Category Archives: Theory

Paper and its properties

As we live in uncertain yet innovative times, new and unique recycled papers have emerged. Paper manufacturers are challenging the medium in a multitude of ways. Gmund Bier for example is made of chlorine free pulp and spent brewer’s grain. The names of the collection indicating their fermented origins: Lager, Pils and Ale. G . F Smith created Extract, a paper made out of 90% of the waste from a coffee cup. Every 380gsm sheet of Extract paper contains at least 5 upcycled coffee cups. Curious Matter by Arjowiggins has a unique texture, created from raw potato starch, the by-product of the processing of potatoes into chips and fries in the food industry, and transformed into a surface coating that is unexpected to the touch. Fenner Paper distributes Crush by Favini. An eco-friendly paper that has been given a distinctive flecked texture and appearance by adding residues from fruits and nuts that are taken from agricultural food waste.

This image shows G F Smith, Extract paper swatch book on top of empty paper cups
G F Smith, Extract – Paper swatch book

When choosing paper for your project you want to make sure to think about its properties, history and usage as well as how it can communicate your project.

I spoke with Vanessa Fletcher, Consultant and Student & Graduate Specialist from G . F Smith about paper and how to choose the best material for your project.

Vanessa, how do you find out what the ideal paper for a particular project is?

As a consultant for G . F Smith, I am privileged to be involved in lots of unique projects. To really help a customer though it’s important we know what the specific use is for. Are they creating something that will need a paper to work in a particular way, or are they looking for a very specific colour. I ask as many questions as possible so that I can start to suggest a more bespoke offering. G . F Smith has a huge collection of papers, it can often be overwhelming to know which paper will best suit your project without any guidance. Our papers are specified for all types of projects, from packaging to greetings cards. If we find out exactly what the client is using the paper for, we are better informed to let them know which papers will suit their job. One client once asked me for a paper that was lucky! They were designing all of the assets for a new hotel in Hong Kong, they wanted the paper to have some connection to luck and prosperity as that was an important guideline for all materials used in the hotel. I was able to suggest a few papers based on colour, provenance (a lot of our papers are made around the world in unique mills with a lot of history) and what the paper was made from. For other less demanding projects, I could be asked to select a paper based on its printability. Some books will require a paper that is more opaque, while others will want a paper that can reproduce incredibly vibrant colours. We have a paper for almost every purpose!

The papers at G . F Smith vary in texture and materiality. How do you examine and assess a paper sample?

It sounds obvious but feeling the paper is hugely important. You can gauge how it will suit your project by sometimes just feeling it’s texture. It’s often feeling the difference between gsm’s that will inform a choice too. Look at the paper under different lights, colour can seem very different in natural light compared to synthetic light. I always suggest asking yourself when assessing which paper to use: is this right for the project? If you’re designing a high end coffee table style book full of rich colour printing, but you love the idea of a heavily textured paper, this might be the wrong use for that paper.

When making a final choice between similar papers do you have any tips for making a decision?

This is often a common problem when choosing between white papers. G . F Smith carry a huge amount of coloured, textured and specialist papers which are usually very unique and if specified there aren’t too many alternatives. However, G . F Smith also carry many white papers in our “fine uncoated” and “fine coated” collection. The difference between one white paper and the next can be confusing, but there are a few things to consider when making a final choice between similar papers. Cost can be a huge consideration, a paper that is made from cotton content will be more expensive than a regular paper. Also, does your project require a paper that is made from recycled content? Many recycled papers look very clean and almost identical to those made from virgin fibres. Weight and bulk are also a consideration; a paper with a higher bulk can be a great way to reduce the weight of your book but keep the thickness. This is often a key consideration for books that are shipped internationally as it makes for cheaper shipping.

When choosing paper the cost inevitably plays an important part in the final decision, both as a total cost across a project and the cost per item produced. Our students usually only need small quantities and therefore this isn’t always the case but could you give us an example on how costs can be considered without scarifying the quality of paper when it comes to commercial projects?

Cost is inevitably a huge deciding factor when producing a project. We are lucky that at G . F Smith we have a range of papers to suit most budgets. We do also try and recommend that paper is thought about carefully in a budget, its often the case that compromising on the material can make a job very expensive as it can sometimes lead to unsatisfactory printing etc and result in a reprint with a better paper. 

Can you give a good example of when a cheap paper has been the best choice for a project?

Our affordable papers are used for so many jobs, probably for jobs you’d expect to be produced on far more expensive papers. Quite often big fashion house look books, high end magazines and books will specify lower price point papers because of the sheer volume. However, sometimes a paper will be too beautiful to pass up pn the opportunity to not use for a specific project – that’s where you can get creative with budget. It’s often the case that a more expensive paper can be used if you are think about alternative solutions. Can you use less paper by making it smaller? Can you mix paper types and instead of using lots of expensive paper, mix in some affordable ones? Also think about your printing process, can you use less colours, less special finishes etc. Some beautiful print has had as little as just black ink on an amazing paper.

