Fig. 17.—Drawing of sizing of paper.

In applying the size to the paper a four-inch broad flat paste brush is used. The paper is laid on the slanting board and the size brushed backward and forward across the paper from the upper end downward. Care must be taken not to make creases in the paper, as these become permanent. To avoid this the lower end of the sheet may be held with the left hand and raised when necessary as the brush passes downwards. The waste size will run down to the basin, but the paper need not be flooded, nor should its surface be brushed unnecessarily, but it must be fully and evenly charged with size. The sheet is then picked up by the two upper corners (which may conveniently be kept unsized) and pinned at each corner over a cord stretched across the workroom. The sheets are left hanging until they are dry. The Japanese lay the paper on the cord, letting the two halves of the sheet hang down equally on either side.

The process of sizing and drying the sheets of paper is illustrated in a print shown in the collection at the South Kensington Museum.

When the paper is quite dry it is taken down, and if required at once for printing should be cut up into sheets of the size required, with sufficient margin allowed to reach the register marks. It is best to cut a gauge or pattern in cardboard for use in cutting the sheets to a uniform size.

A few sheets of unsized paper are needed as damping sheets, one being used to every three printing sheets. The damping sheets should be cut at least an inch wider and longer than the printing sheets. Two wooden boards are also required. The sheets of printing paper are kept between these while damping before work.

To prepare for work, a damping sheet is taken and brushed over evenly with water with a broad brush (like that used for sizing). The sheet must not be soaked, but made thoroughly moist, evenly all over. It is then laid on one of the two boards, and on it, with the printing side (the smoother side) downward, are laid three of the sized sheets of printing paper. On these another moist damping sheet is laid, and again three dry sheets of printing paper, face downwards, and so on alternately to the number of sheets of the batch to be printed. A board is placed on the top of the pile.

The number of prints to be attempted at one printing will vary with the kind of work and with the printer's experience. The printing may be continued during three days, but if the paper is kept damp longer, there is danger of mould and spotting. With work requiring delicate gradation of colour and many separate block impressions twenty or thirty sheets will be found sufficient for three days' hard work. The professional printers of Japan, however, print batches of two hundred and three hundred prints at a time, but in that case the work must become largely mechanical.[4]

The batch of paper and damping sheets should remain between the boards for at least half an hour when new sheets are being damped for the first time. The damping sheets, all but the top and bottom ones, should then be removed and the printing sheets left together between the boards for some time before printing. An hour improves their condition very much, the moisture spreading equally throughout the batch of sheets. Before printing they should be quite flat and soft, but scarcely moist to the touch. If the sheets are new, they may even be left standing all night after the first damping, and will be in perfect condition for printing in the morning without further damping. No weight should be placed on the boards.

Although no paper has hitherto been found that will take so perfect an impression from colour-blocks as the long-fibred Japanese paper, yet it should be the aim of all craftsmen to become independent of foreign materials as far as possible. There is no doubt that our paper-makers should be able to produce a paper of good quality sufficiently absorbent to take colour from the wet block and yet tough enough to bear handling when slightly damp.

If a short-fibred paper is made without size, it comes to pieces when it is damped for printing. But the amount of absorbency required is not so great as to preclude the use of size altogether. It is a problem which our paper-makers could surely solve. A soft, slightly absorbent, white paper is required. At present nothing has been produced to take the place of the long mulberry fibre of the Japanese, which prints perfectly, but it is far from being pure white in colour. A white paper would have a great advantage in printing high and delicate colour schemes.