 microns means the average particle size of that mineral is 2 microns. It also means that 50% of the particles would be smaller than 2 microns and 50% would be bigger.
D98 = 2 micron on the other hand, means that 98% of the particles are smaller than 2 microns.
As technology advances we are starting to mill minerals to finer and finer particle sizes, even down to nanoparticles (i.e. less than 0.1 micron / 100 nanometres). 

As a parting shot, I couldn't resist sharing this with you:
Q. What do you do with a dead chemist?
A. Barium.


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