Specialty Papers

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

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of specialty papers. Here are a few facts about them.

Interleaving, or Separation, Sheets are papers that are pH neutral and nonabrasive, and are not necessarily cotton or rag. They are used to isolate artwork on paper from its container, or to protect its surfaces in handling, or to separate pieces of artwork placed in stacks. The three most popular papers for this purpose are Strathmore slip sheets, such soft thin Oriental papers as troya, and glassine paper. Glassine, which recently has come into question for archival storage, is a glossy, transparent, coated paper particularly popular among photographers to protect negatives and photographs, and among painters who need to protect the surface of their paintings. Glassine paper does not leave little fibers stuck to a surface after being in contact with photo emulsions and painted surfaces. One peculiar exception is Cibachrome prints, which scratch very easily. Even glassine paper has been known to scratch this surface. One well known printer of Cibachrome prints finds that only the softness of an Oriental paper like Troya gives real protection.

Transfer Papers, like graphite or carbon papers, are used to transfer a drawing to another surface. Carbon papers are greasy and do not erase well once applied, but they will transfer onto such nonporous surfaces as metals better than graphite. Graphite is better for transfers to paper or board because it permits transfer of more detail, and it erases more easily. Saral Transfer Paper, made especially for this purpose, comes in several colors.

Stencil Papers are either waxed or oiled to resist the buckling that otherwise occurs if an -untreated stencil is used repeatedly with water-based paints. The popularity of this paper has waned with the development of frisket and drafting polyester (Mylar). Frisket is made from a sheet of either paper or plastic with a low-tack adhesive applied to one side, and comes attached to a paper carrier to protect it until used. Frisket was primarily designed for airbrush stenciling on paper and board. Drafting polyester, which is a polyester with at least one side chemically treated to receive drawing materials, has become popular for making more durable stencils. It is not affected by moisture, it will lie flat even after being rolled up for a long time, and it will not tear.

Calligraphy Paper is any paper that will not easily bleed, feather, scratch, or wrinkle when used with pen and ink. There are a lot of papers treated to look like genuine parchment for use by calligraphers, but calligraphers should not feel limited to paper labeled “calligraphy.” Experienced calligraphers often use Strathmore charcoal paper and Canson Mi-teintes. The most popular paper for practice is inexpensive tracing paper.

Coated Papers are used for bookbinding, printing, presentations, mock-ups, architectural models, and other graphic art purposes. There are metallic-coated papers, papers coated with colored inks, adhesive-backed colored papers such as Pantone, silk-screened colors such as Chromarama, and many more. None, however, are considered safe for permanent fine artwork.

Cover Paper is another large, nebulous group of papers that come primarily from the printing industry. These papers are of medium weight, 65 to 80 lb., and are used for covers for magazines, booklets, catalogues, and flapping paper. They include a high-grade construction paper. The better grades have good lightfastness, are quite durable, and make good drawing and calligraphy paper. Again, these papers are not for permanent artwork.

Decorative Paper is a category that includes printed papers, marbled papers, cockrells, and folk papers such as mingei and rakusui papers. Marbled papers are made by floating oil-based inks on the sized surface of water. The inks are swirled around and then a sheet of paper is placed over them. The inks are picked up and transferred to the paper’s surface, resulting in a marbleized pattern. Cockrells are similar to marbled paper, but the inks are skillfully combed into precise traditional patterns before being transferred to the surface of the paper. This is done with such accuracy that two sheets, each individually made, can look remarkably alike. It can take thirty to forty years of apprenticeship to master the technique necessary to produce matching sheets. To tell the difference between the genuine article and a printed imitation, look at two of the four corners for the partial fingerprints of the maker. They are left when the paper is pulled from the water. Marbled paper and the English cockrells are traditional bookbinding end papers.

Mingei means “folk” in Japanese. Mingei paper is traditionally made from handmade mulberry paper, which is dyed or printed using a hand-cut stencil with patterns hundreds of years old. Some papers are even hand-colored. Yuzen is another paper that is a bit more modern in appearance and in method of manufacture. These papers are traditional bookbinding and gift papers. Rakusui, which means “rain paper,” is made by taking the still-wet paper and placing it over a slightly raised patterned surface, which is then rained with droplets of water. A small number of the fibers are thus washed away, allowing a pattern to develop in the paper. These papers are sometimes referred to as lace papers because their regular transparent patterns resemble lace cloth.