The white stuff

THE papermakers are at it again. They’re busy at work on another new generation of paper which is whiter than white. Purer… brighter… whiter… is their mantra. Like the soap powder producers it’s the holy grail of the paper manufacturer to produce lovely crisp sheets that are sure to dazzle us with snow blindness.

Among the flurry of recent launches is the Mellotex Ultra White from Tullis Russell and a new Ultra White that Sappi Nash has added to its Croxley Supreme palette. Almost every range at Inveresk is being reborn whiter and brighter – the office paper Repeat Laser is already relaunched, a new recycled text and cover range is about to appear on the market and in the autumn we’ll see the cotton-rich stationery paper Avalon released in a new Brilliant White. To cap it all Curtis Fine Papers has launched its Classic Ice White claiming it is the “whitest and brightest ever seen” in the stationery market.

The goal of purity and whiteness is nothing new, according to Ian Knott, group technical manager at paper merchant Robert Horne. “The paper mills feel they continually have to improve whiteness levels to match or better their main competitors. White paper which was perfectly acceptable 20 years ago would be considered yellow and tarnished now,” he says. But, he adds, the beauty of the sheet is in the eye of the beholder. “Whiteness is perceived as quality by many people, and on being shown plain samples most will choose the whitest sheet. However, if you want to show the quality of paper it’s better to present printed samples.”

The new launches appear to be well timed. “The demand for white paper is higher than ever,” says Natasha Hornsey, communications manager at Robert Horne. “We are experiencing a high demand for crisp bright white sheets in the stationery ranges such as Character Ultra White. However, the designer’s demand for whiteness can vary according to their knowledge of paper. Those with less specifying experience often demand a whiter paper, believing this gives them the best quality.”

The current interest in whiteness is largely a fashion issue, according to UK Paper’s coated papers product manager, Mervi Pasula. “The trend at the moment is for a very clean, bluish white,” she says. “We identified this trend some time ago and enhanced the whiteness and brightness of our Nimrod portfolio of mid-range coated papers accordingly. Response from customers has been very positive.

“Whiteness is a calculable value, but it depends on the equipment and light source used. Really, it’s a question of taste and there’s little to choose from between the leading paper brands in terms of whiteness, although if you examine a range of graphics papers, you can see a rainbow of white shades from yellow and blue to red and green,” she adds.

The greatest appeal of whiter and brighter papers is in the way they can enhance a printed image, making colours look brighter, sharper and cleaner. “But there are so many factors involved in reproducing an image on paper, from colour management in the pre-press process to getting the right ink balance on the page,” says Pasula. “Variation in colour is likely to have little to do with the shade of the paper.”

She continues: “Brightness is often confused with whiteness, but actually they are different properties, and are measured using quite distinctly different methods. Paper manufacturers can enhance brightness with chemicals and brightening agents, but there are limits and the more intense the manufacturing process, the greater the potential impact on the overall quality, printability and runnability of the stock.

“Whiteness and brightness are just two of a whole range of factors which defines a paper’s overall quality, and they play only a minor role in the printed result,” she adds. “The range of swatches and printed samples available from leading manufacturers and merchants provides printers and designers with the best tools to compare like for like. Paper ought to be judged on all its merits, rather than one or two technical specifications. For designers, it’s a question of finding the best combination of aesthetics and performance, at a price that’s acceptable to the client. The true test of any paper is its printability and the actual print quality.”

John Harvey, general manager for business papers at merchant Guppy Paper, also believes we should not be seduced entirely by a paper’s whiter than white looks. “The whiter you make a sheet of paper, the less opaque it becomes. Put simply, it becomes easier to see through. And while this may not be an issue with a sheet of paper that someone uses for photocopying, it becomes a distinct problem when creating and printing design work where high opacity is often a prerequisite. To meet the needs of this market segment, mills increasingly seek to strike a trade-off between whiteness/brightness and opacity.” In its own response to market demand, Guppy Paper has just launched Kudos, a new multipurpose paper which balances a crisp whiteness, a super-smooth finish, excellent opacity and enough bulk to give a sustainable, high quality feel at a competitive price.

Despite this mighty effort by the makers, many designers appear unmoved by the innovations. “I must admit I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” confides Richard Webb of Moseley Webb. “I choose paper according to the job. I don’t think I’ve ever collected together a whole bunch of samples to find the whitest of all. If anything, I’m probably more likely to go for something softer and easier on the eye. However, at one of the recent degree shows I did see some really impressive work run out from an Epson printer on really brilliant white paper. I was amazed at the really good colours and nice solid black.”

Neil Smith of Howdy agrees that the new generation of printers may well be changing the attitudes of people like designers, who care that bit more about the result of a print project. “When you do a presentation run-out and see all the colours bright and glowing it really does look good. We mount these run-outs, usually printed on Mellotex, on a white backing too, so the white is really intense. In the usual course of events, when I want a white then I find the whitest paper I can, but really the differences are almost imperceptible. It’s probably an industry obsession to go for whiter and whiter sheets, but where’s it going to go after Crystal White, Ice White, Arctic White, Ultra Bright White, Diamond White… that’s a cider isn’t it?”

