Paper is complicated. Just like ink, paper is formulated to a specific end use. Whether the end use is newspaper, magazine, copy paper, business card, greeting card or paper crafting, the paper manufacturer knows the intention for how the product will be used and creates formulas to accommodate the different market needs. In this brief review of paper, we will explore the history and production of paper and how the different characteristics effect crafting and art.
Paper was invented in China around 200 BC to replace a cumbersome practice of writing on bamboo sticks and silk. Cai Lun, an official of the Han Dynasty, invented the technique of pulping by experimenting with turning fibers from hemp, fishnets, and rags into a paste, then pressing this goopy matter into a sheet form to dry. This highly praised innovation quickly became the standard in China and soon spread around the world.
In the 13th century, Spain created a leap in production with the introduction of the hydraulic paper mill which replaced traditional manual pulping. This change resulted in a significant price drop and quicker availability.
Moving on into the Industrial Revolution, paper making became even faster which enabled paper to be made in longer sheets (or rolls) with half the drying time. This is important because paper crafting would not work if paper costs remained sky high!
Let’s get to the fun part and talk about characteristics and use. There are two essential characteristics to consider. First, the color of the paper is predetermined. Any bleaching or dying happens while it is still a soup. That means the color of the paper is deep in the fibers. (Unless of course you are using a patterned paper, then the colors are applied after. Papers may also be coated afterwards, to make it glossy, say.) Second, the density of the paper is also determined by the pulp type, density and thickness. Paper weight is commonly labeled in pounds. Paper weight is important because it paints a picture of how dense the paper is, and how the ink will absorb into that density. If a project requires a lot of color layering then it is best to go with a heavier paper. Fun Fact: the ‘weight’ referred to is the measurement of 500 20×26 inch sheets.
The following descriptions break down the weights of some commonly used papers:
Copy Paper (20lbs.) – Used for general printing. Thin and inexpensive. Thin density causes it to wrinkle and warp easily with most wetter inks and paints. It will have a bit of a translucent quality if the paper if held up to light.
Cardstock (80lbs.) – Stronger and yet easily creased—crafters perfect paper! Many inks can soak into paper without wrinkling and warping.
Watercolor (140lbs.) – Can be gotten quite wet without falling apart or warping. It is literally built to absorb water and pigment. Unlike most copy and cardstock papers which are made with wood pulps, watercolor paper can be made entirely out of cotton or linen pulps.
This is certainly not an complete overview of all the different papers available! Head to your local art store and peruse the paper section. There’s a lot of variety—all of it made with a specific use in mind! It’s a lot of fun to try out new papers and discover new techniques to add to your repertoire.