ven the somewhat experienced artist, when faced with a wall of printmaking papers, can cascade into indecision. Choices can be about rag content, grams per square metre, sizing, edges, and so on. Hopefully, this guide can demystify some of the properties you need to look for.
- What is your technique? Relief, intaglio or screen printing?
Relief printing by hand requires softer and lighter papers that don’t require soaking in water. Japanese papers around 30-100gsm are perfect. A paper at around 140gsm will still print but is likely to leave some texture, which can be a desirable element. Medium weight paper (e.g. 200gsm) will start to require more forceful pressure, such as a press or your feet. Paper examples for printing by hand: Awagami 40-100gsm.
Relief printing through a press can be done with dry or dampened paper. When embossing is desirable damp paper responds better to moulding. This is where paper strength can become a consideration. Rag paper or rag content is the amount of cotton that makes up the paper composition. Cotton’s longer fibres give the paper strength, moulding ability and can be soaked in water without breaking. Paper examples: Canson Edition, Fabriano Rosapina.
Intaglio, etching and dry point techniques can be printed on any paper that contains natural fibres, 100% cotton is a very popular choice. The weight can vary, for example, from 90 to 400gsm. Damp paper will more easily mould into the depressions of an intaglio matrix and pick up the ink. Paper examples: Somerset Satin, Canson Edition, Hahnemuhle.
Screen printing can be done on most papers of a heavier weight and are part to 100%cotton or rag content. Paper examples: Fabriano Rosapina or Somerset.
- What size is your artwork?
This can determine the weight. The larger the artwork, the more distortion it will withstand when you go for the heavier weight in the range. This can be important when considering how the print will be displayed, will it sag over time if it is on a large, thin paper?
Cheaper papers versus more expensive. Price generally goes up when a paper has more cotton content and fewer sizing agents. Many papers are buffered with wood pulp which can give a more rigid, less flexible property to the paper. Sizing can affect absorptive properties and sometimes tactile properties. For the best archival properties, less sizing and other agents are better.
And finally, the best method is to try them all. Buy samples, and a good tip is to label them so you know what you are trying and how it responds to your particular technique.