Working with historical processes gives us the freedom to choose the support we wish to print on. For gum printing a wide variety of papers can be experimented with, which include; watercolour, etching and some handmade papers. Ultimately paper choice will be determined by the results you are seeking. A paper that might work for a single coating of gum may not be tough enough for the repeated handling necessary with printing multiple coats.
My personal preference is to work with watercolour papers, which offer archival permanence, and provide the strength to deal with repeated physical handling, necessary for multiple gum printing. In choosing papers you want to consider the following;
- Ideally choose a paper weight of no less than 300gsm (anything under this just won’t be strong enough to deal with the constant physical handling). These days I work with papers in the 600-640 gsm range.
- Be aware that the surface texture of paper, after soaking and drying will usually be coarser than what you view before the first immersion in water. So choose a texture that is a little finer than what you desire in your final print.
- Coarser textured paper will handle greater physical manipulation than a smoother texture, however the smoother papers will print more detail.
- A good test for choosing papers for multiple gum printing is to immerse the paper in water - if it buckles and becomes very soft it probably won't work well. Also check how it dries - ideally you want the paper to dry reasonably flat, with minimal curling.
Over the years I have used a range of different papers. My initial experiments
were single coatings of gum on Rives BFK, un-sized. Later as I experimented
with multiple coatings I switched to Strathmore watercolour paper. My first
experiments with this paper were un-sized.
The list below is a selection of papers I have used at one time or another. Please note that manufacturers often change their process, so characteristics change over time.
- Fabriano Artisco - Hot Pressed and NOT - a solid paper with excellent wet strength and minimum curl on drying. It provides good dimensional stability and will handle a significant level of physical manipulation. Consistency from batch to batch is also good. The NOT surface has a noticeable texture which will not suit all tastes; the HP surface offers a good smooth texture that will hold detail well.
- Strathmore watercolour - I used this paper for years — initially without sizing, though later manufacturing changes required the application of sizing. I have been unable to source this paper now for many years.
- Bockingford - a good tough paper that works well for multiple gum printing — its texture does not suit all tastes.
- Saunders Waterford - Hot Pressed and NOT - I have successfully used this paper for some years but have found recent batches inconsistent.
- Arches - Another paper I have used successfully in the past but recent tests have shown significant buckling and distortion when immersed in water.