By Isabel Cervantes
I’m sure we all think of Egypt and papyrus when we think about the origins of paper, however, paper as it exists today traces back to China. Credit for the invention of paper was given to T’sai Lun, an official tied to the Imperial court during the Han Dynasty.
After beginning in China, the process spread across Asia, the Middle East, and then Europe. In each of those places the process was generally the same. It was the Arabian technique that the Italians improved upon by the use of water for power, a stamping mill, wire mesh molds and various other things.
At first, the process used old rags and plant based materials to produce paper. However, advances in the printing process created a larger demand for paper and thus a shortage of those raw materials. Then, with the invention of a wood grinding machine, came the use of wood based paper and the further mechanization of the whole process. In the traditional process, these materials were heated in a solution, beaten down into a pulp and then bleached to take color away or had color added. A mold with a wire screen, called a “deckle,” was dipped into the solution and pulled out horizontally in order to create a sheet of pulp on the screen. This sheet was then placed on felt or cloth and stacked with others to be pressed. After pressing, the sheets were hung to dry. The dry sheets were then adjusted to have preferred properties such as improved strength or reduced water absorbency.
As mentioned before, because of the growing demand for paper and the time it took to complete the traditional process, a faster more mechanized way was created. However, even in this modern day process you can see remaining traditional aspects. In this process quality is often measured by what percentage of the paper is not made of wood pulp which is the cheap alternative used in mass production,
Below are videos of the traditional process as it is carried out in some places in South Korea and also a video example of how paper is mass produced for purposes other than art.
As you can see, whether its the traditional way or the modern day way, the paper making process is not something that can be done in only one way. It is constantly being improved upon and has many levels of difficulty. You can even make your own paper at home from various recycled materials! In the end, the time consuming traditional ways of paper making across the world are worthy of appreciation.