What is acid free paper?

Understanding Acid Free Paper

When it comes to preserving and protecting important documents, photographs, artwork, and more, acid free paper is an essential material. Also known as ‘Archival paper,’ acid free paper comes in various forms and serves multiple purposes. In this article, we will explore what acid free paper is and why it is crucial for long-term usage.

Is ‘Normal’ Paper Acidic?

Ordinary paper made from wood pulp is, in fact, usually acidic and becomes increasingly so as it ages. The natural degradation of lignin, a component of plant cells found in paper, causes it to turn acidic and break down over time. This makes most inexpensive paper and cardboard unsuitable for long-term use and storage. From the moment it is created, the paper begins to deteriorate. Cheaper papers, like newsprint, quickly become yellow and brittle due to the use of low-quality, unrefined pulp.

The Consequences of Acidic Paper

Acidic paper will gradually turn yellow, become brittle, and deteriorate at a relatively fast pace. Additionally, it can introduce acid to items stored with or in contact with it, such as photographs, artwork, and certificates, potentially causing damage. Therefore, if you intend to store, print on, paint on, or display a document or artwork for decades or even centuries to come, it is imperative to use acid free paper.

Factors Contributing to Paper’s Acidity

Apart from the paper itself, other factors can accelerate the acidification process. Exposure to UV light and heat speeds up the chemical reactions that cause paper degradation. You might have noticed that the edges of books placed on a shelf and exposed to light appear darker in color compared to the rest of the page. Additionally, external sources known as ‘migrant acidity’ can introduce acid to paper. This can include acidic materials like degraded PVC pockets, other acidic paper or cardboard, or even airborne pollutants.

What Makes Acid Free Paper Different?

Acid free paper or board is manufactured differently than ‘normal’ paper and uses alternative source materials. There are several types of acid free paper available, including:

  • Acid free wood pulp cellulose paper that has been purified to remove lignin and acids.
  • Japanese paper made from naturally acid free fibers found in the bark of specific trees, such as Kozo.
  • Cotton fiber (also known as rag) paper, which is naturally acid free.

Acid free archival paper is renowned for its longevity, with some varieties lasting over 1000 years. It is commonly used for preserving artwork, important documents, and textiles in long-term archival storage.

Various Forms of Acid Free Paper

Acid free paper or board is available in different forms to meet various requirements. The acid free property serves to protect and offer a long lifespan in each case. These forms include:

  • Acid free tissue paper: Ideal for wrapping and interleaving art, textiles, and documents.
  • Acid free repair paper and tapes: Used for the repair and reinforcement of paper documents.
  • Acid free paper stock: Suitable for general document use, art creation, interleaving, and backing frames.
  • Acid free card: Used for making folders and providing support for art and documents.
  • Acid free board: Employed for mounting, framing, backing, and box making.

Buffered and Unbuffered Acid Free Paper

While acid free paper is manufactured to be free of acid, it does not guarantee that acid cannot migrate from other objects or develop within the paper as it degrades. Buffered acid free paper contains agents that neutralize acids that might be introduced to the paper or develop within it. Buffering provides additional protection for both the paper and any item stored within it. It is generally beneficial; however, for some sensitive items, unbuffered acid free paper is recommended.

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