Printing on specialty papers is one of the most rewarding aspects of making prints. Paper comes in full sheets or rolls that can be tough to tear down due to their unwieldy size. Even worse, your paper might become damaged in the process of resizing.
When I got serious about making prints buying paper was a significant pain point. Paper can get expensive, and I was worried I might mess up while printing on it. But the worst feeling was accidentally ruining the paper as I tore it down by measuring wrong or damaging it.
Everyone should feel comfortable using specialty printing papers. That’s why I wrote five rules to follow when tearing paper. When you follow these rules, tearing paper becomes a ritual leading up to the printing process, and no longer a chore.
Five Rules to Follow When Tearing Down Paper
1. Clean all surfaces and tools first. There are few worse feelings than ruining expensive paper by traveling ink or dirt. Spray a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water on a shop towel and clean the cutting mat, ruler, or tear bar. Baby wipes also work well for cleaning.
2. Always cut Japanese Papers and tear Western ones. Japanese paper fibers are too long for tearing, and doing so will always result in a ripped, uneven edge. The natural deckled edge of the Western paper is desirable and achievable by tearing with a tear bar. You can use a ruler, but doing so will result in a sloppier deckle. If you’re using Western papers frequently, then the $70 cost of a tear bar is well worth it.
3. Use a new cutting blade every session. Dull blades will drag the paper fibers resulting in a jagged tear. Don’t take that chance. I like to use utility knife blades without the box-cutting handle. If you think using new blades, every session is expensive, stop and compare the cost of a single blade vs. a full sheet of sekishu paper.
4. Arrange your tearing space into three areas. You’ll need a separate spot for full sheets, tearing/cutting area, and torn-down sheets.
5. Measure once and cut each sheet. Let’s say your printing paper size is 11“x 15”, and you have five full sheets of RIVES BFK 22“ x 30” papers to tear down. Don’t tear the individual sheets down to 11“ x 15”. Tear all five sheets in half, from 30“ to 15”. Then re-measure and proceed with your second series of tears from 22“ to 11”. Why? Because it’s fast and efficient. And you’re less likely to make an incorrect tear. You’re measuring the tear once and applying it to all sheets. Plus, you’ll always know what tear or cut you’re making; it’s easy to lose track of your work when working with large volumes of paper. So make the hard rule that you’re applying the same tear or cut to all sheets stacked in the full-sheet area(see rule three: areas).