Advanced (and unusual…) Papermaking Techniques

Following last weeks popular marbling post (see here), I received a number of emails from visitors about the different types of paper available and their suitability for marbling, calligraphy and use in bookbinding and restoration projects. So, today I decided to put together a post on advanced paper-making techniques as there seems only to be a limited number of resources currently on the internet, much of which is pretty hard to find. I hope it will help a few of you out there.

Note that I am no expert in papermaking but have attended numerous paper-making workshops and have visited a handful of Washi paper making factories in Japan over the years. If you have any questions on the subject, please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to help where I can.

Xuan paper (Shuen paper or rice paper)

Making Xuan Paper
Making Xuan Paper

Xuan paper is a type of paper produced from the tough bark of the Tara Wing-Celtis or Blue Sandalwood tree and rice straw. It is manufactured in the Jing County, Anhui Province of China – an area hosting mild climate and abundant rainfall making it perfect for Xuan paper production.

Xuan paper is known for it’s great tensile strength, resistance to decay, steadfast colour and ability to withstand being folded many times. It is used commonly for Chinese calligraphy as the finished paper is also white, soft and very smooth.

Short History on Xuan Paper

The paper was originally produced during ancient China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) in tribute to the emperor at the time; the production methods were refined during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) and further grew in popularity during and after the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD).

Along with winning the Golden Award at the Panama International Exposition in 1915, the procedure for making the paper has been listed as a world intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2009.

The techniques for making Xuan paper have changed little over the years and remain a very traditional process with much, if not all, of the work carried out by hand.

Xuan Paper Making Process

Xuan Paper Making Process

The traditional procedure for making Xuan paper consists of over 100 steps which can be broken down into around 18 ‘basic’ steps, most of which are still often done by hand. You will often find that Xuan papermakers will introduce their own (often secret) steps in the manufacturing process that help give their paper a slightly different quality than their competitors.

The basic procedure for making Xuan paper is as follows:

  1. Removal and sun drying of tree bark
  2. Sorting the tree bark into grades (only the best will be selected)
  3. Converting the bark into pulp using wooden hammers
  4. Washing the pulp to break it down into fibers
  5. Mixing the pulp with water to create a thick slurry
  6. Using a bamboo mesh to capture a thin layer of the pulp whilst leaving the water to drain through
  7. Transferring the pulp from the bamboo mesh onto the table and layering on top of other sheets
  8. Compressing the paper stack with press to remove excess water
  9. Peeling off each individual sheet of paper and either pasting on a wall, hot stone or heated press to dry into paper.
  10. Trimming or cutting the paper into correct sizes

The above process of manufacturing Xuan paper is very basic. Additional steps might include adding gelatine and alum which  produce a paper commonly referred to as ‘processed paper’ or Shuxuan, this type of paper is less absorbent to water and ink and feels stiff to the touch.

You’ll often find Xuan paper in either unprocessed, half-processed or processed, each refers to the amount of stages added to the manufacturing process.

Additional Reading

Xuan/Shuen Paper Photo Gallery

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Xuan Paper-Making Videos

Mini Documentary on making Xuan paper

Watch this 9 minute mini documentary about the production of Xuan paper, it will give you a good overview of the processes involved in making Xuan paper. The video gets good at around 1:45.

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A Tour to the Shuen(Xuan) Paper 宣纸 Making Mills in Anhui, China

A good, amateur shot, video of the paper making process taking place at the Anhui Paper Making Mills. A great video which shows the complete paper making process in a working factory. 26 minutes in length.

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Japanese paper (washi)

Handmade Ecuadorian Kozo PaperWashi is traditional handmade Japanese paper made from the bark of the paper mulberry (Kozo), the gampi tree and the mitsumata shrub (Edgeworthia papyrifera).the name Washi comes from ‘wa‘ meaning Japanese and ‘shi‘ meaning paper.

History of Kozo Paper and Washi

It’s said that papermaking was introduced to Japan in the 7th century. At that time, washi was highly valuable and only used for important documents like Buddhist scriptures.

Since white washi symbolized purity and holiness, papermaking was regards as a means of spiritual refinement.

Around the 9th century, aristocrats started writing poems on Washi. From around the 11th Century, beautiful washi collages called tsugigami were produced. These were more than just something to write words on; they were aesthetically pleasing in themselves. Washi making was elevated to the realm of art.

Later, the custom started of using washi for sliding doors and screens. With its excellent air permeability, washi is well suited to Japan’s hot and humid climate. That is why it came to be used as a material for architectural purposes.

Some 100,000 households made paper in the mid 1800’s. Now only about 400 continue the tradition. – source:

The Manufacturing Process

Washi is most often made during the winter months (December – January) in order to prevent bacteria from ruining the fibers; the cold also helps contract the fibers which results in a crisper feel of the resulting paper.

