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All About Paper


Whether you use papers professionally, academically or for your own enjoyment, the paper you choose is a crucial factor in helping you achieve the results you're looking for. How can you make sure you've got the right paper? Think about what media you're planning to use with the paper. There are specialized papers designed for almost every media. The best plan is to learn everything you can about a paper before you buy. Some of the things artists look at when selecting art papers are:

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Fiber

Paper is made from a variety of plant sources. Whether the fibers come from cotton or other plants such as linen, flax, jute, hemp, bamboo, rice straw or rattan, they all provide cellulose fibers or plant cells of varying dimensions. A sheet of paper is basically a thin layer of mingled cellulose fibers. Most commonly, three types of fibers are used to produce papers for drawing and painting: cotton, cellulose and a combination of fibers.

Cotton papers, made from the longest cotton fibers, are generally considered the highest quality. They are referred to as being 100% cotton rag and can handle heavy erasing and working without tearing or showing wear. High-quality 100% cotton paper can last more than 100 years. However, not all cotton papers are the same. Those made from the lesser-quality, shorter cotton fibers can get fuzzy with reworking.

Cellulose papers are usually made of wood pulp and naturally have an acid content that will destroy the paper over time. The more acidic a paper is, the shorter its life expectancy. Buffers can be added to make the paper neutral.

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Finish

Manufacturers generally offer three or more finishes, usually labeled rough, cold press, not/cold press and hot press.

Rough paper is chosen for its definite texture. It is the natural result when a sheet is allowed to air dry without smoothing or pressing. Rough surface paper is a good choice for transparent watercolors used in a bold and immediate style, as it allows the pigment of color washes to settle into the hollows of the paper. Pastel artists also generally prefer a paper with "tooth" or texture to grab onto the pastel pigment.

Cold Press paper, which is the most popular and versatile, has a slight texture. Handmade papers achieve this by re-pressing a new wet sheet, which smoothes the surface to some degree. Machine-made papers get a similar effect by placing the wet sheets between cold metal rollers.

Not/Cold Press: A "Not" sheet means it is "not hot press," and the term is often used instead of cold press.

Hot Presspaper is very smooth. It is made by running a freshly formed sheet through heated metal rollers or plates. Much like a clothes iron, this smoothes out any texture left by the earlier stages and creates a flat, hard, featureless surface. A good choice for highly detailed illustrations, it is also used for printmaking, etching, drafting, sketching and drawing.

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Size and Absorbency

Sizing is added to make paper more water-resistant. It keeps the paper from absorbing too much moisture or pigment and helps to keep watercolors or inks brilliant. It also keeps lines and edges looking crisp. It is less important for papers used for dry media. Sizing also can factor into a paper's archival qualities - whether it will sustain or deteriorate over time.

Internal sizing is added while the paper pulp is still in a liquid state and is maintained in the matter of the paper.

External, Surface or Tub sizing is applied to the surface of the paper after the sheet is formed and dried. Some paper is both internally and surface-sized.

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Formats and Stretching

Art papers come in several formats that can require different preparation. For watercolor or acrylic painting, it's important to stretch your paper before painting so it stays flat. It also makes a more professional presentation for framing. Paper is available as single sheets, sheets bound together as pads or sketchbooks, blocks, rolls or mounted on boards.

Single sheets are a great way to experiment with a limited quantity of paper. They will often require stretching and taping to remain flat if wet media is being used.

Pads or Sketchbooks come in various sizes and are a convenient way to bring your work along with you on location. Pads are a good choice for dry techniques that use minimal amounts of water. Sheets must be removed for stretching.

Blocks are a stack of paper glued or bound together on all four sides and mounted on a backing board. A block keeps the paper stretched as you paint. Once the painting is dry, the sheet is removed by inserting a knife between the sheets and gently breaking the binding. Blocks are a good choice for working wet, outdoors or while traveling. The disadvantage is that you can only use one sheet at a time.

Rolls are a very economical way to work with your favorite papers.

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Paper Weight

Thicker or heavier papers can handle more water or paint without buckling, curling or falling apart. Traditionally, papers are measured by the weight in pounds of one ream, approximately 500 sheets. If a paper comes in different sizes, its weight will vary even though the thickness has not changed. Each paper type uses a certain size as its "standard." A ream of standard 22" x 30" watercolor paper (500 sheets) would weigh 300 lbs. The very same thickness paper in a 40" x 60" sheet would have a weight of 1,114 lbs. for the ream of paper. Its weight changed due to the size of the sheets, not the paper's thickness, but the paper is still designated as 300-lb.

Today, more and more, Blick is using both pound-weight and gsm to help you select the best paper for the job. When the manufacturer provides it, we are listing gsm in this catalog. We hope it will help you better understand the paper you are purchasing.

Below are charts for pound-weight converted into grams per square meter for some of the most popular weights of printmaking and watercolor papers, as well as sulphite drawing papers:

The inconsistency of this traditional method has led to the use of metric measurements or grams per square meter or gsm. When paper is measured in gsm, its weight will not change with the size of the sheet. The same 22" x 30" sheet of watercolor paper described above would weigh 640gsm, meaning that a square meter of this paper would weigh 640 grams. Larger size sheets of that same paper, like a 40" x 60" size sheet, also would weigh 640gsm. While different sizes, the square meter remains constant, as does the thickness of the paper.

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Sulphite Drawing Paper

LBS PER 500 SHEETS STANDARD SIZE GRAMS PER SQ METER
50 lb 24" × 36" 81 gsm
60 lb 24" × 36" 98 gsm
76 lb 24" × 36" 124 gsm
80 lb 24" × 36" 130 gsm

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Printmaking and Watercolor Paper

LBS PER 500 SHEETS STANDARD SIZE GRAMS PER SQ METER
60 lb 22" × 30" 128 gsm
80 lb 22" × 30" 170 gsm
90 lb 22" × 30" 192 gsm
140 lb 22" × 30" 300 gsm
300 lb 22" × 30" 640 gsm

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Contact
  • Dick Blick Art Materials
  • ·
  • P.O. Box 1267
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  • Galesburg, IL 61402-1267
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  • Toll-free Phone (800) 828-4548
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  • International Phone +1-309-343-6181 ext. 5402
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  • Fax (800) 621-8293

Dick Blick Art Materials®, Blick®, Blick Studio®, and Artists Pick Blick® are registered trademarks of Dick Blick Holdings Inc. © Copyright 1999-2014 Dick Blick Holdings Inc. All rights reserved.

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