Do you have any advice for our students on how to create something intriguing and special during lockdown without having access to any particular facilities?

It’s difficult to think of making when you aren’t surrounded by your usual facilities and resources. Home inkjet printers can be great though, and experimenting with papers in them can have some nice outcomes. Paper can be used for more than just printing on too. Cutting, tearing, scorching, sewing into, folding are all ways to create and make without any facilities. There are interesting print processes you can experiment with too at home. Creating designs from cardboard to print ink/paint onto paper. Cyanotype is also a great technique. Sometimes the best and most explorative design can come out of restriction. I’d suggest using the G . F Smith sample service to order some sheets that you like the look of…sometimes just having the paper there in-front of you can inspire something you hadn’t thought of.  

The sample service at G . F Smith is available for students to have up to 12 x A3 sheets sent to a home address. Send your request to: studentsamples@gfsmith with your name, address and course. If you can’t access a G . F Smith swatch book, take a look on their website where you can see a full size image (and you can download it) to get an idea of what you’d like to order. Also, have a look at G . F Smith’s student update for this month here:

Screenprinting at home: a beginner’s guide to buying a screen

image of a 90t yellow mesh screen, painted ready for monoprinting
90t yellow mesh screen, painted ready for monoprinting

Screenprinting at home, or in a personal studio, takes a bit of investment so it’s good to do some research, seek advice and make sure you’re spending your hard earned pounds on the right equipment for your requirements.

Buying a screen can be confusing, as there are lots of options to choose from, and lots of opinions about what is best! The right choice for you may not be the same as for somebody else, so think carefully about what you hope to achieve with your printing.

You will need to think about:

  • The surface you want to print on to
  • The inks you want to use
  • The design you want to print

These are all factors in finding the right screen to suit your project, and also your budget.

Screen frame

The first choice you will need to make is the screen itself; what the frame is made from.

The two options are:

  1. Wood
  2. Metal (usually aluminium)

There are pros and cons to both.



  • Cheaper
  • Can be re-stretched by hand, particularly for textile printing


  • Warps over time with constant washing
  • Takes longer to dry
  • Re-stretching by hand can be difficult to do, especially with fine mesh



  • Lasts forever
  • Dries quickly after washing
  • Lightweight
  • Stretched professionally ensures an evenly stretched weave, even with fine mesh
  • Can be re-stretched many times without warping


  • More expensive
  • Can only be re-stretched professionally


Your next decision is your mesh.

We talk about mesh in terms of mesh count: this is the number of threads per centimeter.

For example, a 120t mesh has 120 threads in each direction, per centimeter, meaning it is very fine.

A 43t mesh only has 43 threads per centimeter, meaning it is coarser and therefore the weave is more open.

  • The higher the number, the finer the mesh.
  • The finer the mesh, the more detail you can print.

This diagram shows the difference in mesh counts:

diagram showing different types of screen printing mesh

The wider openings in the lower mesh count allow more ink to be pushed through the screen. This is beneficial when printing onto absorbent surfaces such as t-shirts and tote bags, or when using a thicker substance such as flock adhesive.

The smaller openings in the higher mesh count let less ink through, so that only a thin film of ink sits on the printed surface. This is good for paper so that there is less tendency for it to cockle as it dries.

There are lots of mesh counts to choose from but the most commonly used ones are:

43t – for printing on to textiles, using flock or foil adhesive, or using alternative inks such as conductive, thermochromic and glow in the dark. At LCC we use 43t and also 55t, which is a bit finer.

77t –  the ‘in between’ screen, can be used for printing finer detail on to smooth textiles, or on to heavy paper and card stock. At LCC it is often used for printing on to bookcloth and veneer for skateboards. A good option for home printing, as it gives you flexibility across different surfaces / inks.

90t – for fine detail, printing onto paper, card and other hard surfaces such as acrylic and metal. The most commonly used screens at LCC, and the screen I am using at home.

120t – for very fine detail and fine halftone dots, on paper.

(The ‘t’ after the number is a UK measurement, so be aware that American mesh count is different, if ordering online)

It is also worth noting that the finer the mesh, the more fragile it becomes, and also more expensive!

Mesh colour

image of yellow and white mesh on rolls for screen printing. ©Photo from
Which one, yellow or white mesh? ©photo from

You may have noticed that screens have different coloured mesh on them, usually yellow or white. Which one to choose?

