Washi Digital Printing - Part I

Eldridge Cleaver pinned this one. “There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem.”

That is one quote I seem to ponder on a daily basis. To ignore any problem and do nothing is much like being part of the problem. Over the past several years I have been having some serious moral heartburn over printing inkjet prints on traditional photographic paper. The more images I print, the more trees get harvested to make the paper. This creates a catch 22 of sorts. Print the images and slowly watch the trees die, or don’t print the images and stare at the blank walls. To call me a tree hugger would be exaggerated. I do love the trees, yet trees are engrained upon our society as a much needed resource. My moral compass is spinning out of control here. If we continue to whack enough trees, there will serious consequences. For me to sit around and watch those gentle giants fall for the sake of an inkjet print is not an option. Thus the phrase, you are either part of the solution, or part of the problem. I have decided it is high time for me to be part of the solution. Lucky for me I found the answer. Paper making companies have responded with very creative solutions. One of those solutions turned out to be right in front of my nose.

My platinum palladium took on new meaning many years ago with my discovery of washi. Washi is the Japanese word for the traditional papers made from the long inner fibers of the three most popular plants. The term washi comes from wa meaning Japanese and shi meaning paper. The history of washi dates back to the 8th Century. Washi is far too delicate and thin to be used on an inkjet printer. The inks would bleed right through the paper. The Awagami company decided to challenge that problem and make a washi that can tolerate an inkjet printer. Awagami makes both handmade and machine made washi. Handmade washi is the best, yet machine made is more appropriate for digital printing.

Both handmade and machine made washi fall into three main types.

kozo

Kozo - (plant) The inner bark of the kozo mulberry plant is beaten and mixed with water to produce a paste. That paste is then further refined and poured onto screens to dry.

gampi

Gampi - (bush) The gampi bush is commonly known as the king of fibers. I use Sekishu (sah-key-shoe) Toriniko Gampi to print my platinum palladium images. There are currently no variations of gampi that are coated for digital printing. Perhaps in the future that will change.

mitsumata

Mitsumata - (plant) The bark is beaten and reduced to a pulp like paste. The paste is then refined and poured onto a screen to dry.

 

bamboo

I did say there were three plants. A more recent entry into the washi family is bamboo. The main ecological benefit of bamboo is the sustainability. Bamboo tends to grow at very fast rate. All things being considered, bamboo is one of the best papers for digital printing on the market. The use of bamboo for digital printing has exploded over the past several years. The Agawami paper company arguably makes the best digital bamboo paper. There are only a few handful of companies even making washi anymore. The recent trend to print images digitally has driven a huge demand for exotic papers. Every year there are more variations of machine made washi introduced. There is even a handmade digital washi paper being made. More on that in a few.

 

awagami

I ordered a sample pack of Awagami digital washi. There is only one distributor in the United States. Perhaps that will change with more demand for the paper. The sample pack contained 18 sheets of different washi. For testing purposes I printed a 5”x7” image on one half of the paper. The other half will have another image printed later. The image of the tree detail was chosen for the test. This image has some good tonality and depth. Before I talk about the results of the testing, I want to cover more of the details of the paper tested.

Tree Details

 

Points to ponder

Deckled Edges – The traditional process of making paper by hand involves using a wooden fence called a deckle. The deckle is used to hold back the wet paper pulp (slury) as it is poured into a wooden frame. The deckle is then removed and the slurry is shaken inside the mould to reduce excess water. This action allows the slury to creep to the edges of the mould in an uneven fashion. A deckled edge is that classic torn paper look. A true deckled edge can only be made during the paper making process.

European Sheet Paper Sizes – The washi is only available in European paper sizes.

A4 – 8.3” x 11.7”

A3 – 11.7” x 16.5”

A2 – 16.5” x 23.4”

A1 – 23.4” x 33.1

Grams per square meter (gsm) – This is by far the most confusing measurement of paper. The average weight of paper used in an inkjet printer is around 75-85 grams per square meter.

Washi Tested

Bamboo – The bamboo paper came in three different weights.

  • 170 gsm
  • 220 gsm
  • 250 gsm

There are really only two noticeable differences between the variations. The 220 gsm weight is available only in an A4 size. All of the four edges are deckled. The 170 gsm is available in roll paper for larger prints. The image quality for all weights is identical. The weight of the paper is of little concern when placed into a frame. Bamboo has a subtle textured feel with a matte surface. The paper really comes to life with black and white images.

Inbe – There were three very scientific weights of this white kozo paper.

  • Thin
  • Thick
  • Extra thick

No need to measure this paper. This paper is very organic in nature and will vary slightly in thickness. The thin version is so thin that a backing sheet of some sort is required. The backing sheet will dictate the overall color of the paper.

Mitsumata Double Layered– An off white paper so thin that two pieces are bonded together to produce a double layered washi. The texture is very subtle, yet effective as to not overpower the image.

Murakumo Kozo Select- Thin is the slice of bologna that has only one side. Murakumo kozo is so thin it appears to have only one side. The delicacy of this paper shows through as the fibers give that traditional antique look of washi. This washi comes in white and natural color.

Traditional Kozo – This is by far the most popular flavor of washi. There were four variations of the traditional Kozo. The thin kozo is slightly transparent and has that classic organic look of the plant fibers showing in the lightest areas. The looks is still subtle and does not distract from the image. The double layered kozo is still thinner than most of the washi tested.

  • White Thin
  • Natural Thin
  • Natural Thick
  • Double Layered

 

Premio Washi – The Premio series of washi is made by laminating two thin sheets of Kozo together.

  • Premio Kozo- A heavier kozo fiber paper with a smooth and subtle surface.
  • Premio Inbe – Heavier washi with a slight cream tint. Smooth surface with little fibers showing.
  • Premio Unryu – This is perhaps the most unique washi. The long fibers of the Kozo plant are embedded into the paper resulting in a visible random pattern. Very appropriate for the right image. The wrong image could be overwhelmed by the pattern of the kozo fibers.

Bizan – This is the finest handmade washi available. Each sheet is made one at a time by master craftsmen. The finished sheet has a textured look similar to watercolor paper. This is truly a classic washi. The thick Bizan is by far the best. This is also the most expensive washi for digital use. The larger sheets of Bizan also have deckled edges for that fine art look.

  • Medium – 200 gsm
  • Thick -300 gsm

For now it is time for an intermission. The foundation is now set for the testing to take place. In the second post I will share the results including how the image looks on a few of the best sheets of washi. Stayed tuned for more.