Choosing & preparing paper

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.

Choosing paper

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;

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.

If you plan to make multiple exposures pre-shrinking is recommended. After paper has been soaked and dried for the first time its dimensions change — making it diffcult to accurately re-register the negative after the first printing.


So the first step is to pre-shrink the paper in hot water for up to 30 mins. Hang up to dry (do not use artificial heat to speed drying), and repeat the process.


Sizing helps ensure that you can successfully apply multiple coats of gum emulsion to the paper without problems of pigment staining (though the proportion of pigment/gum will also affect this). Pigment stain degrades the highlights and muddies additional applications of colour - so you definitely want to avoid it!


Sizing involves the application of a layer of hardened gelatine size to your preferred paper. This can either be applied by immersing the paper in a bath of size, or by applying by brush.


The sizing procedure is as follows;

Tray sizing
pour the gelatine size into a tray and immerse paper for 1-2 minutes
Draw the paper over the edge of the tray to dislodge any air bubbles on the surface of the paper (check for these on both sides — re-immerse paper if necessary), and hang up to dry.


Brush sizing
Mark out the negative area on the paper and use painters tape to protect the non-printing area. Once coated leave the tape in place for about 10 mins before removing. Hang up to dry — do not use heat to speed up the drying, this can cause the paper to dry unevenly which will cause problems with re-registering later.

Preparing paper
pre-shrinking & sizing