A look at the steps involved in the production of paper.
Printing paper – we use it for doodling, paper jets, makeshift greeting cards, confetti, and, on occasion, actual printing. But in the modern world of digital printing, the fact that we use printing paper so regularly can lead us to forget that paper was once the greatest invention that the world had ever seen.
Even though it doesn’t take days of pounding reeds together, the way that the ancient Egyptians did, the modern method of making paper is far from easy. Here is how that simple piece of white paper sitting on your desk came into being:
We all know that paper comes from trees, but it isn’t made out of the trees you find growing in the wild. While paper was once made from natural trees, it is now made from trees grown specifically for the purpose of making paper.
Paper is actually made from a tree extract called ‘cellulose’. South Africa joins Brazil, Chile, Canada, and parts of Europe, as an exporter of cellulose. To make the lives of paper manufacturers easier, cellulose arrives at their factories already extracted, and comes neatly packaged. Cellulose is packaged according to the length of the fibres, which determine the quality of the paper it will produce. Printer paper is usually made from short-fibre cellulose.
Here are the basic steps involved in turning cellulose into paper:
1. The cellulose is mixed with a healthy amount of water, so that it creates a paste of sorts.
2. Chalk is added to the emulsion. This not only helps with creating the white colour of the paper, but also helps create a smooth surface by filling the gaps in between the fibres.
3. The paste is ground to make micro-fibres from the cellulose. This will allow for an even smoother surface. The grinding releases more liquid, meaning that the paste is very fluid at this point.
4. The mix is then run through cyclone filters to help rid it of any impurities. If any impurities are left in the mixture, they could result in tearing once the paper has set.
5. The mixture is then spread across large screens, which can be up to half the size of a soccer field in length, but with a width of around five metres.
6. Various coloured dyes, such as blue and purple, are added to the mix. The amount is very small, but is enough to counter the natural yellow hue of the cellulose and have the paper appear white.
7. At this point the mixture is still highly fluid, so it is run between felt rollers which absorb roughly half of the paper’s water.
8. Starch is now added to the paper, which seals in the fibres and makes the paper slightly less absorbent, allowing its surface to accept ink without it blotting.
9. The paper is then dried using pressurised air before it is placed in the oven.
10. The paper rolls through the oven, the drums of which flatten the paper to the desired thickness.
11. The paper is scanned electronically for any inconsistencies. Computer software detects any areas which are not up to standard.
12. If the paper is considered to be perfect, it is placed on a roll that ends up weighing around twenty tonnes.
13. The roll is then transported to a machine that cuts the paper into standard size printing paper.
14. The final step is packaging, in which the paper is placed into reams, ready for distribution.
Even in the age of computers, digital printing is a vital part of society. And, for this very reason, we still need printer paper. This is why paper production remains one of the world’s biggest industries.