Paper – Part 3: Storing Printmaking Papers (and answers to other questions you didn’t know you needed to know)

 In Journal, Printmaking, Tips
Printmaking paper storage

There are so many different aspects to paper. Beyond identifying what makes printmaking paper printmaking paper, there is storage, preparation, to-stretch-or-not-to-stretch, watermarks, pricing and a million other questions I haven’t even thought about yet.

This article is Part 3 of a 4 part series looking at printmaking paper. The full 4 part series covers:

STORING YOUR PRINTMAKING PAPERS (and answers to other questions you didn’t know you needed to know) – where you are right now 🙂
  • Storing your Printmaking Papers
  • Do I need to Stretch my Printmaking Papers?
  • Soaking and Blotting Printmaking Papers for Intaglio printing?
  • Water are there watermarks in my Printmaking papers?
  • Why is paper so expensive?

Storing your Printmaking Papers

Once you have invested in buying some your Printmaking Papers – you need to be able to store it.

Fine art paper sheets are generally large. Most of the papers I work with are around 56cm x 76cm sheets. And I try to buy 10-100 sheets of any one paper at a time, taking advantage of bulk buying price savings. With that comes a real storage concern.

I think the key considerations for storing paper are to:

  1. Keep it flat;
  2. Keep it dry; and
  3. Keep it away from pests.

I used to store my papers in the plastic sleeves they came in, nested inside large shallow cardboard boxes under my bed. I got quite resourceful hunting down the paper sheet sized plastic sleeves and boxes. The plastic sleeves used for framer’s matt board can be very helpful – ask you local framer for some when they throw their next batch of plastic sleeves away.

Storing the paper on the floor wasn’t ideal, but at the time it was my best and only option. The cardboard boxes worked to keep the papers secure and flat, and the plastic keeps it protected from dust and moisture. I also threw in a handful of silica gel desiccant sachets to help eliminate moisture. I live in a sub-tropical climate, so moisture can be a real problem that I need to be mindful of.

You can buy silica gel desiccant sachets online, in bulk. I also collect them when I find them in shoe boxes and other packaging.

Warm damp conditions often invite pests. Paper invites pests! Silverfish are pests, and Silverfish loooooove paper! I have the studio pest-sprayed every 12 months to keep on top of those tiny, soft, scaly silver-coloured critters.

Over time I collected and bought several purpose-built paper storage drawers – also known as Map Drawers and Plan Drawers. The digital revolution has done away with the need for these drawers at many office sites, making them very hard to find second-hand, and costly to buy new.

I found my first wooden drawer set online at a second hand store in Adelaide (a long way from where I live). The others I bought from an office storage company in Sydney (again, a long why from where I live) – Multifile Plan Storage. I love them! I have 4 sets of drawers – and I would love another few sets, I just don’t have the space for them. There’s no such thing as “too much paper storage” 🙂

I still keep my papers in the plastic sleeves they come in, or the paper packaging. It works to add a protective wrapping around the paper, keeps out moisture and makes it easy to identify and handle in the drawers.

I was never a fan of placing labels on drawers, cupboards or canisters – but boy it makes life easier! I’ve labelled my paper drawers so I know which papers are where. Plus the labels work to remind me of the papers I have on hand if I’m looking to work with something a little different to my regular paper choices.

I know that not everyone has access to purpose-built drawers – so look for somewhere in your studio or house where you can keep your papers flat in as dry an environment as you have access to.

I had a shelf added under the benchtop in my studio. It works as additional paper storage, where I keep the papers in their plastic sleeves inside cardboard boxes, labelled and waiting to be printed on.

Printmaking paper storage

What is a Paper Watermark?

I love paper watermarks. To me they feel like secret messages tucked away in the corner of a sheet of paper.

A watermark is a small design, logo or text produced by creating a variation in the thickness of paper fibre in a sheet of paper while it is being made – like a stamp into the paper. Watermarks are often used to identify the manufacturer and/or the quality of paper. They work to articulate authenticity.

If you hold the paper up to the light you will be able to see the watermark text or symbol.

Watermarks can be very useful if you haven’t made a note of the name of a paper you want to print with (not as silly as it sounds as you build your collection of printaking papers!). The watermark may be the name or symbol of the paper mill and can help identify the paper. I didn’t name the packaging I stored my Hahnemuhle paper in, so I had no idea what the paper was. I could see a rooster watermark symbol, I googled that and viola! I knew what I was printing with.

A watermark can (but not always) also work to tell you the right side of the paper. If the watermark reads one way and not the other, then you’re probably looking at the right side of the paper.

To keep or trim/tear away the watermark?

I love to buy mould made printmaking paper sheets. I love their deckled edges and watermarks. I trim/tear my paper to size out of the big paper sheets – and this leads to two questions:

  • Do I leave the watermark showing on the paper I’m printing onto? or
  • Do I trim/tear the watermarked area of the paper away?

I’m going to be honest – I don’t know. There may be an ‘official’ rule around this, but I am not sure.

If I am printing with a full sheet of paper, I will obviously leave the watermark in place on the paper, making sure that the watermark is reading the right way (not reversed) and does not impede on the print.

And sometimes, when trimming smaller sheets from one big sheet, the watermark will have one sheet with the watermark showing. If I think that the watermark is going to cause issues with the printed result, or presentation of it, then I will plan how I trim my papers from the bigger sheet, working to get the maximum number of smaller sheets while avoiding the watermarked corner.