Soaking Kozo in Large Vat
Soaking Kozo in Large Vat

To make Washi paper one must first cut branches from the Kozo and Gampi trees and the mitsumata shrub. These are then cut to a required length (normally around 1m) and then either steamed or soaked for numerous hours before lating having the barks removed and the inner barks separated (a process normally carried out by hand).

Beating the Kozo
Beating the Kozo

The inner barks of the cuttings are then pounded (again, often by hand) to help separate the fibers whilst still maintaining their length. One of the unique things about washi is that the fibres are left long and uncut, this is what makes Washi paper so strong.

After numerous hours of pounding, the pulp is boiled in a 12% alkaline solution for 3 hours.

Next is the inspection period whereby impurities are picked out by hand from the now cooled kozo mulch. The kozo washi pulp is beaten again by hand to loosen the individual fibers, traditionally 6 times to the right and left and 6 times up and down.

At this stage the beaten bark is added to a solution of cold fresh water and sticky tororo-aoi extract (fermented hibiscus root), this acts as a mucilage and produces a resulting paste-like substance. It is then mixed with a bamboo stick.

A Miniture Su
A Miniture Su

Next comes the hardest part of papermaking: scooping up the fibres with a special bamboo sieve-like tool (called a su) and moving them back and forth repeatedly. This causes the long fibres to knit together so that the paper will be strong and pliant.

The sheets are piled up wet, and later laid out to dry on wood in the sun or indoors on a heated dryer, often you’ll find that the stack of paper is mechanically pressed before being laid out to dry.

A close-up of the edge of a torn piece of washi reveals how long the fibres are. Compared to western paper, Washi has much longer fibres.

A Close-up of the Washi Paper Fibers
A Close-up of the Washi Paper Fibers

Additional Reading

Washi Paper Photo Gallery

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Washi Paper Production Processes & Techniques

Epson Japanese Kozo Papermaking

A very interesting mini-documentary on the entire Kozo (washi) making process from harvesting to production and drying.

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Washi -Japanese Paper-making

A great documentary (7 minutes long) on the production process and uses of Washi paper. 30 seconds in is where the real ‘documentary’ starts.

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Dedicated Kozo (paper mulberry) Resources

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Poop Paper

bamboo flower and poo paper notebookAn elephant eats about 180 kg a day and goes to the toilet 16 times a day. This is great to know when you discover you can make paper out of an elephants waste product.

I would arguably say that poo paper is the most environmentally friendly way of making paper. The process allows the animals’ natural digestive systems to create the pulp needed to make paper. ~ very smart!

Common animals ‘used’ in making poop paper include elephants, cows, horses, donkeys & buffalos but pretty much any grazing animals poo can be used.

The Manufacturing Process of Poo Paper

  1. Collecting the poo and removing obvious impurities (stones, mud, dirt etc)
  2. Mixing with water and boiling for 4-6 hours to soften the fibres and sterilize the mixture
  3. Mixing the slurry with other seasonal non-wood based products to create a stronger end paper (corn stalks, pineapple husks, hay, banana tree trunks, mulberry bark etc)
  4. Adding colouring if req.
  5. ‘Screening’ – using a fine mesh to collect a thin layer of pulp from the slurry mix (similar to the above two processes)
  6. Drying the sheets of paper in the sun

Additional Resources

Poo Paper Gallery (Elephant, Sheep)

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Elephant Poo Paper Video

A short 3-minute semi-promotional video on the elephant poo making process…

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Banana Paper

Banana Tree Paper SelectionsRoughly 10 banana steams can produce 800 to 1000 paper sheets of about 20×30 inches.

Banana Paper Manufacturing Methods

Method 1

  1. After the harvest of bananas the stems are cut in small pieces and allowed to dry in the sun for up to 12 hours to reduce the water content
  2. The stems are then boiled to separate the fibers
  3. Next the stems are agitated by a mechanical process to separate the fibers
  4. The banana pulp is then seived out and placed in the sun to dry
  5. Before the paper is dry, heavy rollers are used to flatten the sheets of paper.

Method 2

  1. Banana stems are cut after the banana harvest
  2. The internal pith of the stems is then stripped from the fiberous bark
  3. The fibers are then strung out in the sun and left to dry
  4. The fibers are then mixed with water and a fine mesh is used to collect the paper pulp
  5. Paper is pressed and left out to dry in the sun as individual sheets


Additional Resources

Banana Paper Gallery

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Making Banana Paper in Zambia (interview local women)

A short video on the process of making paper from banana trees in Zambia.

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Banana Paper Newscast

A Nepalese news broadcast on a recent banana paper startup. English subtitles.

Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to get access to HD videos of hundreds of Book Binding tutorials and reviews!

Korean handmade Paper (Hanji)

Kozo Hanji with Hemp Cords - Melissa Jay Craig - is the unique and traditional Korean way of making textured and painterly imagery hand-made paper just by using water.


Making Hanji Paper (methods & techniques)

Artist Jiyoung Chung talks about transforming an ancient Korean paper making technique, known an Joomchi, into a contemporary art form

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Hanji Photo Gallery

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Additional Resources

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