Exploring Paper
Exploratorium Magazine

Volume 23, Number 2

Handmade Paper - Page 1 of 2
Handmade Paper

Paper Image by Karen Mendelow
Illustrations by Stephanie Syjuco

apermaking is a fun project to do outside with friends on a sunny day, but it's easily done inside as well. It will take about two hours for the basic papermaking process, and you'll end up with around fifteen lovely sheets that you can use for cards, picture frames, or whatever your imagination suggests.


  • About 50 sheets of white photocopy paper from your recycling bin
  • About 12 sheets of colored photocopy paper or uncoated gift-wrap paper
  • 2 wooden frames that are flat across their top surfaces (5" x 7" picture frames work well)
  • A fiberglass or plastic screen (available at hardware stores)
  • A staple gun or tacks
  • A dishpan
  • A blender
  • Disposable kitchen cloths (Handiwipes, for example); 1 cloth for 2 sheets of new paper
  • A sponge
  • A stack of old newspapers
  • Paper enhancements: food coloring, potpourri, dried flowers, dried herbs and spices, seeds, thread, lint from the dryer, etc.
  • A packet of plain gelatin (needed if you're making stationery)

he ingredients for creating beautiful handmade paper are close at hand - just go mining in your paper recycling bin. You begin by pulverizing the waste paper. Then, after a few short steps, the fibers rejoin before your eyes to create new paper.

You'll be making 100 percent post-consumer content paper, which means that all your material has been used before - and that's really quite an achievement. Public demand for recycled paper has encouraged paper companies to retool their mills so that they can process paper that we recycle from our homes and offices. But a large percentage of recycled paper is made from pre-consumer material - misprints and overruns from printers, for example. Although 100 percent post-consumer content paper is available, most commercially made printing or writing grade recycled paper contains only 10 percent to 30 percent post-consumer waste.

While there are environmental costs in making recycled paper, the process has less of an ecological impact than that of making paper from raw materials. As you make your own paper, you'll observe the water and energy required to reprocess paper fiber. In commercial manufacturing, producing printing grade recycled paper can save as much as half the energy that's needed in making paper from wood pulp, and there's a savings of water as well. As you admire each beautiful and unique piece of handmade paper you've created, you will gain a first-hand understanding of the papermaking process and an appreciation of the importance of paper recycling and paper conservation.


1. Making the Mold and Deckle

Diagram Take your two picture frames and remove the glass and backing from both. (Or make your own frames out of wood.) To make the mold, stretch the screen tightly over the surface of one of the frames, and attach the screen to the back of the frame with a staple gun or tacks. The second frame will be used as the deckle, which makes the sheet of paper the desired size.


2. Preparing Your Material

The evening before you plan to make paper, sort the paper in your recycling bin by type. Used white photocopy paper is the best material to start with for the pulp base; avoid newsprint and glossy paper. Rip the copy paper into small pieces, roughly an inch square. Soak the pieces overnight in a bucket of water. Rip assorted sheets of colored paper into small pieces, and soak them separately. A good ratio to begin with is four times as much white paper as colored paper. Colored photocopy paper and uncoated gift-wrap paper are good choices, but glossy, brightly colored magazines can be used in small amounts for accents.


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