Visualizing Papers

(Excerpts from ART HARDWARE: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials, by Steven Saitzyk © 1987)

This group includes tracing papers, both rag and nonrag, and graphics papers. These papers are designed primarily to be transparent or translucent.

At this time there are no tracing or graphics papers, 100 percent rag or not, that are generally considered archival. The processes used, and the chemicals with which these papers are impregnated, tend to make them impermanent. They should not be used for permanent fine artwork unless they are specifically guaranteed by the manufacturer.

Tracing Paper is, basically, one of two kinds-rag and nonrag. Nonrag, or sulfite, is either inexpensive or expensive, and there seems to be little middle ground. Inexpensive tracing paper comes in pad weights of 11 lb., 13 lb., and 16 lb. and in rolls of 8 lb. and 11 lb. The lighter weights are sometimes referred to as “flimsy” or “sketch paper.” This paper is for rough sketches, preliminary drawings, and overlays, and will work well with most drawing materials. The lesser-quality papers do not take erasure well and will “ghost,” leaving a faint impression after repeated erasure. These papers are impregnated with a resin or an oil to make them transparent.

Vellum” is a term used in drafting and engineering to refer to the expensive or better-quality tracing paper. These papers are made for final drawings where control and detail are most important. The standard for comparison is Canson Vidalon, which is manufactured in France. It is a sulfite paper that is made under tremendous pressure so that it becomes transparent. It is the hardest and most transparent, and has the most durable surface of any paper I have seen. Ink can be scraped off the paper with a razor blade without seriously disturbing the surface. This paper takes all drawing media well and is especially good for pen and ink. However, it does have some serious drawbacks-it is easily affected by moisture and skin oils, it tears and cracks easily, and it has poor aging characteristics. The three most common weights in pads are the #70, #90, and #100, which are most often referred to in terms of pounds. These numbers actually refer to the metric equivalents of 18% lb., 24 lb., and 291/2 lb., respectively. Sheet and roll weights are most commonly found in #90 and #180 (the equivalent of 48 lb.).

Rag tracing papers are made transparent with oils or resins. They are not as transparent and do not have as durable a surface as the sulfite vellum, but the paper is less affected by moisture and does not tear or crack as easily. Like the nonrag vellum, however, it is easily affected by skin oils and ages poorly. Rag tracing papers, such as Clearprint, are made with a large variety of nonphoto blue graphs imprinted within. A nonphoto blue is a particular color that is not “seen” by most photocopying processes. This permits the use of the graph as a drawing guide without having the graph appear in the reproduction.

Graphics Papers are designed for final work by graphic artists. A number of years ago, 100 percent cotton or rag bond paper pads were labeled “bond paper good for graphic arts and markers.” Today, most of the same bond papers are called graphics paper, marker paper, or something similar. There are some that have been especially improved to accept work with permanent markers, or to be particularly translucent, or to be opaque. All make exceptional drawing papers. One of the unique features of this paper is its translucency and its bright whiteness, which keeps it from looking like a tracing paper. Although these papers are designed for final work in the graphic arts, do not be confused by the 100 percent cotton or rag label. They cannot, as yet, be considered archival.