Get your coat

It takes a lot to make a printer happy. And this year they’re looking particularly cheerful. The reason is the ascendant popularity of coated papers. Market figures show coated paper sales well up on previous years, some predict as much as a 10 per cent rise. The factors for the increasing popularity of this stuff are complex – coated stocks are up in quality, down in price and riding the crest of a fashion wave. Designers are in the mood to experiment – coated papers are great for trying out different finishes.

A UK Paper spokesman reckons millennium fever is fuelling the paper rush. “Manufacturers are anticipating growth in all areas. But in the UK coated papers market in particular, volume is expected to grow by almost 6 per cent.” And silk finish papers are most popular of all. “Like so many aspects of the design process, it’s a fashion issue. At the moment, a lot of printers and designers are drawn to the silk grades as a contemporary-looking alternative to the more traditional gloss finish, for all sorts of printed material, from brochures, magazines and catalogues to reports and accounts, corporate literature and point-of-sale material,” he adds.

The secret of a coated paper’s high performance is in the manufacture – “the process involves the application of a coating, which includes, for example, plastic pigments, calcium carbonate and china clay,” the spokesman says. “This coating delivers a much smoother surface than that of an uncoated stock, with the effect of retaining the ink on the surface of the paper to give better ink gloss and superior colour reproduction and print quality.”

One buyer making the change is Richard Poolton, publisher of DMG Home Interest Magazines. The company recently swapped from its traditional gloss stock to Nimrod Silk for its title Kitchens, Bedrooms & Bathrooms Magazine. “Since we launched the magazine nine years ago, we have used a gloss finish throughout,” says Poolton. “But I was looking for a way of enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the publication to emphasise its prestige and support the quality of the editorial and art design. The magazine is dedicated to the top end of the market, so I wanted to find a paper which would set it apart from the competition and contribute to the overall feel of the magazine. Nimrod Silk gave the magazine just the look and feel I was aiming for and the paper takes the colour really well, which is paramount for a high quality publication with such an image-intensive layout.”

Coated papers are the printer’s choice. “It has a low-hassle factor and that’s what appeals,” says Clare Cook, Guppy Paper marketing manager. “Basically, it’s a dream to use. It runs easily through the presses and takes ink really well. On top of that, colour reproduction and half tones tend to be better than on uncoated paper. And generally, coated papers achieve a better crease, vibrancy of colour, bulk and durability.” Pricing is a more delicate issue. While coated paper tends to be slightly less expensive than uncoated, there are a number of uncoated brands that are very competitively ranked against their coated rivals. Guppy has just boosted its Essential coated range with a useful new print guide which shows the versatility of the stock for a wide range of print processes. Clarity, the latest coated paper to come from Alliance, is a chlorine-free, premium coated paper which offers very high ink gloss and low paper glare for excellent contrast between image and non-image areas. These are the kind of products that uncoated papers are up against.

For design group Hiom Macdonald, coated paper has become a favourite when work involves photographic imagery. “After we’ve spent a lot of money on a shoot and the results are technically strong, we want to show that off to its best advantage and have [therefore] been using different coated papers,” says specifier Lee Hiom. “The results are nice crisp images with excellent resolution – colours are very good, but black and white work looks particularly stunning. Since the prices have come down we’ve been keen to explore what’s available and have excellent relations with a few printers who are happy to do tests at the end of runs so we can make comparisons.”

At The Partners, production manager Christina Boyes has been amazed at the growing designer interest in coated papers. “We recently did a poster job for the Association of Photographers and completed test runs on uncoated and full gloss-coated sheets. The team was divided right down the middle on which to choose, so we did the run half on gloss and half on uncoated. A couple of years ago the gloss wouldn’t have got a look in.” From a production perspective, coated papers are a favourite. “Prices are now competitively balanced, but coated stocks tend to be cheaper on press – the running time is lower because the paper runs more smoothly, it takes the ink faster and there are fewer hold-ups for cleaning the presses because coated paper doesn’t produce much fluff,” she adds. In addition to all the technical advantages, designers are exploring the aesthetic possibilities of coated papers, so we’re seeing many more jobs featuring metallic inks, embossing and spot and half-tone varnishing.”

Conservation area

It takes almost as much effort to restore an ancient scroll as it did to create it in the first place…

In the early decades of this century a Salvation Army missionary sent to spread the word of God to the “heathen” outpost of China was so captivated by the calligraphic and design skills of local artists that he wanted some of their work to bring home to the UK. It would serve to remind him of his adventures in the Orient. He was posted to Peking and for his souvenir he picked out a scroll almost three metres in length and just 16cm high. Made of two pieces of fine paper, it was filled with colourful and animated processions of musicians, ornate gilded carriages and standard bearers.

