Having looked at lino, lino substitute and printmaking inks in previous articles, here’s what I’ve learnt so far about that very important topic – paper.
What paper is best? There are a vast range of papers available to try out – and experimenting with different papers is part of the fun of printmaking. Manuals and tutors will recommend various papers, but I find the assumption is that you’ll be using a press. If you are transferring the ink to your paper by rubbing the back of it with a spoon or baren – you will need much thinner paper than is generally suggested. The thickness of paper is indicated by “gsm” or “g/m2”. Photocopy paper, for instance, is usually 70-100 gsm. Any print that you want to have longevity needs to be on “acid-free” paper or it will yellow over time. Most sheet papers and pads sold in art shops will be acid free, and will say so somewhere prominent.
Some artists like to print on textured paper. I am always looking for either moderately or extremely smooth paper, so can’t advise on textured paper.
Many printmaking papers are produced with etching in mind. Etching requires extremely robust paper that can cope with being soaked, blotted, and then pressed through a very fierce mangle squeezed around a piece of metal. If you’re just laying the paper on a piece of inked lino and rubbing the back – the paper doesn’t need to be quite so resilient. Don’t forget that you can actually use papers that art suppliers don’t consider for printmaking.
Obviously you can use any kind of paper when practising. You can buy pads of “newsprint” paper which work out reasonably cheap per sheet and are good for testing prints. They are very thin, and I do find that colours often look completely different on newsprint than on my “proper” paper. Cheap photocopy paper is also a possibility. Remember that some cheap papers will give good results but will deteriorate over time, so are not suitable for any work meant to last.
PAPER FOR THOSE PRINTING WITH A PRESS
The world is your oyster here, and you can use some lovely thick-ish papers. Somerset Velvet is a popular paper for printmakers, made at St Cuthberts Mill near Wells in Somerset. Somerset Satin is smoother. I’ve tried both with a press, and like both, though I slightly prefer the smoother Satin.
Other options available at printmaking suppliers include BFK Rives, Arches 88, Hahnemuhle, various papers by Fabriano and Zerkall.
PAPER SUITABLE FOR PRIINTING WITHOUT A PRESS
Apart from good quality acid-free paper, the important characteristics required if you’re not using a press is that the paper should be smooth and fairly lightweight. I’ve found that the weight should be no more than 150 gsm. What weight works best for you will depend on the power of the inks you use and your tolerance for lots and lots of rubbing. I know some artists use much thinner paper.
Of the printmaking papers commonly sold, only Zerkall is thin enough to use without a press – and is a lovely paper. I see that there is another paper in the Somerset stable – Somerset Book, which is available at 115 gsm. This sounds a good prospect, but I’ve never come across it for sale. Another possibility are the many Japanese papers, which are both strong and thin. I’ve used sheets of Hosho successfully without a press, but there are many others I haven’t yet tried.
At the moment I mostly use cartridge paper, originally from Daler Rowney pads, but more recently purchased in packets. This paper works fine for me. The weight is usually between 120-150 gsm, and the surface is only slightly textured. One thing to bear in mind with cartridge paper compared to “proper” printmaking paper is that it’s largely meant for dry media. I’ve found it fine for many layers of oil or water-based inks, but using it for a screen-printed background colour is not ideal and has sometimes caused the paper to buckle.
An advantage of cartridge paper is that it copes well with abrasion, so rubbing the back of your sheet with a spoon or a baren rarely damages it, as can happen with some thin papers, even – in my experience – Hosho paper.