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Best Printmaking Paper – Get to know yours

Best Printmaking Paper – Get to know yours

Best Printmaking Paper – Get to know yours

The word “Paper” is etymologically gotten from Latin papyrus.

Papyrus is a thick, paper-like material produced from the substance of the Cyperus papyrus plant, which was used in ancient Egypt and other Mediterranean cultures.

Although the word paper is etymologically gotten from papyrus, the two are produced differently. Papyrus is a lamination of natural plant fibers, while the paper is fabricated from fibers whose properties are changed by maceration.

The oldest known archeological fragments of the immediate precursor to modern paper date to the second century BCE in China. The pulp papermaking process is attributed to Cai Lun, a second century CE Han court eunuch. Its knowledge and uses spread from China through the Middle East to medieval Europe in the thirteenth century, where the first water-powered paper mills were built.

Before paper production industrialization, the most common fiber source was recycled fibers from used hemp, linen and cotton textiles. In the nineteenth century industrialization reduced the cost of manufacturing paper enormously and in 1844, the Canadian creator Charles Fenerty and the German F. G. Keller developed processes for pulping wood fibers.

But let’s get ahead and focus our attention on the best quality paper for printmaking and how we can help you choose the best.


Types of paper we can buy:

  • Hand Made Paper

Cellulose fibers (normally from a cotton plant) are ground up and mixed with water.

This mix of fibers and water, which is exceptionally dilute, is called pulp.

The pulp is then passed into a vat in which it is agitated to give an even concentration.

To turn the pulp into paper sheets, the papermaker uses a mold which is an inflexible wooden frame covered with a fine wire mesh. The sheet of paper is made by plunging the mold into the pulp and lifting it out with a shaking movement.

The water drains off leaving a layer of fibers in the mold and the external edges are known as a deckle.

The edge of the sheet is at the deckle, however, one gets fiber drainage under the deckle. The edge of the sheet is not a sharp edge but a graduation to nothing known as a deckled edge.

Due to the method of production, the fiber orientation is irregular and there are no noteworthy contrasts in the properties of the sheet in the long or short direction.

  • Mould Made Paper

The pulp is set up similarly to hand-made paper and it is normally made with a similar quality raw material.

The process is robotized and the pulp is passed into a vat that contains a rotating cylinder wrapped in a fine wire mesh, partially immersed in the pulp. This is the cylinder mold from which the paper takes its descriptive name.

As the cylinder turns, the fiber forms into a layer on the outside of it. Soon after the highest point of rotation and before re-entering the vat, this layer of fibers is couched off onto a felt and removed continuously from the point of manufacture to be further processed.

Because of the nature of the machine which is normally run very slowly, there’s a little distinction in properties between the long and short directions of the paper (not so pronounced as commercially manufactured machine-made paper).

  • Machine Made Paper

Cellulose fiber is set up to give a pulp in low concentration in water.

The pulp of machine-made paper is generally of lower quality than both described above.

Then it’s passed onto a horizontal quick moving wire mesh and the water drains through, leaving the sheet formed on the wire. This process was developed by the Fourdrinier brothers and this kind of machine is known as a Fourdrinier machine.

This type of machine is what gives the most economical production and it is used to deliver substantial amounts of paper produced at high speed.

Because of this fast production, the sheet will demonstrate very marked differences in properties between the long and short direction.

What numbers are those in the manufacturer’s reference?

Paper is often characterized by weight.

In the United States, the weight assigned to a paper is the weight of a ream (500 sheets) before the paper is cut into the size it is sold to end customers.

For example, a ream of 20 lb, 8.5 in × 11 in (216 mm × 279 mm) paper weighs 5 pounds, because it has been cut from a larger sheet into four pieces.

In Europe (and other regions using the ISO 216 paper sizing system) the weight is expressed in grams per square meter of paper (g/m2 or usually just g)

The weight of a ream, therefore, depends on the dimensions of the paper and its thickness.

So what are the main features that should be taken into account when buying?

  • Know your manufacturer.

Most papers for printmaking are produced in the traditional way, in rolls of 100% cotton or with a high percentage of it. They should be produced without acid and with an alkaline base to ensure a maximum life.

  • What color?

The classic papers are traditionally white, regardless of whether natural or not. A few are now offered in different neutral colors: vanilla, light ocher, gray and even black.

  • What weight?

A description of the thickness of the paper is expressed in grams per square meter or weight of a ream, as previously explained. For printmaking, you should choose a paper with a decent “hand,” which means a weight between 200 and 300 g/m², and you should always take into account which technique you are using.

  • Which size?

Various sizes are available for purchase. You should always take into account the size of your plate or block and give the margin you think necessary on paper. Try to buy in order to cut the paper in the desired size without waste. In almost all printmaking workshops there are loose ends of good paper…

  • Textured?

Most papers used in printmaking are smooth or with a fine texture. Some have a different texture on each face. Try to do some experimental prints first to see how the texture of the paper can change the print result.

A paper for printmaking must be exceptionally resistant.

Therefore, it is also characterized by:

– Surface finish: to accept the print.

– Compression strength: to withstand the press.

– Resistance to time (the conservation norm ISO 9706 being the required standard).

– Resistance to moisture (in printmaking, normally the paper is submerged in water before the print to render it soft).

We’ll cover the best papers for each technique in another post.

Find out more about this subject here:

Hope you enjoyed. If so, please leave a comment.
It’s a great help for the project and an easy way to give us a helping hand. 😉

If you don’t want to miss our next articles…


  • Susan Mackin Dolan February 21, 2018 at 10:22 pm

    You touch on “sizing”, in this statement, but don’t mention it directly. (– Resistance to moisture (in printmaking, normally the paper is submerged in water before the print to render it soft).
    Sizing is a very important component of what makes paper more appropriate for different printmaking applications. How heavily sized vs. waterleaf paper, internal or surface size, etc.

    • TOP Team February 22, 2018 at 10:55 am

      Thank you very much for your feedback.
      There really is a lot to talk about paper and certainly we could have gone deeper, in particular more technical and specialized aspects.
      We promise to return to the topic soon in another post or even update this with more information. Thanks for your visit! 😉

  • Clàudia Lloret February 23, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    I’m visiting your website and Facebook. I think you have a lot of esteem with the theme of the graphic. Things can always be improved, but the important thing is to do them. Regards, Clàudia

    • TOP Team February 23, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      Many thanks for your encouragement Clàudia! And thanks again for being with us !!
      We give our best every day for what we love, but we need feedback like yours to keep the flame burning! 😉

  • Kali March 9, 2018 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks for collecting in one place all those information. Appreciate a lot!

    • TOP Team March 10, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      Thank you for visiting! 😉


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