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Do You Need Cotton Linters to Make Paper?

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The beauty of making paper by hand is that you can customize it any way you want to.

You can add decorative elements to the slurry or press them directly on a freshly dipped sheet, but true customization begins in the blender. 

The material you choose to use when making your pulp will add a distinct quality and texture to the resulting handmade paper. 

Some paper makers advise using junk mail, copier paper, newspaper, and other scraps you may have lying around. Others say that quality paper begins with quality cotton linters.

So, what’s the truth?

Do you need cotton linters to make paper? Using cotton linters to make the pulp for handmade paper is an option, not a requirement. Cotton linters will produce a durable, sturdy piece of paper that holds up exceptionally well and resists fading. Paper scraps may also be used to make the pulp.

Although there is no doubt that cotton linters can produce a paper superior to that made of ordinary pulp, using them to make homemade paper by hand may or may not be right for you. 

It really depends on the intended use and the goals that you have in mind for your paper. 

What Are Cotton Linters?

Cotton linters are the short, fine fibers left behind on the cotton seed after the ginning process is complete. 

You see, cotton ginning separates the long, staple cotton fibers, which will mainly be used to make cloth, from the cotton seeds, which are used to produce cotton seed oil and livestock feeds.

In the process, the younger, shorter fibers which were not yet fully mature are left clinging to the seeds after ginning.

These seeds are then run through a machine linter twice to remove the remaining seed fibers, or hairs. 

The first time, the outer, longer fibers, are removed. These longer fibers are known as first-cut linters. 

The second time the seeds go through the linter, the shorter fibers closest to the seed are removed and are called second-cut linters.

The cotton linters are further cleaned and processed before being formed into sheets, perhaps shredded, and packaged for sale.

Paper made from cotton linter pulp is known as cotton paper, and in the paper-making world, cotton paper is held in high esteem.

Are Cotton Linters Necessary to Make Paper By Hand?

Cotton linters do produce a durable, strong paper, but they are certainly not the only material that can be used when making paper pulp. 

Can you use them to make paper? Absolutely.

Do you have to use them? Nope.

Just keep in mind that the quality of what you add to your blender directly affects the quality of the finished product. 

Most paper-making hobbyists will get by just fine without ever using cotton linters at all.

For those more seriously minded about handmade paper, perhaps with the intent to one day sell their paper as unique, custom stationary, then cotton linters are definitely worth trying.

If you wish to create a sturdy, smooth canvas for artwork or would like to ensure that any ink applied will be nicely absorbed and not prone to smearing, using cotton linters will give you the best results.

Why Use Cotton Linters?

Cotton linters produce a stronger paper that will last longer even when frequently handled and is unlikely to discolor over time. 

If you’re looking to make sheets of paper that are superb in quality, allow for rich, deep colors, and will last for many years without deteriorating, use cotton linters when making your pulp.

Once you’re familiar with making paper by hand, you may want to try using cotton linters to see for yourself the notable difference in texture and quality. 

Where to Find Cotton Linters

Online paper-supply companies often sell packs of cotton linters, both first and second cut or a blend of both.

Arnold Grummer’s Bright White Cotton Linters come highly recommended, as do all the products from this company.

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Arnold Grummer is one of the most highly regarded and well-known paper-making experts. In fact, his paper making kit (find it here) is in the #1 spot on my best paper-making kits list.

How to Use Cotton Linters When Making Paper

A handful of cotton linters can be added directly to the water (about ⅔ full) in your blender and blended until the consistency of the slurry is uniform – just as you would when using scrap paper.

You might want to allow the linters to soak in the water for a minute or two before turning on the blender to give the fibers time to rehydrate, but aside from that, the process is the same.

(If you’re not familiar with the steps of paper making, you can find a simple explanation of the basics in this article.)

Know that you don’t have to use only cotton linters to produce a quality sheet of paper. You can add just a tablespoon or two of linters in place of some of the scrap paper in your next batch of pulp. 

Even that small amount is sufficient to increase the quality of the resulting paper.

Making paper at home is really all about experimentation and creativity, so don’t feel like you need to strictly abide by a set of rules. 

Cotton linters aren’t terribly expensive, so try making one sheet using only linters, then make several other sheets using varying amounts of linters in place of scrap paper. 

That way, you’ll have a tangible comparison to see what ratios you prefer. 

Also, experiment with thinner and thicker slurry consistencies so you’ll be able to predict how thin or thick the resulting paper will be just by the “feel” of the slurry.

In no time at all, you’ll be a pro and will know what works best for you.

What Can I Use Instead of Cotton Linters?

As mentioned, cotton linters are not a requirement for making paper by hand

All types of paper, even unwaxed cardboard, can be recycled into a lovely, handmade piece of paper.

Instead of viewing that pile of old bills and receipts as an unsightly mess, look at it as a paper-making goldmine!

Here are some examples to give you ideas of what not to throw away anymore.

  • Newspaper.
  • Homework assignments.
  • Old tax records.
  • Toilet paper (unused please), paper towels, and napkins. 
  • Copier paper.
  • Construction paper.
  • Junk mail including envelopes (remove the cellophane strip in the window).
  • Wrapping paper and tissue paper.
  • Greeting cards.
  • Paper grocery bags.
  • Old phone books.
  • Weekly grocery store sales papers.

Be aware that paper that has any ink on it can absolutely be used, but the ink will likely cause the slurry and the finished paper to have a gray tinge, depending on how much ink is present. 

Adding Color to Your Paper

You may already know that one of the easiest ways to produce tinted paper is to use colored paper from the beginning in your slurry.

Alternatively, you could use mostly white paper to make the slurry, and then add a small piece or two of a colored paper and blend it just a little bit. 

This will result in small specks of color throughout an otherwise white paper – a lovely effect!

I share lots of fun, creative tips like this in my article “How Do You Add Color to Handmade Paper?”

What if you are using cotton linters in your pulp?

Are your options limited as far as coloring and decorating are concerned? The answer is no. You just may need to take a slightly different approach, depending on your goals.

If you are only adding a small amount of linters to an ordinary pulp, you can proceed to add color as you normally would.

Add colored paper, food coloring, paint, mica, glitter, or whatever your favorite happens to be.

However, if you are determined to produce a pure cotton paper without adding any paper at all to your slurry, you’ll want to stick with a form of pigment to dye the pulp.

Of course, you can add decorative elements such as dried herbs or small flowers, if you like, right after you dip out your sheet.

image showing a man crafting a piece of pottery on a pottery wheel - header graphic for the hobby ideas post on gigworker.com
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