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The History of Paper

Paper is one of the most critical parts of your fine art giclée print. But what is the history of paper? Where did it all start? And how did we get to where we are now?

Ancient Egypt – 3000 B.C.

The History of Paper - The Artists Print RoomThe first traceable knowledge of paper goes back as far as the 2nd Century, however, there are arguments to suggest the ancient Egyptians were using a form of paper in 3000 B.C. The word ‘paper’ derives from the ancient Egyptian word ‘papyrus’ which was traditionally their writing material. The ancient Egyptians would also use animal skins, soaked in water, chalk and salt to give a smooth writing surface. Before this of course, engravings were typically used to writing and drawing, typically into stone or wood.

China – 150 A.D.

Moving forward, the first recording of mass produced paper was in 150 A.D in China. Cai Lun first invented paper which was made from plant fibres. Ts’ai Lu, a Chinese court official documented the first modern paper making techniques which have developed into what we know today. These began as mulberry bark, cotton or hemp rags with water. This mixture was mashed together, flattened, pressed and left to dry in the sun. Further down the line in 610 A.D. paper making techniques were imported into both Japan and Korea. By 740 A.D. the first recording of newspaper was made in China. In the 10th Century, the first paper monetary system was recorded in China.

Europe – 13th Century

Spain was the first European country to start producing paper in 1144, closely followed by Italy. It is suggested that Marco Polo returned from China and spread knowledge that paper was being used for money. Following this, Spain was the first country in Europe to produce paper bank notes.

17th & 18th Century

Skipping forward a few centuries, paper making made some significant advances. Automation was slowly introduced with paper making machines. Additionally, bleaching of pulp was introduced by the French chemist, Claude-Louis Bertholett, giving a whiter paper tone. Due to the popularity of paper there was a shortage of raw materials, in particular, cotton rag. Thus, laws and regulations were introduced in the world of paper making.

19th & 20th Century

In 1843, Saxon Friedrich Gottlob Keller invented a wood grinding machine which consequently opened the market up to wood pulp papers. Wood pulp consequently became the leading raw material for paper production and allowed industrial scale production to meet the increasing demand. Automation really began to take hold with the preparation, pulp production, drying and packaging being done by machine. Paper was subsequently produced for more purposes including flyers and magazines.

So there is a very brief overview of the history of paper… the rest they say, is history! Paper production has come far over the centuries and there is now such a variety of papers to choose from. Paper development is a continual process with paper mills producing different styles and varieties of giclée printing papers. Find out about the papers we offer on our giclée papers and canvases page.