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Know your paper terms: Wood-free paper

If you’ve been browsing paper catalogues, you’ve probably come across something called ‘wood-free paper’. Since paper is usually made from wood pulp derived from trees, you may be surprised to see so many paper products labelled wood-free.

In fact, the term can be rather misleading if you’re unfamiliar with the papermaking process. Wood-free doesn’t actually mean the paper in question was not made with wood pulp. Instead, it means that the lignin has been removed from the pulp, generally by a chemical process.

Paradoxically, lignin is the material that provides much of the tree’s strength. In its natural state, it confers resilience and rigidity. Yet, its presence causes paper to weaken and turn yellow as it ages. Eventually, the paper starts to deteriorate (think of antique books with crumbling pages).  

The reason for this is that lignin releases acid as the paper ages, which degrades the cellulose. That’s fine in single use papers (think of yellowing old newspaper) but not acceptable for applications in which you wish to preserve the quality of a paper product.

Wood-free paper for art and archiving  

It stands to reason that wood-free paper should be used in any premium applications where quality, durable paper is needed.

To preserve important documents and art works, acid-free paper with little lignin, often with an added alkaline buffer to further prevent acid erosion, is indicated. 

Where exceptional longevity is required, special acid-free archival paper is preferred. These papers are often made with cotton rag or other pulp comprised mostly of cellulose. In those cases, the paper may be considered truly wood-free in the common-language as well as industry sense. 

Which wood-free paper is right for you?

If you’re in the market for premium paper for your next project, you’ve probably heard that you should choose wood-free paper. But as discussed above, ‘wood-free’ refers to a very specific element of paper’s formulation. 

Wood-free papers come in a huge range of finishes and formats. Depending on the nature of your project, you may need coated or uncoated wood-free paper, constructed to any number of specifications.

Given that high quality papers are designed for different applications, there’s really no such thing as a one-size-fits-all paper. To ensure the highest quality standards, and the most appealing final product, choosing the appropriate paper makes all the difference. 

If that sounds confusing, don’t worry. There are people who deal with this stuff for a living. For any advice or information about choosing the perfect paper for your next project, no matter how large or small, give Peters Papers a shout. Years of practical experience means that we don’t just know paper on a theoretical level, we understand how different papers perform in the real world.

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