I have had a formal visual arts education, but printmaking was never offered at the uni's I went to, so all of what I now know (and am still learning) about paper in printmaking is pretty much trial and error. Some of it I have gleaned from blog posts of other artists, or descriptions on art supply websites, but I found that opinions on paper can vary vastly depending on the printmaking equipment you have at hand. The paper that works for people using a press is probably not suited for hand burnishing. Since I don't have a press, I can only comment on hand printing techniques.
Something to keep in mind that I'll cover in future posts is the type of lino you use and the type of ink roller can also effect the way the print appears on the paper. So it's not all about the paper, just mostly. To be brief, I mostly work with vinyl and a soft esdee ink roller.
Okay, enough of the generalities, lets get into some details.
I do a test print on regular white printer paper. If I like the design of the lino and I want a digital image I'll make a good print on this kind of paper since it photographs really well. I could probably use newsprint, but that would require me to buy something extra, so I haven't switched yet.
After the test print I'll do a first round of proofing on off-white 100 gsm artist sketch paper (cartridge paper). Since it's off white and has a slight tooth to it, it gives me a good idea of what the print will look like on most of the other papers I use.
The first artist "printmaking" paper I bought and tried was Hahnemühle Ingres 100 gsm watercolor paper. At the time we were living in Netherlands and I was getting my supplies from Gerstaeker, a really great supply company (more on them later), so I trusted their paper recommendation. This is one of the papers that caused me to tear my hair out. Usually paper sticks to the ink on the lino and you can burnish away but this paper doesn't and the image gets all distorted. It only works if you stamp it - ie place the lino on top. And even then, the cross-hatch raised pattern of the paper shows through unless you have way too much ink. It might work in a press. I'm not sure. Just for shits and giggles I tried it again recently - here's the result.
The next paper I tried can only be bought in the USA (so far as I can tell). The company is called Black Ink and the paper is Block printing Kozo sheets. The weight is 45 gsm. I got mine at Dick Blick (link here). I really like this paper. It's great to work with for hand burnishing. The limitations are that it only comes in one size (9 x 12 inches) and I cannot, for the life of me, find it here in the UK. I have a few sheets squirrelled away for print editions already started.
And thus started my quest to fins something similar in the UK that I could get in a bigger size.
I found a kozo at the online supplier AtlantisArt in several weights. It's Khadi Mulberry tissue paper, and I tried the 30 and 25 gsm papers. This paper was not like the other brand of kozo. This paper is very, well, fluffy. It's not like the kind of tissue paper I think of, it's more like actual kleenex. I did one edition of ten prints on the 30 gsm (Etsy link), and I like the results, but, I wont be using it again. It's very difficult to cut, tears easily, difficult to write on it, and it leaves tiny fibers all over the lino every time you print, so I ended up cleaning the lino in between each print. Very tedious. It was also prone to tearing while I was burnishing, so I had to place a piece of printer paper between this paper and my barren.
Here's the print:
Then I found various other thin papers, lokta, kozo, shoji, masa, etc. I decided that instead of using each one with different inks and linos to just do a trial print run on every paper with the same lino and ink on the same day to compare the results. And I'm so glad I did!
I'll go through each paper. I actually like many of them, but not all will work for every print.
First is the Japanese Masa. It only comes in bright white. I got it at Intaglio Printmaker online (link). It is 86 gsm, and a generous 790 x 530 mm (31 x 20.8 in) per sheet. One side is smooth with a slight sheen to it, while the other side is a bit rough. On the rough side you can see the laid lines. This paper is machine made and quite uniform. I printed on both sides and like the smooth side better. It is very easy to hand burnish and produces lovely bold outlines and details. You can really get good ink saturation with this paper.
Second, is a paper very similar. It's Japanese Shoji made of Kozo. It's also from Intaglio Printmaker (link), and also bright white. It's a thinner 45 gsm, and still a generous 960 x 620 mm. Also like Masa it has a smooth side and a rough side, with barely visible fibers on the rough side. I only printed on the smooth side. The feel of the paper is slightly nicer than the Masa, in a way hard to describe. Hand burnishing was very easy, and the print has good outlines and details. The colors aren't as saturated and bright as the on the Masa, but this was my favorite paper for this particular lino/color combination.
