Question from a Reader: What Does Paper Weight Affect?

Reader DJ writes in with this question:

I have recently stumbled upon your blog along with some others. I am thrilled to finally have an outlet for my pen and paper passion. I’ve been reading a lot about Rhodia pads and some of the notebooks I already owned. I see that there are different paper “weights”? What does this affect? What should I look for in paper if I enjoy using a pen such as TUL? These type of pens seems to write very wet but even with me being a lefty, over-writer, I do not have trouble with smearing. I see all these notebooks but are there heavier loose leaf papers available?  I would appreciate any and all feedback to help me along in my new quest.

My brief answer about paper weight, i.e. thickness, is that it mainly affects ink bleeding through, and if you’re using watercolors, how much the paper might buckle. I think smearing is more a function of the texture of the paper surface than its thickness. Some thick papers may still have a very smooth surface that makes ink take longer to soak in. But I’m not really a fountain pen user, so I’m turning the rest of the question over to those in the audience who are! Please chime in with suggestions. Thanks!

3 thoughts on “Question from a Reader: What Does Paper Weight Affect?”

  1. Okie dokie…. lets see what I can contribute here….

    “Good” quality paper for writing, is paper that doesn’t bleed, feather or show through when ink is applied to it. Rollerball & ballpoint pen inks (and I believe gel pens like Tul as well) are all oil based inks. These inks typically are not the sort that you have to worry about bleeding or feathering – it’s the water based fountain pen inks where you will see this happen.

    “Good” quality paper has a high clay content, which means the more resistant to ink (specifically water based inks) it will be. Unfortunately, a characteristic of such papers like Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Paperblanks – is that because the surface resists ink, ink takes longer to dry on the surface. Fast writers or leftie overwriters may experience smudging if not careful. And some inks (like Noodler’s red-brown) take longer to dry than others. Try using it on Clairefontaine Triomphe writing paper and you will be waiting a while for it to dry unless you use a blotter. Trying to paint with watercolor on writing paper often doesn’t yield the best results because the paper won’t absorb the water.

    In my mind, paperweight is a personal preference, as there are papers such as Smythson featherweight paper that are tissue thin- but yet no ink I tested bled through or feathered. It’s also very expensive…… Theoretically, you would think that a thicker paper would be less prone to bleed but that isn’t so. It’s totally connected to the manufacturing process. in some cases, papers of the same weight and manufacturing process will have different results if the paper has lines on it because that’s a separate step in the process. For me, I find plain Clairefontaine notebooks to be more pleasing to write on than lined Clairefontaine notebook paper. The lined paper is so resistance to fountain pen ink that I sometimes notice a “drag” when writing on it’s surface – but that also could be related to the inks viscosity or how firmly I’m gripping the pen.

    All in all, I’ve been searching for over a year for the perfect pen/ink/paper combination and I’m still working on it. Please feel free to peruse the reviews on my blog on the different pens/inks & papers that I’ve tested.

    PS – YMMV – or, “Your mileage may vary” when testing similar products.

  2. Primarily paper weight affects feel. Bleeding is more down to the structure of the fibres in the paper, as opposed to the sheer number of them. If you happen to have paper which is very heavy but very absorbent you just have blotting paper. Generally, though since heavy papers are often classed as luxury products, they’re often put together better and use better pulp and so don’t bleed so badly as cheaper varieties.

    I keep a stack of heavier weight paper next to my printer for serious correspondence, legal letters, job applications, that sort of thing because it feels better and looks more luxurious. As long as you choose a paper and ink combination which doesn’t bleed it doesn’t really matter how light it is but printing/writing letters on heavier grade paper may give a positive impression.

  3. I think a full response would require a book or two. The short answer is that if you are using a ballpoint or gel ink pen and if you don’t press down too hard, then you shouldn’t have to go to too heavy to have a satisfactory paper. Essentially, these pens are designed to give consistent results.

    Heavier papers are generally for artists who want to control the intensity of the mark left on the paper. For pencil, thicker papers can have more “tooth”, the ability to wear lead from the pencil. For watercolor paint, the weight avoids buckling as previously noted but also allows “hot press”, “cold press”, and other finishes. The thicker paper also holds more water thereby allowing more time to control paint flow.

    Fountain pen users (such as myself) are the troublemakers since we want a pen that glides across the surface of the paper leaving a line of deep, rich, beautiful ink that doesn’t smear. It will be found by future archaeologists who will praise our penmenship. So, we spend years trying to find the right combination of pen (variables: ink flow, nib width, nib material), ink (color, lightfastness, drying speed, feathering), and paper (thickness, sizing, tooth, color). All these variables will matter. To preserve your sanity, the best approach is to pick one (ink, pen, or notebook) that you do not want to change and then optimize the other two to suit it. Otherwise, you will go round and round with changes.

    …that was therapeutic.

    Heavier papers

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