December 6th, 2010

What Everyone Needs to Know About Choosing Paper for Your Family Tree Chart

The first issue that you have to be concerned with when making your own framed custom family tree charts is your paper choice.  You may or may not be aware that there are a plethora of choices out there that you encounter when you want to print a large family tree PDF.  It can be a difficult choice and you have to know what you want before you print it out.  The wrong paper can be a costly error that you want to avoid.

Think of it this way.  When you’re building a house, you need a good strong foundation made from the correct materials so your house is stable and doesn’t collapse or deteriorate. The paper is the foundation of your family tree chart so you must choose your paper carefully.  You don’t want to go to all the trouble of making a custom framed family tree chart only to have it yellow or fade or crack before you’ve had a chance to enjoy it.  For paper selection, your main issue is to select a quality paper that is completely acid-free.  Let me explain:

Choose Archival Acid-Free Paper
Whether you select the paper yourself or allow a printing service to select the paper, absolutely demand that your paper is of archival quality.  The whole purpose of making a family tree is to preserve your family’s legacy, there’s no point to creating a framed family tree that will look dull and yellowed only a few years later.

I don’t want to bore you with technicalities but normal paper usually consists of a compound called Lingin (sometimes spelled as Lingen); this compound if not removed from the pulp during processing will eventually yellow and break down over time.  Typical factors that break down normal paper would be light, temperature variance and certain humidity levels.  The key to having a long lasting family tree is to purchase high quality paper that is acid-free.

Acid-free paper is usually treated with a chemical that will neutralize the natural compounds found in pulp like Lingin. I’m not sure of what the life expectancy of normal paper is (I’m sure it varies depending on the conditions it is exposed to) but I found many references online that indicate that acid-free paper will last over a 1000 years.  I think it’s pretty exciting to have my name on paper that will be around in a 1000 years!

Paper Weight/Thickness
If you have a printer at home, you’re more than likely using a weight of paper that is 20lbs.  That is the most frequently used version of paper.  I found this great description of how the weight of paper is designed on this page:

“Paper weight refers to the weight of a 500-sheet ream of 17″ x 22″ paper. Each of these sheets is equivalent to four letter size sheets. Therefore, 500 sheets of standard 20# paper weighs 5 pounds. The higher the paper weight, the thicker the sheet of paper. Higher weight paper is more durable and has a more substantial feel. It also allows less light to pass through. Standard 20# paper is used for everyday printing and copying, and for high-volume needs. Heavier paper is used for presentations and other applications where quality is important.”

An advantage of thicker paper is that it allows less light to pass through it’s molecules.  Less light equates to better longevity.  Ideally, you’re going to need a paper with a 120 to 140 lb rating.  Paper at this thickness are easily identifiable and exude a sense of quality that you can’t get from cheaper quality paper.  Go to a qualified printer in your area and touch the differences of the paper and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

Cotton Paper
If you’re looking online or in any print shop within your area, they probably stock artist quality paper.  The better paper in this class will use cotton exclusively as the material of choice.  The benefits of using cotton as a base material are many:

  • You can immediately see and feel the quality of cotton paper; it’s heavy, crisp and elegant.
  • Colours are much richer on cotton than they are on traditional paper.  If you compare traditional paper to cotton paper, you’ll notice that images appear brighter and seem to have far more depth on cotton paper.  Even to a non-expert, the difference is noticeable.
  • Cotton is incredibly tough. There’s a reason why many shipping packages use cotton as a base material; cotton can take a tremendous amount of abuse before it finally breaks down.  This strength translates to paper that is designed to take the abuse that your family tree will experience every day.

The very fact that your family tree is exposed to light, humidity and temperature variances means that you should select a material that can accept a certain amount of punishment without showing it.

Paper Brightness
Once again, I have to refer to this website to give you an explanation of the importance of paper brightness:

“Contrast is a key element between the toner or ink and the paper. The whiter the paper the better your copies will look. Most paper will have a brightness rating between 80 and 100. Higher numbers represent brighter paper.”

Depending on what family tree chart PDF you choose on my website, you’re probably going to want a paper with a higher brightness rating.  Generally speaking, higher brightness paper will present much better images when compared to lower brightness paper.

If you’re searching online, the better art suppliers will provide you with specs on paper that will show exactly what the brightness is of the paper.  I wish I could supply you with a few names of certain artistic paper manufacturers but as of the time I placed this post online, not one of the major art paper suppliers ever got back to me. That’s a shame, I would have liked to have more for you on this subject.  Should any of the manufacturers choose to contact me in the future, I’ll edit this post with more advice.

In the next few days, look for my post on Ink.  Find out the quick way to choose the right ink for your custom family tree chart.