Next was Japanese Kozo paper, from Intaglio Printmaker (link). They sell both white and natural and I chose to buy the natural. I'm a bit annoyed that they don't supply the information on the weight, just call it "lightweight." My guestimate is 25 gsm. The smooth side has less of a shiny sheen than the Masa and Shoji, and the rough side is a bit less rough as well. Laid lines are visible on the rough side. The paper is machine made, but does have some areas of variability and visible fibers that give it character. It prints nicely and is easy to hand burnish. This is the closest match to the Black Ink Kozo paper. The colors don't print as saturated, but that might be because of the natural color and not because of the paper. I like it a lot, but just not for this particular print. But I will be using it for other prints.
I also bought Fabriano Unica and Rossapina (from Intaglio Printmaker) to try but realized when they arrived that I would probably have difficulty hand-burnishing these papers so I'm saving them for some other purpose.
Next I printed on Khadi Nepalese Mitsumata Washi paper from Atlantis Art (link). This is a 30 gsm handmade paper and it is just gorgeous. It didn't work with the image I was going for for this particular print, but I will be using it again in the future. It is 760 x 560 mm (30 x 22 in). Like the other papers it has a smooth side and a rough side. It is a lovely creamy color, like aged books. However, even on the smooth side, there are bits of inclusions that interrupt the print (you can see them in the picture below where the blue ink seems to hit a speedbump. This is not necessarily a con, it would just need to go with the linocut design.
The next paper was by far the darkest paper I tried. It is Khadi Mountain Lokta paper from Atlantis Art (link). This paper is also handmade and 30 gsm. The size is 750 x 500 mm. The color is like a dark antique bookpage, maybe stained by tea. The smooth side of this paper is not as smooth as the Mitsumata and no where near as smooth as the Shoji or Masa. You can see a slight honeycomb pattern on the smooth side and the ink didn't take as well on this paper. It also moved a bit while burnishing. It's no where near as bad as the Ingres, but something to keep in mind. There are very obvious fibers visible and lots of inclusions and areas of varying paper thickness. I still haven't decided if I will use it for printmaking in the future.
The next paper was a Lokta paper from Cass Art in Birmingham. There wasn't any information at the store other than it being Lokta, but if it's the same product online then its by RK Burt and 65 gsm. It's a creamy color and a softer paper, close in feel to the Khadi kozo. It is also difficult to cut, but doesn't leave a mess in the lino after printing. It doesn't stick to the lino as well as the other papers, and in some areas I double printed the image while hand burnishing. Since it is so soft, I put a piece of printer paper on top so that the force of burnishing wouldn't destroy the paper. I think it might be suitable for small prints or stamping, where weight is applied to transfer the ink as opposed to rubbing.
The last paper I tested was the biggest surprise. It's a very lovely paper, but I thought no way will it print nicely by hand, but I tried it anyway just to see (for science). It's Khadi Rag & Fibre Paper - Smooth Banana. Another handmade gem by Khadi and supplied by Atlantis Art (link). It's 210 gsm and 760-560 mm. This paper had the most variability in quality at the edges than all of the other Khadi paper I tested and I ended up cutting some of the ends off as they were a bit worse for wear. Which kinda annoys me as I don't like wasting paper, but it is handmade. It's made from cotton rag and banana fibers and I would call it speckled. The base is a cream color, but there are a lot of inclusions of various colors that give it a lot of character. Even though it's called smooth, it is quite textured on both sides. This is very obvious in the blue section of the print. But, I actually like this effect. Since I thought no way would this stick to the lino, I decided against burnishing and put a large book on top and all my bodyweight I could muster. It worked fairly well, actually. The black part of the cat came out perfectly - saturated color, nice detail, good outlines. I'm guessing that this is what it's like to use a printing press or a nipping press - you can use thicker paper that has some texture and still get a good crisp print. I'm sure I will find a print to do on it in the future, it may just be small as it required quite a lot of effort on my part to press my body on the book for the print.
And there you have it! A tour of paper! There are other papers I use for printing bookmarks and cards, but they are (mostly) not fine art papers and so I will cover them in a different post. There is one paper I didn't cover, and that is Hahnemühle Green Rooster bamboo and cotton paper, but I have a lot to say about it, so it would make this post too long.