Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What is Cartridge Paper?

Do you know what cartridge paper is or why it's called cartridge paper?

I came across an article this morning (while writing a Product review: The Derwent Safari Journal - the Journal uses cartridge paper!) which explained all about it. It was so intriguing I started to look for more references as I always get questions from people in the USA whenever I use the term cartridge paper.
Basically I use cartridge paper to mean a reasonable quality decent weight (heavy) drawing paper.

I often draw in my drawing classes on good quality acid free cartridge paper. It typically comes in weights between 150gsm and 300 gsm. TN Lawrence & Co define cartridge paper as having the following dimensions 661mm x 534mm.

But here's the Free Dictionary definition
1. cartridge paper - thick white paper for pencil and ink drawings;
drawing paper - paper that is specially prepared for use in drafting
2. cartridge paper - paper for making cartridge cases;
paper - a material made of cellulose pulp derived mainly from wood or rags or certain grasses
Free Dictionary
...and this is the Inveresk definition
Cartridge paper: Tough, slightly rough surfaced paper used for a variety of purposes such as envelopes; the name comes from the original use for the paper which formed the tube section of a shotgun shell.
Inveresk - Glossary of Papermaking Terms
Plus here's the start of the article I mentioned which I found on the Griffen Mill website
The origin of cartridge paper is usually thought to have been associated with the manufacture of ammunition but this is not strictly true. The link between gunpowder, fireworks and paper is much older. Bamboo firecrackers, fuelled by gunpowder, became an important part of Chinese religious rituals and festivals from c.500AD. The Chinese though were well aware of the killing power of these explosive devices and quickly applied them to warfare. Within about 100 years, they were using gunpowder to create a variety of explosives, including bombs and "fire arrows" - bamboo firecrackers attached to regular arrows and shot at the enemy. It is believed that around 600 AD rather than using bulky bamboo stems, firecracker makers began filling paper tubes with gunpowder and inserting fuses made from tissue paper with a trail of gunpowder inside.

This application is the first known use of “cartridge” paper.
Griffen Mill - Miscellanea - The opening shot
Interestingly it also explains another phrase in common use
The cartridge paper supplied to the Board of Ordnance for muskets had to be made to tight technical specifications, as it had to perform several functions. The description of loading a musket makes this clear.

To load the musket the soldier held it horizontally, took out his paper cartridge & tore open the powder end with his teeth. (Hence the origin of the saying “to bite the bullet”)
Griffen Mill - Miscellanea - The opening shot
I've added the references into my information site Paper and Non-Canvas Supports - Resources for Artists.

Most UK suppliers can offer a range of pads of cartridge paper. You can find a range of sheets of good quality heavy weight cartridge paper on the Heaton Cooper website.


  1. I try out various papers but always come back to cartridge paper, it's much underrated I think, probably becuase it sounds too ordinary! Btw, Katherine, the Griffin Mill links don't seem to work.

  2. How very weird! Same happened for me.

    I've got the complete site still up in another screen and I can't work out why it's a problem.

    I'll dig around and see what I can do.

  3. I've found the website which is - but can't find that page

    Which is a huge pity as it had some outstanding historical information about paper-making on it.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. It's irrelevant to the subject "cartridge paper", but I thought that "to bite the bullet" referred to the practice of giving the patient, having his leg removed without anesthetic, a lead bullet to bite on to prevent him from biting his tongue.

  6. I thought it was something like that too - but this one actually makes more sense to me.

  7. I have often wondered what it was, having seen references to it in UK books and magazines. Thank you for clearing up the confusion!

  8. I don't think I buy the biting off the end of the cartridge explanation of "biting the bullet." After all, the bullet wasn't IN the cartridge. That was added afterwards. :)

  9. That may well be the case Harry - the problem we have here is the general lack of explanation about the origins of cartridge paper on the web.

    Given the nature of the paper it's reasonable to assume it is linked to cartridges.

    Wikipedia states the following

    The original musket bullet was a spherical lead ball two sizes smaller than the bore, wrapped in a loosely-fitted paper patch which served to hold the bullet in the barrel firmly upon the powder. (Bullets that were not firmly upon the powder upon firing risked causing the barrel to explode, with the condition known as a "short start".),

    Interestingly I can't find any definitive source for the use suggested by Geoff. It's referenced but not sourced. The only source quoted uses it in its metaphorical idiom.


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.