Most modern papers are largely composed of cellulose fibres derived from wood. Other fibres such as cotton, linen, hemp and straw are also used but are less common. The quality and type of cellulose fibres in a paper can significantly affect its properties and can contribute to wear and tear of machinery and equipment.
Paper has various properties that contribute to its performance, the most notable of which are pH level, strength, opacity, whiteness and brightness.
Acidity and alkalinity are measured on a scale known as the pH scale. Papers with a high level of acidity tend to deteriorate quickly. This is because the acids in the paper attack the cellulose fibres and weaken its structure. This type of deterioration causes paper to become very brittle and discoloured and in extreme cases, so brittle as to disintegrate on touch.
Certain ingredients in paper can also cause acid to form as the paper ages, chief among these is lignin, a common impurity in paper made from wood pulp. Acidity from external sources such as air pollution and finger grease can also affect paper. For a paper to be considered truly permanent, it must have a level of alkaline material added during its manufacture to neutralise these acids as they form.
The physical strength of a paper affects its longevity. A paper needs to be strong to withstand such things as high-speed photocopiers or printing processes, and repeated use as the paper ages. The longer its fibres, the stronger a paper will be. Some papers also have additives to increase strength.
A satisfactory degree of opacity is required in printing and writing papers to avoid show-through from the opposite side of the printed sheet. A degree of whiteness is also desirable as this affects the contrast of the image and the overall print quality.
Recycled paper is made from cellulose fibres derived from waste paper and paper products. The processes and chemicals used to remove adhesives, inks and other contaminants generally result in a paper stock with very short fibre. This means recycled papers tend to be weak and have poor tear strength and fold endurance. Widely available recycled papers contain either 80 per cent or 100 per cent recycled fibre, and their performance characteristics can differ markedly.
Standards Australia has produced a standard for permanent paper (AS 4003 – 1996) which recommends papers with appropriate chemical stability, but not the physical durability required by the National Archives. Our own specifications include an additional requirement that strength properties must not substantially diminish over time. For Commonwealth records with a long-term retention period (such as greater than 100 years), we advise that paper meeting our own standard of archival quality be used. Papers featuring the National Archives' registered watermark satisfy this specification.
Archival paper is formulated to have both the chemical and the physical properties to ensure it remains usable for long periods. Chemical stability is ensured through the addition of an 'alkaline reserve' of calcium or magnesium carbonate to combat acid degradation. Physical strength is ensured through the use of long, high quality fibre such as cotton or fully bleached chemical wood.
An environmentally preferred paper or paper product is one which, in its characteristics, manner of production and manner of disposal or degradation, is calculated to have less impact on the environment than a paper of comparable performance.
Recycled, permanent and archival papers can be considered to be environmentally preferred, provided they are used for the appropriate applications. For example, creating permanent records on recycled paper increases the likelihood that they will need to be copied at a later date, or treated to keep them in a useable state. Therefore, recycled paper is not considered to be a suitable paper for creating records of long-term value.
Documents and publications that will be kept for less than 30 years may be suitable for production on recycled papers. Examples of these records are:
Documents and publications that need to be kept for longer than 30 years (determined according to proper appraisal assessment) should be prepared on papers which provide both chemical stability and physical durability. Examples of these records are:
Papers intended for photocopiers and laser printers have specifically formulated strength, surface, and moisture properties to meet the operational requirements of those machines. Recycled paper, both 100 per cent and other, should only be used for photocopying and laser printing if it is specifically formulated for these uses, ie if it is a recycled photocopy paper, rather than just a recycled bond paper.
Problems such as incorrect feeding, jamming in rollers, and damage to the copying equipment may occur if incorrect paper is used. Dust and lint produced by recycled papers can build up in the printing unit and cause stacking or jamming in the rollers while the machine is running. Problems in print quality can also occur if the composition and surface treatment of the paper are not correct as the toner may not adhere to the paper surface while the paper is in the machine or after leaving it.
Guarantees may become void if incorrect paper is used in a machine. Maintenance contracts for photocopiers and similar equipment should be consulted before using 100 per cent recycled paper. Documents on thermal paper from facsimile machines or whiteboard printers should always be copied onto either recycled or archival paper before filing.
The selection of paper for printing and publishing is related to the end-use, and the performance of the paper in the printing press and binding equipment.
Publications intended for continuous reading require a matt or low-sheen, off-white paper to prevent glare and eyestrain. Uncoated paper is the most suitable. Recycled papers are suitable, provided they meet the requirements of machine operations and shelf life.
Publications with a mix of illustrations, photographs and text should be printed on coated papers with a dull, rather than gloss, finish to allow the fidelity of the pictures to be maintained without impairing readability. An alternative is to have the text on uncoated paper and the illustrations on coated paper.
Publications to be retained for longer than 30 years should be printed on uncoated archival paper. Coated papers have a special surface to provide specific printing characteristics and records printed on them can be irretrievably damaged if they become wet. Their salvage and treatment is very costly because the coating tends to stick the sheets together when wet.
Contact the Agency Service Centre.