Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bookbinding 101: Paper for Pages

We prefer papers that can take handling during the process of bookbinding without too easily denting or otherwise showing signs of handling. It can't be completely avoided (it's paper, after all) but an 80 lb. text weight (118 gsm) is about right for us. It is more opaque than lighter weights, too, which is better for writing and drawing on both sides. We do use heavier papers, but 80 lb.  is our go-to journal and sketchbook paper. Specifically, we use Mohawk Solutions 80 lb. (118 gsm), Smooth, Soft White, 25"x38" (63.5cm x 96.52cm). It also comes in other dimensions, and weights, and finishes/textures (such as super smooth and vellum). Really, though, find a paper you like, or something cheap if you're just learning and don't really care about the characteristics of the paper. Eventually, you may want to move into something nicer, but maybe not, as you may find a package of printer paper suits you just fine. Mohawk papers are nice, but there are many different brands out there, and rather than getting hung up on it, we'd suggest to just get something and go to work.

If you do want something really nice for general purpose writing and drawing, the Mohawk Solutions is good, which is why we use it, but even nicer is Mohawk Superfine. You may not notice much difference between the two unless you are a paper snob, but, when comparing the same weight and finish/texture, we find there is a more luxurious feel about the Superfine compared to the Solutions. It also costs about twice as much. Not a deal breaker for making a few books, but for us, when making a lot of them, we find Solutions to be plenty good.

Art Papers

We also make books with heavier weight art papers, such as Rives BFK, Rising Stonehenge, and Nideggen. We use them either for artists who have specific paper preferences, or whenever a heavier and/or richer feeling paper is desired. Of course, these are not the only papers to consider, it's just what we have used, and we have liked using them.

The BFK is just plain nice to touch, with a more supple flex to it than the Stonehenge. For times when a stiffer page may be preferred, such as when you may want to adhere anything to it, such as photos, we recommend Stonehenge over BFK. Nideggen is a unique artist paper, has a sandy color, and because Nideggen is a laid paper it has a wavy surface texture.


Paper usually has a grain, usually running lengthwise. If you fold against the grain, it won't crease as nicely -- in fact, you may have to fight it to crease somewhat straight -- and it will be more likely to crack. You may or may not see any cracking in the paper when you first fold it, but over time as the book is used, it will be more likely to crack and tear out of the book. It also affects how well the book opens. Mind the grain.

It's easy to figure out the grain direction by folding over the paper without creasing. Do this in both directions, and the direction with the most feeling of resistance is folding across the grain, and the direction that folds easiest is folding with the grain. Here are some other methods of determining grain direction. Here is an explanation for why paper has grain.


Another consideration in choosing a paper is whether or not it is acid free, but most paper available is. Acid free means PH neutral or alkaline, and so there is no acidity in the paper that will yellow and otherwise degrade it over time. But for even greater longevity you may choose a paper that is a bit on the alkaline side, so that as the natural acidity of the environment interacts with the paper, it has a reserve of alkalinity that prolongs the paper life before yellowing and otherwise degrading and falling apart.

Also, consider what you put on the page, as some inks won't be acid free or archival. This isn't just an "Oh, by the way," but is really an important consideration for any writing or drawing you hope will be around for your great-great-great grandchildren.

Anything to add to the discussion? Please leave a comment.


Anonymous said...

I was just grappling with choosing papers the other day. Thanks for a good overview with specific examples.

Danielle P said...

I'm binding a planner, i plan to use my cannon printer. I want a paper that is thick enough that the printer ink & pen wont bleed through, but also thin enough to easy stitch bind (that's probably the wrong term, but i want to stitch it with thread, not just paste the edges into the cover. it will be about 150-200pgs.

What paper do you suggest?
thanks in advanced

cfm said...

Do you use 80# cover or text weight? Thanks!

Unknown said...

We use 80# Text :)

DinoMartino said...

Can the Mohawk Solutions paper be used for writing? In particular, fountain pens?

Unknown said...

I am getting ready to bind a family recipie grimoire. I am struggling with the paper choices. I want something heavy enough to withstand multiple "authors" that will also stand the test of time. What do you suggest.