Monday, July 27, 2009

Paper Trail 1


So many types of paper, where to start? Usually with the sample books. Of course, the nature of the proposed book and the method of printing immediately narrow the field. This will be a handmade book, printed on an old hand-operated Craftsman iron press, and will be illustrated with hand-pulled prints, hand sewn and hand bound. During the years I worked on repairing and conserving books I learned a lot about which materials and book structures last. My aim is to make books that will endure the test of time. (I'm not saying I always achieve this, just that I aim to.)

Back to the paper, which has an important part to play here. These are the qualities I consider when choosing a text paper, in no special order:
  • Weight: for a miniature book, no more than 100 gsm. Ideally, for a codex style book I like the page to turn over and lie flat. This is almost impossible to achieve with a miniature, because of the page size. Compromises have to be made. With a larger heavier book, people often read them open on a table. With a miniature, they tend to be read with a hand each side of the book, the thumbs holding the pages each side, a more intimate reading experience.
  • Opacity: if you're printing on both sides of the paper, this is very important. Show-through, unless intentional, is usually ugly.
  • Colour: there is an infinite number of shades of white. The very bright white type of paper belongs with the computer printer. I tend to go for a soft white, sometimes called book white, unless I want to convey a particular character. For Qualicum Blue I used a pale blue paper.
  • Sizing: Size in this context means the dressing put into paper or onto the surface of paper to give it specific properties, e.g. strength, a smoother surface, less absorbency. A lightly sized paper suits my purpose.
  • Pressing treatment. A hard-rolled hot pressed paper is not suitable for letterpress, as it will not compress, and the ink lies on the surface of the paper. Paper that contains more air will compress during printing and give a more attractive appearance. Part of the charm of letterpress printing is that the letters are very slightly sunken into the paper, giving the page a 'sparkle' that you don't find with other printing methods.
  • Surface quality: it is important that the surface of the paper isn't too soft and woolly or it will pick up oil and sweat from readers' hands and become dirty quicker. Textured surfaces and inclusions (bits) interfere with small print and are best reserved for those books where the paper is the message, rather than the carrier of it.
  • Composition of the paper: some papers are made to archival quality standards, neutral pH, buffered, made to last and this is something I look for.
  • Papermaking method: handmade, mouldmade, machine made? Each has its strengths and weaknesses, to be explored in my next post.
Papers I've used for past books include Magnani book wove mould made (they make it in three different weights), Zerkall Ingres, Zerkall printmaking paper, Griffen Mill handmade papers, and for earlier books paper made from esparto grass (too soft), a Canson Ingres and a recycled paper called Retreeve, which was a mistake as it was too hard-rolled. I also used some real sheepskin parchment for one book - not strictly speaking paper, but its predecessor.

The photo shows some of my paper sample books. I test-print before I buy these days. In my next post I'll talk about what I eventually chose and why, and hope to have a guest on the blog.

1 comment:

Sue said...

It's so interesting, the range of papers out there. It's an almost infinite combination of 'recipes' and colours for different effects and methods.

I like Zerkall too, it hand-burnishes well but it's hard to get a decent print from my type of press. I use the thinner Japanese papers. They have a lot of show through though.

Looking forward to your next installment.