Chine collee is an exciting and versatile technique for adding extra layers of colour, text and images to your prints. However it can be hard to get the hang of when you are starting out, and people often ask me ‘what is the best paper for chine collee?’ Rather than giving a definitive list of papers I usually suggest 3 essential things to look for;
- It must be thin, definitely thinner than your printing paper
- The surface must accept ink well, so you can print on it
- It mustn’t fall apart when its wet
There are lots of papers that fit this description, the problem is that thin paper with an absorbent surface and wet strength can be very expensive!
Beautiful Japanese and Chinese papers made with long natural fibres that give the tissue paper strength and absorbency are ideal, but pricy. These lovely papers are excellent for top end prints, but if you are experimenting and want to create with abandon, worrying about the cost of materials will probably cramp your style.
Weak wrapping tissue is a disaster
As most of us have ordinary tissue paper around, (also known as wrapping tissue) it is tempting to think ‘what’s the difference? that’ll do for chine collee’. Its true it is hard to spot the difference when the tissue paper is dry……
Wrapping tissue meets the first 2 conditions above, it is thin and you can print on it, but If you have tried wetting it you will know that on rule no 3 it is a disaster. When you wet ordinary tissue paper it turns into a soggy mess and falls apart.
Don’t despair, wet strength tissue could be the answer!
Developed for making lanterns and covering models, this wet strength tissue seems just like ordinary tissue paper, until you wet it that is.
You can dunk it in water, squeeze it out and flatten it – try doing that with ordinary wrapping tissue.
It remains intact and you can handle as easily as the expensive oriental tissues. This is because, unlike wrapping tissue, it is treated with wet strength resins.
This picture shows wrapping tissue which I have dipped in water and then tried to smooth out. You probaly know what this is like – don’t bother trying it! The second image is wet strength tissue, soaked in water, wrung out and then flattened. The difference is amazing.
Some technical info about wet strength and paper
What is wet strength?
A piece of dry paper has a certain tensile strength, this affects how easily it tears when dry. When paper is wetted it loses strength and will tear more easily. Papermakers measure wet strength using a ratio of wet strength to dry strength. A good wet strength paper will have 10-15% of its dry strength.
Factors affecting paper strength
The length and strength of the fibres used to make paper are the main influence on its strength. Cheaper recycled paper, and papers from wood pulp generally have short fibres are quite weak. More expensive papers are made with long plant fibres which are also strong in themselves, making the paper inherently strong whether wet or dry.
Bonds between fibres
In the process of paper making the fibres are bonded together, the strength and number of the bonds affects the strength of the finished paper. The bond between the fibres is partly formed by hydrogen; when the paper is wetted the hydrogen in the water helps to break down these bonds on a chemical level.
Increasing wet strength
As part of the process of industrial paper making the paper is coated with different chemicals and resins. The resins help to protect and increase the bonds between the fibres in the paper and prevent the fibres coming apart when it is wetted. There is a lot of current research into ways of increasing the wet strength of (cheap fibre) paper, while minimising the environmental impact from the resins.
Where can you get wet strength tissue?
I got mine from Carnival Papers but if you google wet strength tissue and you will find a choice of suppliers.
Depending on how much you buy it can work out at around 11 pence for a sheet 50 x 76cm. This means you can experiment freely without worrying about the cost, and actually get on with some practical chine collee printmaking. I know fellow paper nerds who buy beautiful papers and can’t bear to use them, ending up with piles of gorgeous paper that we stroke lovingly from time to time, like Gollum’s precious ring, before putting it back in the drawer and dreaming of prints we will surely someday make.
Colour your own chine collee tissue
Wet strength tissue comes in different colours, however some may fade in sunlight, or leach out of the paper when it is wetted. Why not get a batch of plain white paper and colour it yourself?
Use diluted acrylic paint or acrylic ink and once it is dry the colours won’t run. If you do this you can make a selection of chine collee papers in your own unique colours.
Printing on wet strength tissue
The tissue has a shiny side and a matt side. I did a few tests and while both sides generally print ok, I think the matt side is better for intaglio. I suggest you glue the shiny side (see the post about the best glue) and print on the rougher side.
Cheap and cheerful printmaking
I like to be generous with materials – if you feel inhibited by the cost and need to be very careful with the amount you use it can prevent you being really creative and experimental. Wet strength tissue is cheap and acid free, it works well for chine collee and enables you to try lots of different approaches.
Don’t fall into the trap of hoarding expensive paper and being too timid to use it! Liberate yourself and use plentiful cheap paper. You can always break into the pricey stuff when you feel confident about your printmaking methods.