A bit of a disclaimer first. Not all paper is going to work to each users particular standards. I am writing this article only using the knowledge I have and some experienced people’s opinions. I hope that you find the information helpful in searching for your perfect paper.
Why should you consider the different characteristics of paper when choosing a new notebook or paper in general? If you use any type of pen that doesn’t involve a ballpoint, the type of paper can affect how your writing looks. There are a few key things to take into account when choosing paper.
- Weight of the paper
- Manufacturing and finishing of the paper
- Ink drying time
Paper in the U.S is measured in pounds per ream. This is not very useful as it is weighed on a basis size which could be any size such as A4 or B7. So a real example of this could be a ream of A5 measures 140 pounds and a ream of A4 (a bigger sheet) weighs 100 pounds. How does this accurately measure the true weight or thickness of the paper? Meanwhile, the rest of the world measures paper in grams per square meter which I believe is a more accurate measure. In saying all of this, paperweight has its place but it isn’t the whole truth of how a page of paper is going to react to any other writing instrument than a ballpoint pen.
The thing that it seems to me that is more of a measure of how paper is going to behave is how it is manufactured and finished. Paper weight has its place, as ink used on thick paper may not bleed through to the other side, but I feel that manufacturing and finish are bigger factors in behaviour than thickness. Most paper is made from wood pulp and it would make sense that superior quality paper is made with superior quality material and finish. For example the Tomoe River paper is only 52 grams per square metre which makes it very thin and buttery smooth but it doesn’t bleed through to the other side. This leads me to think that it’s the finish that produces this lack of bleed through.
The finishing of paper is a big factor in what I will call (for simplicity sake) fountain pen friendly paper. Once the paper is made the finishing process includes sizing the paper with rosin, starch or a glue substance then calendering the paper to a glazed finish between calender rollers using high temperature and pressure. This gives the paper a smooth finish and helps to reduce bleeding and feathering of inks. Paper that doesn’t get calendered as much may have more visible fibres and not such a smooth finish. This could then potentially lead to feathering and bleeding through.
Feathering happens when the ink from a pen creeps along the fibres of the paper it’s written on and doesn’t stay well defined. This is more pronounced in paper that doesn’t have a smooth surface such as some copier paper and recycled paper. It is also directly related to how tightly the fibres are woven or packed together, the tighter the weave the less the ink should feather. The nib of your pen can also cause this if it lays down a lot of ink. The more ink on the paper the bigger the potential for feathering. Sometimes the brand of ink you use effects feathering. When it comes to fountain pen inks some inks are wetter or more fluid than others and these can feather more.
A further phenomenon that is sometimes observed is bleed through. This is when the ink seeps from one side of the page to the other and sometimes even to the next page. This happens because the paper is highly absorbent and draws the ink through. It is also accentuated by the amount of ink your pen lays down. Bleed through is not to be confused with ghosting of ink. This is when you can see the ink from one side of a piece of paper on the other side. The ink hasn’t bled through, you can just see the shadow of it.
Ink drying times
Something that can cause ink to behave badly on paper is the inks drying time. There are many factors that lead to slower drying times, humidity, temperature, ink type and paper type are the main factors. The two self-explanatory factors are humidity and temperature. If the humidity is high the ink will take longer to dry and if the temperature is high the ink will take less time to dry. Ink type though is a very variable factor, some inks are naturally fast driers and some are not. This is due to the ingredients of the ink and every colour is different. Then you have to take into account paper type as I have discussed, the absorbency and finish on the paper affects how fast or slow and ink dries. If an ink dries too slowly this can cause feathering and bleeding on paper that is not coated well. Or paper that is coated well can extend the drying time of inks because it sits on top of the paper with nowhere to go.
There is a sometimes confusing array of factors to take into account when choosing paper and I believe that it truly comes down to personal preference what characteristics you want in your paper and also trial and error. I created this article to make you aware of some factors that can influence the partnership between pen, ink and paper.
My Paper Recommendations
For everyday note taking I use Rhodia No.18 A4 80gsm and Clairefontaine Papier Veloute 90gsm . I find the Clairefontaine has more of a coating on the paper so inks take longer to dry but that means my lines are a bit crisper than the Rhodia paper. I do love the Rhodia though it just doesn’t have as much of a coating as the Clairefontaine.
For letter writing I have been using Tomoe River 52gsm fountain pen paper in white and I adore this paper. Its a really joy to write on, buttery smooth and your writing is crisp and beautiful.
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