Fine Paper Terminology

This page is a mini encyclopedia of fine paper terminology for paper fans, designers, and anyone who wants to be in the know. I guess that makes us paper geeks; and we’re proud of it!

Fine Paper Terminology

FINE PAPER

WATERMARK

DATE-CODE

GRADE

COTTON FIBER

RAG

SULPHITE

ACID FREE FORMULATION

SIZING

SUBSTANCE WEIGHT OR BASIS WEIGHT

A4 METRIC PAPER

BOND PAPER

PLEADING PAPER

FINISH

FINE PAPER:

A class of paper grades ranging from the most elegant 100% cotton on the high side to #1 sulphite (the best processed wood pulp grade) on the low side. This class of paper, by industry standards, is identified by the presence of a watermark.

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WATERMARK:

The watermark is a sign of quality. It assures the user that the paper is a fine paper. The watermark generally will identify the manufacturer, the brand name and the amount of cotton fiber, if any, in the sheet. Through the use of a special roller called a “dandy roll”, the watermark is impressed inside the paper early in the manufacturing process.

A watermark may be centered or localized on each sheet, or more commonly it is a random mark. A random mark may be centered, but most often will appear in various positions from sheet to sheet.

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DATE-CODE:

Many watermarks contain a date-code. The purpose of the date-code is to protect the integrity of the document that is printed on the paper from fraud. This is done by incorporating a special marker into the watermark. The position of the mark is usually changed annually and legal records are kept documenting the date and its exact location. These marks are especially important for legal, accounting or government documents where the integrity of the document could be called into question. All of Southworth’s watermarked papers are also date-coded.

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GRADE:

Fine papers are differentiated from each other by their grade. Different grades are distinguished from each other on the basis of their content, appearance, manufacturing history, and/or their end use.

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COTTON FIBER:

Cotton is one of the strongest and most durable natural fibers known to man. Papers manufactured from cotton fiber will last longer and hold up better under repeated handling and various environmental conditions than paper made from wood pulp. Generally, given reasonable care, a customer can expect one year of usable life for every 1% of cotton contained in the sheet. Typically cotton fiber papers are made of either all cotton fiber (100% cotton) or a blend of cotton and wood pulp. The most common blend is made of 25% cotton and 75% wood pulp. Other, less common blends include 50% and 75% cotton fiber, the balance of each being made up from wood pulp.

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RAG:

The term “rag” is often used interchangeably with “cotton fiber content” and harkens to a period of time when paper was actually made using cotton rags. These rags were cleaned and then broken down into fibers, which were then used to manufacture paper. In a sense it could be stated that the fine paper business has been engaged in recycling materials for production since its very beginning. Today the majority of paper is no longer made from rags and the term “rag” is disfavored by the industry with the phrase “cotton fiber content” now most often in use.

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SULPHITE:

Wood pulp is processed into sulphite, which is then used to manufacture various grades of paper. It is more economical than cotton fiber however, it is also less durable and more acidic than cotton fiber. There are different grades of sulphite, depending upon how much processing has gone into making the pulp. Processing includes breaking the fiber down to very fine pieces and bleaching the natural color out of the wood to attain a high level of whiteness. The very best grade of sulphite is known as a #1 sulphite. Southworth uses only #1 sulphite in the manufacturer of its fine business paper. Of all wood pulp papers, only paper made of #1 sulphite is considered a “fine” paper and can be identified with a watermark.

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ACID FREE FORMULATION:

Paper which has no acid or residual acid-producing chemicals is called “acid free”. Papers that are “acid free” will resist yellowing and disintegration longer than sheets that are not acid free. This is particularly true as the percent of wood pulp in paper relative to the amount of cotton increases, since cotton fiber papers are less likely to disintegrate or yellow than papers made with all or part wood pulp. Paper with a pH factor of “7″ or higher is considered acid free.

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SIZING:

All cotton fiber paper is sized at some point in the manufacturing process. Sizing is a starch. Cotton fiber is absorbent. Without sizing, when ink is applied to the surface of the sheet, it will bleed through the fibers causing a blurred look. Size seals the fibers and helps control the degree of ink penetration into the paper. Sizing also contributes to the crisp, unique feel of cotton fiber papers.

How the sizing is introduced to the paper will affect the finished characteristics of the sheet. Sizing is typically introduced at one of three points during the manufacturing process: at the wet end, in line, or tub-sized.