A century later the processions continue undiminished – well, almost. Many of the fine bright colours have survived, but the gilding, which was achieved with a copper paste, has now turned to dirty green stains. And modern attempts at framing and sticking the scroll on a mount have left big brown daubs of rubbery adhesive deposit. It also looks as though the entirety of one long edge has been subjected to extreme heat or perhaps dampness, which has caused severe cockling, giving the paper a wavy, crinkled, distorted edge. The resting place of the scroll this summer is the Camberwell College of Arts conservation department. It is slowly being coaxed back to somewhere near its former glory.

The department has achieved international renown for its paper-based conservation skills. It has links with museum, gallery and conservation departments worldwide. The aim is to pursue minimal intervention in conserving what exists of the original. It has been working with the remote St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert, helping to conserve the precious library of ancient manuscripts. In 1996 the school was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its pioneering discoveries in the conservation of works on paper.

Based in a handsome red brick former grammar school just off Peckham Road in south London, the department is littered with intriguing student projects. This summer’s BA degree show featured a huge variety of work, including conservation completed on a William Morris wallpaper sample, a print loaned by the Garrick Club, an early 20th century Mah-Jongg game set, three 17th century maps, a curious 19th century native American robe made from cedar bark, and even a Bedouin saddle bag .

The MA work is no less diverse and, along with the Chinese scrolls, current projects include the revival of a huge watercolour painting by early Victorian artist Charles Bentley. Loaned from the Whitworth Gallery, this unusual painting of a shipwreck at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall was intended to imitate the work of oil painters. It was completed in the first half of the 19th century when watercolourists were dismissed as frivolous by “serious” oil painters. Student Agnes Homoky has cleaned up the image, removed a number of serious stains and is set on repairing a huge tear across the left hand side of the work. At the other end of the scale is a delicate mid-18th century Dutch fan bought by student Sarah Kilroy at a Christie’s auction. She has peeled back layers of previous restoration work, including some incredibly delicate (but now considered inappropriate) repairs with the finest kid leather.

All work is thoroughly documented – Camberwell boasts impressive expertise in the knowledge of materials – and projects begin with an assessment. Little was known about the Chinese scroll painting, but conservation student Briony Pemberton has turned detective in piecing together its past. “Although the figures and style are typical of Chinese art at the turn of the century, we are almost certain that this work was produced for this century,” she says. Pemberton is dedicating around 12 weeks of her MA course to taking care of the scroll. “At first, it was incredibly difficult to date the work, but analysis of the inks and dyes shows the use of some synthetic materials which we know were introduced in the mid 1800s. We are also fairly sure that the work was always intended for export, since there are two processions, one for a wedding and one for a funeral; no Chinese person would have bought such an item because it was considered ill-luck to display images of wedding processions.

However, it is known to be a fine work. “The paper used is a particularly good quality xuan type, which has excellent archive properties and has remained very white. It was used by the best calligraphers and Chairman Mao was known to be very particular about the xuan he used,” says Pemberton. “It’s made of fibre from the wingceltis tree and is mixed with various other fibres, including straw and bamboo.” As the inventors of paper, Chinese craftsmen were highly skilled and sophisticated. Making this unusually large sheet would have required a part-mechanised process using a system of pulleys to help them scoop up the pulp into the enormous paper frame. The frame is the size of the final sheet and becomes incredibly heavy and unwieldy when filled with dense liquid pulp. No human could single-handedly manage the process. Pemberton adds: “We also know the paper was made unsized – this would have been added by the artist using alum and that’s what prevents the inks from running.”

The first stage of conservation was to complete a surface clean with a gentle museum vacuum. “The next big task has been to try to remove some of the rubber resin residue left after the various attempts at framing and mounting.” Here Pemberton used an acetone solvent – chosen because it vaporises very quickly and doesn’t threaten to make the inks run. She gently swabbed the surface until the rubber detached itself from the paper. Unfortunately, there is nothing to be done to stabilise the copper decoration and halt its acidic corrosion of the paper. “The best course of action to keep damage to a minimum is to make sure it is stored well away from dampness, which will activate the process,” says Pemberton. Further stages in this slow and gentle process include using further solvents or perhaps a bleach to remove or tone down any serious staining.

“I also want to try to smooth out the cockled areas. But any introduction of liquids has to be extremely carefully controlled to prevent ink dispersal,” explains Pemberton. To revive the damaged paper fibres, the entire scroll will be humidified. “At first, I’ll try the gentlest form of stretching, which is, in fact, a traditional Chinese and Japanese method. It’s called friction drying, where the scroll is placed between two sheets of paper, (also humidified), then as they dry together, the paper is gently eased out flat. If that doesn’t work, I may try some experiments and then think again.” After all the work, the scroll will be displayed at the Camberwell MA show due to take place in November, before being returned to the Horniman Museum.

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