Through the mill

Use artists’ paper to turn a print job into a decadent masterpiece.

It’s thick and hairy, wildly unsophisticated and difficult to handle. Any guesses? Of course, it has to be artists’ paper. Made from long, strong cotton fibres, the gorgeous off-white and creamy-coloured sheets are enough to make any paper fancier swoon. It has warmth and texture and, when used with flair, it has incredible class.

The tradition of small-production artists’ papermaking still thrives in this country, with mills such as Wookey Hole and St Cuthbert’s, both in Somerset. Owned by paper giant Inveresk, the St Cuthbert’s production is probably best known for its Saunders Waterford and Bockingford artists’ papers. These rich cotton stocks have exceptional dimensional stability, velvet textures, and a guaranteed long life. Papers made without the use of chemicals do not discolour with age or become fragile like their mass-produced counterparts. One of the main concerns in specifying these papers for commercial use has been how they handle in printing. However, this fear can be allayed as most artists’ papers produced in any quantity are now given a tub sizing, which produces a stable, receptive surface for print.

“We always suggest that designers should be prepared to spend a little more time early in the job trying out a few print tests,” says Adrian Jolliffe of the long-established specialist paper merchant RK Burt. “There are few limitations in the use of artists’ papers, but they do require patience. You can’t stick this stuff on a Heidelberg Speedmaster and expect it to run at 3000 copies per hour.”

RK Burt is well used to handing out advice. “In some cases, papers are too soft or too bitty to be used in offset litho printing, but we can point designers in the right direction, depending on how the material is to be used. If it has been sized, then it’s most likely to be fine for litho work. In all cases, we suggest that printing is best kept to a minimum so that the paper’s character can be appreciated,” Jolliffe adds.

New papers are rare in this field, but St Cuthbert’s has entered the new age with Somerset Enhanced, available through RK Burt. A 100 per cent cotton, mould-made, watercolour style paper, it is suitable for a wide range of office printing, including inkjet up to 1400dpi. Made in a single weight of 225gsm, the print results are crisp, but it is not suitable for offset work. n

Top Tips

  • Don’t expect to find brilliant white artists’ papers, they are unlikely to be made with bleaches, so expect colour to be off-white or creamy.
  • Because they are made without the use of chemicals, artists’ papers often qualify as archival quality. The material is extremely stable and they’ll last for decades without turning brittle and flaking.
  • Be prepared to try a test before starting a print run.
  • Ink – there should be few problems with standard inks, but remember that artists’ stock will absorb more readily than other papers, take longer to dry and produce slightly flattened colours.
  • Special effects – because of their stability and bulk, most artists’ papers respond extremely well to embossing, debossing and even die-stamping and laser-cutting.
  • Foil-blocking – most papers look great with foil, but be warned, in some cases, and for no obvious reason, some foils will not adhere. Prepare to experiment.
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