It needs to be noted that a right-facing watermark doesn’t not always indicate the best printing side of the paper.

I think the answer to this is very much about personal preference. What do you think?

Do I need to Stretch Printmaking Paper?

As a general rule – No.

It is, however, important to stretch Watercolour Paper. Why? If you intend to use a lot of water in your watercolour painting, not stretching your paper before you start painting can lead to cockling. Cockling is where a sheet of paper wrinkles and forms hill and valleys that are almost impossible to remove and make it hard to control the paint on the paper surface. Jackson’s have written an article about stretching watercolour paper for a better painting experience.

If you are printing intaglio (eg etching or drypoint print), you will pre-soak your paper before printing. Assuming you are using a Printmaking Paper designed for intaglio printing, the paper’s sizing, dimensional stability and weight will work to maintain the integrity of the paper through soaking and printing.

If you are printing a relief print (eg linocut or woodblock)

Soaking and Blotting Printmaking Papers for Intaglio printing

If you are printing intaglio, YES, you will need to soak your paper in most instances.

If you are printing relief (eg lino or woodblock), NO you don’t need to soak your paper (with the exception of Mokuhanga ).

SOAKING then blotting your printmaking papers will dampen and soften the fibres. This makes the fibres pliable, helping them pick up ink from the etched/incised lines on your intaglio plate when pressed through the rollers of your etching press. If you tried to print the same intaglio plate on dry paper through your etching press, you will see that the paper will not take up much or any of the ink from the incised lines of the plate.

BLOTTING your soaked papers is important to remove excess water from the paper before printing with it. Too much water on the paper will spoil the printed results.

The trick is finding the sweet spot between soaking/dampening and blotting your papers:

  • soaking your paper for too long can lead to ink bleeding and undesirable printed results
  • not soaking long enough and the fibres will be too dry to pick up the inks

If you do soak your papers for too long, leave them to dry between interleaved blotting sheets or towels to draw out the excess moisture.

How to Soak your Printmaking Paper

You can buy purpose-designed trays for soaking your printmaking papers. I found them hard to source and was able to get hold of two large dough-rising trays (used in a bakery). They are perfect – deep enough to hold a few centimeters of water so I can fully immerse my paper, and dimensionally big enough to allow me to soak large-ish sheets of paper. Photography tray would work too.

The other way to damped your paper if to spray with water.

Soaking time will vary depending on the papers you are printing with and the inks used. The idea of soaking is to saturate the paper’s fibres. Heavier weight papers may need a little longer in the soak. Generally I would leave my papers to soak for 15-30 minutes. Some papers can handle being left in a water bath overnight.

I am currently printing my intaglio prints with Charbonnel Aqua Wash Etching Inks. I dampen my paper, but not nearly as much as for other etching inks I have used. If I soak my papers for too long a time, I find that the ink bleeds. Instead, I spray my paper with water from a spray bottle, spraying a heavy soaking on both sides of the paper. I then leave the paper to sit between cotton bath towels (I have bath towels set aside for this purpose – so they are clean and fluffy) to absorb excess water for up to 30 mintues before they become too dry and need to be sprayed again. I did previously use purpose-designed blotting paper but found them expensive and hard to source. The towels work a treat!

How to Blot my soaked/dampened Papers

If soaking your papers in a tray of water, lift the paper from the tray, let the excess water drain off the paper, then place the paper on a sheet of blotting paper. Place another sheet of blotting paper on top. Then gently press and rub over the top blotting sheet – this action will help the blotting paper absorb excess moisture from the soaked printmaking paper.

As I noted above, because of the etching inks I am using, I spray water on my printmaking papers to damped them, then blot between cotton bath towels.

Why is Printmaking Paper so expensive?

Good quality paper is expensive. It seems to get a little more expensive each year. But so does everything!

  1. Increased material and operating costs
  2. Improved Environmental Standards
  3. Freight Costs
  4. Increased paper demand
  5. Paper mills closing

INCREASED MATERIAL AND OPERATING COSTS – this factor isn’t restricted just to paper. I think material and operating costs for everything the world over are increasing. The better quality the paper, generally the better quality and more expensive the materials used in making the paper. There may be more primary materials (cotton and wood pulp) and less fillers.

IMPROVED ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS – Consumer demand of high quality environmental standards has added compliance obligations and pressures to paper production. The cost to research, investigate and implement better and more environmentally responsible and sustainable practices needs to be covered. Hopefully this thinking is now a mainstream factor of business, so the costs can be managed at a sensible rate.

FREIGHT COSTS – there are two parts to the freight cost:

  1. delivery of raw materials to the paper mill
  2. delivery of the paper to the retail outlet

Freight is expensive. Fuel and infrastructure is expensive. As fuel prices rise, so does the cost of freight.

PRODUCTION VOLUME – The volume at which the paper is produced may be lower in some paper mills, due to their more traditional paper-making processes – this will make their papers more expensive.



Paper Part 3 – the end. But wait, there’s still more!

We’ve covered a fair bit of paper ground.

If you’re ready for more information, or want to read over the earlier articles, head over to the other three articles in this four-part series:


References and Further Reading

Content coming 🙂

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