Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Day 107: A Primer on Printing and Paper

Alright, so this won't truly be comprehensive enough to be considered a primer, but I just couldn't resist the alliteration!

I've briefly mentioned paper and book-binding before, but now I'm going to talk about paper and printing

Lesson 108: Paper can be made from any vegetative natural fibre.

When I was talking about scrolls and codexes, I mentioned that they used to make "paper" called vellum, which was treated calf skin. That's what they used for the longest time in book-making.

Paper as we know it was invented in the 2nd century in China, where they used it mostly for packaging. They also started using it for many of the purposes we use paper today; they made toilet paper, paper money, and even printed books. Arab traders learned the process in the 8th century and brought it home. They built paper-mills, made thicker pages and used the paper to make much lighter codices with silk covers able to do away with the heavy covers and clasps that had been needed to keep the vellum books from becoming wedges.

In the 11th century, the process finally made it to Europe.

In the beginning, the Chinese used hemp, and bark from the paper mulberry. In Europe, they used hemp and linen rags. Eventually cotton caught on too. It wasn't until the 19th century that they started using wood pulp like we do today. But where the rag paper was stable and lasted a long time, wood pulp paper is by default acidic and degrades quite badly.

But really, paper can be made of any cellulose, any natural vegetative fibre. You could make paper from the vegetable peelings you threw out while making dinner, or the grass trimmings from mowing the lawn. Heck! There's one company that makes notebooks out of paper using elephant poop as the source of vegetative fibre. The possibilities are endless!

Another fun fact: the paper they made for printing (I can't speak for modern processes) was *not* vegetarian friendly. Paper that had just been made, so called "fresh leaf", would actually wind up absorbing too much ink to print correctly. Kind of like trying to write with a sharpie on toilet paper; the ink bleeds out and becomes a formless jumble.

Instead, they'd treat the fresh leaf with gelatin so the ink would rest on the surface instead of leaking out all over the place.

So that's one more thing for the vegetarians: no Jell-O, Oreos or printed books.

That's harsh, man!

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