  • Sizing introduced at the wet end means that the sizing is added to the mix at the beginning of the manufacturing process so it is permeated throughout the sheet. This is desirable for economy and also for fine papers that will ultimately be used in high-speed copy machines and laser printers. Southworth’s Laser Paper and Recycled Paper are manufactured using this process.
  • In-line sizing means that the size is applied to the surface of the finished sheet in line after the paper has been manufactured but before it is dried and calendered. Southworth’s Granite Specialty Paper, Linen Business Paper, and Parchment Specialty Paper are manufactured using this process.
  • Tub sizing is the most expensive process. The paper is first manufactured without sizing. Next it is run through a “tub” of liquid size and then dried in an air-drier. Because of this second step, tub-sized sheets will have an extra crisp feel that is often associated with the “unique” quality of fine papers.

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SUBSTANCE WEIGHT or BASIS WEIGHT:

Fine papers are manufactured in various weights, commonly 32, 24, 20, 16 and 9 (also known as onionskin) pound weights. The substance weight of fine writing paper is determined by the weight of 500 sheets of 17″ x 22″ paper before it is cut to the final 8 1/2″ x 11″ size. If the paper has been manufactured to a 20-pound specification, 500 sheets of this uncut paper will weigh 20 pounds. Four reams of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper can be cut from each of these uncut sheets. Therefore, a ream of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper will weigh 5 pounds (20 lbs. divided by four). The most common paper weight today is 20 lb. While Southworth sells 20 lb. papers, most of our papers are in 24 lb. weights or higher, providing a more substantial feel and greater durability.

For paper that has a basis weight of 24 lb. or higher (many of Southworth’s papers fall into this category), the correct envelope is one of equal weight to the paper. The correct weight of a matching envelope for a paper of up to 20 lb. stock should be one step heavier than the paper. For example, the proper envelope to use with 20 pound paper would be an envelope made from 24 pound stock.

Onionskin is a very lightweight paper (9-pound) that was used primarily for copies of an original typed document. Onionskin has traditionally been used for overseas (airmail) correspondence.

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A4 METRIC PAPER:

The metric system of measurement for paper is used primarily throughout the world, with notable exceptions being the United States, Canada and Mexico. Paper-size measured metrically uses the unit “millimeter,” with 25.4mm equaling one inch. The International Standards Organization (ISO) set forth in its document ISO 216 a series of (metric) paper sizes, each element having a length-to-width ratio of 1.414. A most commonly used size is A4, which measures 210mm x 297mm. The substance weight or basis weight of paper measured metrically uses the unit “grams,” with the weight stated as “grams per square meter,” or g/m2. Southworth offers a full line of high quality A4 papers and corresponding envelopes. For more information, please e-mail our Customer Service Department at: feedback@southworth.com

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BOND PAPER:

The term “bond” has no actual meaning in the manufacturing process. The term comes from WW I when war bonds were printed on cotton fiber papers that were extensively watermarked. The extensive watermark was used to protect buyers from bonds sold by counterfeiters (the first safety paper). Following the war, people who wanted a good quality paper would ask for paper like that “bond” paper. Thus, the term has become associated with high quality and generally means the consumer wants to buy a fine paper product.

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PLEADING PAPER:

Also known as Ruled and Numbered paper, pleading paper is used in the legal community and refers to paper that has been pre-printed with a single ruled line 3/8″ in from the right edge of the paper and a double ruled line 1 1/2 inches in from the left edge of the paper. Also, each row going down the left margin is numbered. On 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, the rows are numbered 1-28 or 1-25 depending on local requirements.

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FINISH:

A wide-ranging term that generally refers to the final surface characteristics of a sheet after the manufacturing process is complete. The most common finishes are:

Smooth: A paper with a smooth finish is one that has no specially manufactured texture. Other terms for paper with a smooth finish include “regular” and “wove“. Oftentimes, paper with a smooth finish does not carry a finish designation. If there is no finish designation on a package of paper, you can assume it has a smooth surface.

Laid: This is a textured finish. Papers made with a laid finish are made to emulate paper as it looked when it was first invented. Laid finish consists of a horizontal textured pattern and a vertical pattern known as “chain lines”. The texture is created by using a dandy roll to impress the pattern into the paper along with the watermark at the wet end of the manufacturing process. Southworth offers laid papers (Private Stock®, and Antique Laid Paper with matching envelopes)

Linen: Linen is a textured finish applied to paper by an embossing process done after the paper has been manufactured that has the look and feel of linen fabric. Generally, a linen finish is a very subtle texture that performs well in many laser and inkjet printers.

Other: Other less common finishes include Vellum, Parchment, Eggshell, Cockle, and Antique.

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Sources:

A guide to typewriter paper from the people who made it first, published by the Southworth Co.

Walden’s Paper Handbook, published by the Walden-Mott Corporation.

Papermaking, The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft, by Dard Hunter.

The Story of Paper-Making, published by the J.W. Butler Paper Company.

Terminology of the Paper Business, published by the Fox River Co.