Paper Terminology

Paper Terminology

A deckle edge
The ragged or feathered edge on papers is referred to as a deckle edge. Traditionally deckle edges were only found on mold-made papers which were made manually using pulp and a special frame. Nowadays with modern technology, an artificial deckle edge can be produced – as opposed to a straight-cut edge – as it gives paper a more old-world and romantic feel. Most often deckle edges are found on fine art papers such as watercolour papers.

Surface texture
Fine art papers, such as those used for watercolour painting and printmaking, are often available in a variety of textures ranging from very smooth to rough. Hot-Press (also HP or Satine) refers to very smooth paper, Cold-Press (also CP, NOT or Grain Fin) refers to paper with a tooth/texture, and Rough (also Torchon) refers to a much rougher texture (more textured than Cold-Press). These papers all go through slightly different processes to end up with a different surface finish. HP papers are better for finer, more controlled work, while the more textured papers are great for spontaneous and expressive work.

Cotton content
Cotton is more often found in fine art papers than normal stationery paper. This is because adding cotton to paper increases the price, but at the same time it improves the quality and strength of the paper. The amount of cotton in a paper determines how well it will handle water, paint, scrubbing, rubbing, and masking fluid techniques. Colours also appear brighter and more rich on cotton-content paper. The amount of cotton varies from paper to paper – with some papers boasting 100% cotton content and others having a combination of cotton and wood pulp. Because cotton is such a durable material it will also help to ensure the longevity of paper over time and is less likely to discolour and yellow with age.

Paper grain
The grain of the paper refers to the direction in which most of the paper particles lie. This is determined in the process of making the paper and how the paper is cut. Typically you get two types of grains: short and long. Short grain is when the fibres of the paper run parallel to the short side of the paper, and long grain is the opposite – when the fibres run parallel to the long side of the paper. When folding it is always best to fold parallel to the grain of the paper. When paper is folded against the grain it tends to crack and have a rough edge (this is especially noticeable with thicker papers), although this can be avoided by scoring the paper first.

Most papers are uncoated but there are a few that are coated. You will notice coated papers seem to have a very smooth texture with a plastic like finish – these paper often absorb less ink and print with a sharper image, with the coating acting as a sort of varnish that smooths out the “pores” of the paper and gives it a layer of protection. Uncoated papers are more common. They generally appear matt and have a more natural texture/finish.

Thickness of paper 
Paper thickness is measures in gsm which is short for grams per square meter. The higher the gsm, the thicker the paper. So for example, 300gsm is much thicker than 90gsm paper (standard printer paper)

Paper comes in all shapes and sizes – sometimes standard sizes like A4 and A3, sometimes not. If you’ve ever wondered where the size of A4 (21 x 29.7 cm) comes from – it actually makes a lot of sense! The biggest A size is A0 which is actually 1 square metre in surface area (even though it’s not a square). This square meter area was squashed into a rectangle format so that when folded in half it would still have the same ratio as the full sheet (very helpful in the printing world and also more economical). This makes things simple for the standard sizes as A1 is half of A0, A2 is half of A1 etc with the ratio of the long to short side of the paper always remaining the same!


Leave a comment