This is to do with the exposure of screens in a UV exposure unit, when using photo emulsion stencils.

Yellow mesh absorbs some of the UV light, and so helps create a sharper and more defined edge to the design.

White mesh can deflect the light slightly, causing it to “bounce” or “scatter” which results in lower resolution and less definition.

However, it is only really noticable on finer mesh counts, normally 77t and above, which is why textile screens often have white mesh, and screens for printing on paper tend to be yellow.

For suppliers please see our links here, and of course do get in touch with any questions!

A23D: a 3D-printed letterpress font

capital K of the font A23D with a slightly inky surface
A few years after its realisation, A23D is well used and at home at New North Press

A23D is a 3D-printed letterpress font commissioned by Richard Ardagh of New North Press. The font is a prototype, connecting the newest and the oldest forms of print technology, and looking to the future of letterpress in the 21st century.

A project such as this requires expertise at every level. A font needed to be designed for 3D-printing, materials had to be tested. Letterpress is a precise science. A printable surface must be 23.32mm or 0.918″ high – type-high – and withstand the pressure and consistent wear of the printing press and process.

On-screen wireframe of a capital A
Wireframe drawings of A23D

Collaboration is key in a cross-disciplinary undertaking involving old and new technologies as well as the art of type design. When Richard had conceived the project, he approached renowned type designers Scott Williams and Henrik Kubel, of A2-Type, to design a font that ended up referencing the production method of 3D-printing. A23D SOLID became the starting point, and hidden core for the design of the A23D wireframe font.

part of an alphabet of capital letters in the font A23D, a hand is inserting a slug for spacing
The alphabet set up and ready for its first impression

Testing and production of the font was handled by Chalk Studios. Considering the demands set to the finished font, many tests had to be conducted in search for the right process and material. The letters were produced using polyjet 3D-printing, where layers of photopolymer liquids are built up and cured by UV light.

A23D letterpress setup, being inked in fluorescent green
A23D set up on the press bed for the initial specimen posters, designed by A2-Type

Since its creation in 2014, A23D has gone on to win an award for Typographic Excellence from Type Directors Club, New York and has been exhibited at V&A, London and Pompidou Centre, Paris. It has also been used as the basis for live project briefs at Chelsea, LCC and Plymouth art colleges. The font is now part of New North Press’ library and enjoys regular use in print projects.

Watch Adrian Harrison’s video documenting the project below to learn more about the design and production of A23D.

A23D: A 3D-Printed Letterpress Font, film by Adrian Harrison

POD (Print on Demand)

Print on demand was developed after the beginning of digital printing because it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology such as letterpress and offset printing. Therefore, POD is a printing process that allows for the production of single copies of a book, as and when an order has been received, allowing for short print runs, low production costs and immediate responses to an audience.

During this uncertain time, POD is an ideal medium to get your work printed and out there. I will show two projects, which explored and challenged the possibilities of POD, both have been produced in the timeframe between 2008 and 2012, which feels like a long time ago but given the circumstances the work still feels relevant and up to date.

You might argue that a POD publication is poor in its physical quality, but if you allow it to be like Johanna Drucker states in her The Century of Artists’ Books, a “self-conscious record of its own production” you are giving it the freedom of being what it is. A book printed without you having influence in its production.

Image of books: Variable Format
Variable Format, 2012

Variable Format is a sample book, a model, a serial system that explores the technological margins of print on demand and how reading is informed by the materiality of the book object. Examining the quality of print reproduction, paper, binding, cover and size, the book has been produced in twelve formats using different options of print on demand. Conceived by Lynn Harris, published by AND and designed by Åbäke with Pierre Pautler. Materials collected from the now closed library of the Byam Shaw School of Art form the content of a publication that is spread through twelve POD platforms. Instead of being resized to fit the various formats, a single layout is cut, so each printed artefact acts as a unique “framing” of the same source

Open spread of the book: Dear Lulu and it's cover
Dear Lulu, 2008

Dear Lulu is a test book which was researched and produced by graphic design students at Hochschule Darmstadt, Germany, during an intensive two-day workshop with London-based designer James Goggin (Practise). The book’s intention is to act as a calibration document for testing colour, pattern, format, texture and typography. Exercises in colour profiling, halftoning, point size, line, geometry, skin tone, colour texture, cropping and print finishing provide useful data for other designers and self-publishers to judge the possibilities and quality of online print-on-demand — specifically, with this edition. The project was afterwards extended to other platforms, such as Blurb and MagCloud.

A book can also be presented as a video trailer, as a single line of text, a performance documented, an essay, a series of stills, or as a downloadable pdf file. The book exists in physical form and in conceptual form. It travels further and quicker as an idea than as an object. Source: ABC