Glossary of Paper Terms
The following glossary will introduce you to many terms associated with making papers and the descriptive qualities of the finished sheet.
"A" Paper Size: Common sizes for sheets outside of the U.S. are ISO sheets sizes. The International Standards Organization(ISO) uses the metric system. See chart at bottom of page.
Abaca: Relative of the banana, also called banana fiber. Manila hemp comes from this plant and is used in some papers as well as to make rope and coarse string.
Acid-free: Paper that has a neutral pH (7 or higher). The terms Acid-free, Archival, pH neutral and Alkaline are commonly used interchangeably to describe materials that promise longevity with little discoloration or degradation over time.
Alpha Cellulose: Pure form of wood pulp that is considered to have the same longevity as cotton.
Antique Finish: Uneven finish created on the "felt side" of paper. Rougher than vellum.
Blotting Paper: A very absorbent, bulky paper.
Bristol: Heavy-grade papers that may have a smooth or vellum finish. Originally made from rags in Bristol, England, contemporary bristol may be made from wood or cotton pulp.
Buffering: Addition of an acid neutralizing agent to pulp. It protects from acid in the paper and/or pollution from the environment.
Calendering: A process of pressing paper between rollers, under pressure, to create a smooth surface (hot press). Excellent for pen and ink or applications where fine detail is desired.
Cellulose: The primary material extracted from plants in the paper making process. Cotton in its raw form contains about 91% and is the purest form of cellulose.
Chiri: Japanese term from mulberry bark. Commonly refers to paper with mulberry bark chips.
Chiyogami: Washi paper that has been hand-stenciled or printed with traditional Japanese imagery using bright colors and patterns.
Coated Paper: Clay or pigment and adhesive mixture applied to the surface of paper to give it smoothness and opacity. Coated papers are often used for catalogs and other printed materials. They may be favored for technical drawing.
Cold Pressed: An intermediate surface (medium) between Rough and Hot press. It is created by pressing paper between cold cylinders. Also referred to as Kid, Vellum, Matte or Slightly Grained. Cold Pressed is the most popular watercolor paper surface.
Cotton Linter: Fibers that adhere to cottonseed after ginning. Used as raw materials for cotton fiber papers.
Cover Stock: A heavy paper used for its strength. It may run through copiers and computer printers. Often used for brochures, cards, folders and art and crafts projects.
Converting: Bulk mill rolls of paper are turned into consumer goods: sheet stock, envelopes or other paper-based products. A mill may or may not convert.
Debossed: An image pressed into the surface of paper.
Decorative Paper: Non-traditional papers that have unique finishes, textures, inclusions, patterns. Many are imported from Japan, Nepal, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, India or Egypt. Uses are unlimited and include collage, bookbinding, rubberstamping, card making, lampshades, screens and photo backgrounds.
Deckle: The open wooden frame that rests on top of a mould to contain the pulp.
Deckle Edge: The natural outer edge on a sheet of handmade paper when the deckle is removed. The popular feathered look may be simulated by "water-cutting paper", using specialty scissors, or carefully tearing paper along a ruler.
Embossed: An image pressed into the surface of paper from beneath to create a raised impression. When neither color nor foil are applied it is called a blind emboss.
Esparto: A course grass used in paper favored for writing and printmaking.
Felt Finish: Felt pads with distinctive patterns are used to create textures on the finished sheet. The "felt side" is often termed the "right side", but an artist may like the texture of the Mould Side. A watermark reads correctly from the felt side.
Gampi: Fiber from the gampi tree used in Japanese papermaking to yield a smooth, strong sheet.
Glassine: A thin, translucent paper glazed and polished on both sides. Most often wood-free or acid-free and often used as a divider sheet to protect artwork.
Grain Direction: The direction that a majority of the fibers lie in a finished sheet of paper. Fibers align parallel with the movement of the pulp. Machine-made papers have a defined grain direction. Handmade papers have a far more random grain. Paper folds and tears easiest "with the grain".
Handmade Paper: Sheets of paper made one-by-one with a hand mould. The wet, newly formed sheet of paper can be dried against blankets, hot pressed, cold pressed or air-dried. Some are very irregular in thickness. They may not be sized. Many "decorative papers" are handmade.
Hemp: Fibrous material from various types of plants.
Hosho: Japanese paper made from sulphite pulp.
Hot Pressed: A very smooth surface produced by pressing the paper between hot cylinders. Also referred to as high, plate and calendered. This is an excellent paper for fine pen and ink work or when precise control is desired. Does not hold charcoal or pastel well.
Kozo: Long, rough fiber from mulberry. Produces strong, absorbent papers and is the most common fiber in Japanese papers. Naturally acid-free and lignin-free.
Laid (woven chain): A formation within paper created by wires on which the paper is made. Chain (wide spaced lines) and laid (closely spaced lines) are at right angles with each other giving a prominent pattern of ribbed lines. Laid chain papers are used for charcoal drawing as well as for fine writing papers.
Lokta: Paper made in Nepal from the fiber of the Daphne shrub. Acid-free and handmade.
Mitsumata: Fiber used in Japanese papermaking that gives paper a soft, absorbent quality.
Mottled: A parchment-like effect produced by mixing differently dyed fibers or dripping color on wet pulp.
Mould: The reverse to the Felt Side, often referred to as the "wrong side", the 'mould' side is more regular as the wire mesh is still partly visible, but artists may find it perfectly suitable.
Mulberry: A bush native to Japan from which Kozo is made.
Parchment: A type of paper made from animal skin. The term is also used for pulp papers manufactured to simulate traditional parchment.
Plate: Paper that has been run through hot rollers to create a very smooth surface. Excellent for pen and ink, or detailed drawing.
Ply: A single layer of paper. If a paper is 2 or 3 ply, it means that sheets have been bonded together to provide a more rigid surface. Bristol and mat boards are such examples.
Rice Paper: A generic term for Oriental or Japanese papers. They are not made from rice!
Sa Paper: Sa is the term for the mulberry in Thailand. Sa papers may be dyed or left natural. They may incorporate recycled materials, and may have inclusions such as bougainvillea petals, tamarind leaves, flowers, fern or other decorative material. These are handmade.
Salago: A wild shrub native to the Philippines.
Shi: Japanese word for "paper".
Sizing: The material added to the pulp - gelatin, animal glue or synthetic materials - to control the paper’s amount of absorption of ink or paint. All watercolor paper contains sizing so that the surface can hold color.
Sulphate: An alkaline process of cooking wood chips for paper.
Sulphite: Pulp produced from wood pulp using an acid process. Sulphite pulp is available in a range of grades up to pure alpha cellulose.
Text Weight: Lighter than Cover Stock, and can come in different textures such as antique, laid chain, vellum, and smooth.
Tooth: The arrangement of fibers in the surface of paper forming little peaks and depressions that actually scrape the lead or media used on them. The more "tooth", the more pigment the surface is able to hold.
Unryu: A wide variety of Japanese mulberry papers containing characteristic strands of fiber that are added to create contrast and texture.
Vellum: It has two meanings: 1) a slight toothy surface, or 2) a highly translucent paper.
Washi: Japanese paper, handmade or not.
Waterleaf: Unsized paper that is very absorbent
Watermark: The translucent design or manufacturer name visible by holding a sheet up to the light. The design is sewn onto the papermaking screen with raised wire so that the pulp settles in a thinner layer over the design.
Yuzen: Silk-screen printed papers depicting intricate patterns from traditional Japanese kimonos or modern designs.
European Paper Size Conversion Table
Many of our paper goods come from Europe and other countries that follow the ISO A paper sizing standard. We often refer to this handy chart.