Spectrophotometers Help Improve Color Fastness in Construction Paper


Posted on September 26, 2017

Paper was once called white gold. Its ubiquitous nature and seemingly endless demand fueled the pulp and paper industry around the globe as various paper forms became everyday essentials. But as the age of computers dawned, Frederick Wilfrid Lancaster’s concept of the paperless society, first imagined in the late 1970s, began to materialize. Computers were thrilling; data from 60 reams of paper could be stored on a 700 MB drive, facilitating data access and data portability while sidestepping concerns regarding deforestation. As TS Viswanathan, Managing Director of paper product company Subramaniam Brothers, writes, “In the 1990s, production of paper in the US in writing and printing grade was around 90 million tons, which has dipped to around 60 million tons; it is continuing to decline.”1

And, yet, even as computers—in their many forms—come to largely supplant written forms of communication and data storage, there is something special about paper. “Paper is literally like a character in our life story, but it’s a character we haven’t paid a lot of attention to,” says Todd Stone, creative director with Carmer-Krasselt, an advertising agency that recently produced a series of TV ads promoting the benefits of paper. “When we see it and notice it, its ubiquity becomes apparent, but its importance becomes apparent too.”2 Thomas Ehrlich and Ernestine Fu agree. “Paper allows complete creative freedom; there is unrestrained creative potential with a sheet of blank paper that we find liberating.”3

Indeed, there are some forms of paper that cannot be replicated by electronic simulacra. Chief among these is construction paper, which has no digital equivalent. With its unique texture and an endless array of colors, construction paper continues to offer possibilities for work and play computers cannot. But the production of construction paper can now benefit from modern, computer-based color measurement technologies to optimize color fastness and appeal in an increasingly paperless society.

The History of Construction Paper

Paper dates back thousands of years, but construction paper is a relatively recent development. In the late 1800s, the emergence of artificial dyes allowed for the production of vibrant “engine colored” papers, which mixed color into the pulp of the paper.4 Unlike coated papers, construction paper allowed for integrated, uniform coloration that could not be rubbed off. Its sturdy construction meant that the paper could be folded, perforated, and embroidered, making it ideal for children’s arts and crafts project while also acting as an integral part of elementary color theory in classrooms across the country.

However, children were not the only or even primary users of construction paper. These papers opened up new possibilities for artists who were previously limited to a restricted range of naturally-dyed papers that suffered from lack of diversity and vibrancy. Construction paper soon became a popular medium for both amateur and professional artists alike, with everyone from Gertrude Green to Chagall to Jackson Pollack using the material in their work in some way.

Color Challenges in Construction Paper

While the appeal of construction paper lies largely in its wide range of brilliant colors, those colors are inherently unstable. This can be readily observed in the dramatic color shifts of Ilya Bolotowsky’s collages, which obscure the artist’s intent, as well as the faded homemade Valentine’s Day cards of childhood. This color degradation is the result of UV interaction with the dyes as well as oxidized yellowing of lignin in the paper itself.

Although some artists intentionally seek out this color change, for most it acts as a barrier to construction paper use. As such, paper manufacturers have sought to improve color fastness in a number of ways, including the use of sulphite pulp and acid-free processing. Today, some manufacturers offer both “regular” construction paper made of groundwood pulp and more expensive “fade resistant” sulphite papers designed to appeal to those who want to minimize color shifts over time.

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