Uses of Washi

What separates Japanese washi papers from the many other papers in the world? There are two factors. One is range - the continued expansion of the Japanese "line" over 1400 years to include literally thousands of variations – handmade and machine made – both made with great attention to detail. The second factor is flexibility of use of the papers made from kozo, mitsumata and gampi. Though the papers often look the same, the particular qualities differ.


The special absorbency, strength and texture of washi results in unique images. Traditional Japanese printing was done by woodblock, but washi is also effectively used for wood engraving, linoblock, or letterpress techniques. It responds well to embossing, and can be used effectively for multi-colour lithographs and chine-collé (etching). Rembrandt often used Japanese paper for his fine etchings, David Milne painted on gampi tissue, and Canadian Inuit have for some years used washi to elicit the best results in their stone and stencil prints.

The broad range of textures, colours and patterns of the paper, and its wet strength, make washi a highly appropriate material for collage. Chiri papers, with their bark fragments and chiyogami are favourites for collage though all washi is suitable. In recent years, artists often paint watercolour over richly collaged "canvases."

Washi has been used traditionally in screens and lamps and more recently in shutters and blinds to utilize its translucency. Mino, 'silk', seikaiha and unryu are commonly used. After being moistened, washi will shrink slightly when it dries, thereby tightening it more securely on a frame.

Washi's strength and flexibility make it excellent for book covers and end papers or for book sleeves and boxes. Its wet strength makes it ideal repair tissue. Kyoseishi, ungei heavy, 'silk', chiri and chiyogami are among those strong enough for book covers. Usumino and Kurotani #16 make especially strong repair tissue, but tengu, mino, and yame are also suitable.

Sumi-e and Shodo
Japanese printing and brush-writing using sumi, a natural carbon-based ink, are at their best on washi. Ise, kai, mino and all Kurotani papers are a few particular favourites for this use. 

Many traditional uses of the paper have endured: origami, kites, doll and umbrella-making and unparalleled packaging. Today, its uses are limitless: paper jewellery; to cover mats in framing; used as a background for photography and to develop photographs on; to cover walls and furniture; to produce memorable wedding invitations and for a host of graphic design and public relations promotions.

As time goes on, modern technology replaces much of the traditional process. Still there are those paper-makers left who will not compromise. According to the Japanese – "Things of excellence shall not die."


A Japanese Paper for Every Creative Industry

Who uses Washi in their creative work?

  • Artists

  • Bookbinders

  • Conservators

  • Craftspersons

  • Graphic Designers

  • Interior Designers

  • Manufacturers

  • Painters & Drawers

  • Printmakers



In the hands of artists, washi - traditional handmade Japanese paper - made from kozo, gampi and mitsumata are at their best.

If made without chlorine, with carefully-prepared fibers, these papers are strong, translucent, malleable, warm to the touch and absorbent with beautiful slightly textured surfaces. It is this multiplicity of characteristics that offers potential to the artist like no other medium. The excitement for the artist comes from exploration of these qualities, often a long journey which results in truly unique expression.

One can print, dye, draw, paint, cut, paste and stitch these papers to alter the surface, all of which can simply be framed as art. Beyond that, an artist or craftsperson can use the other qualities of the paper he has 'altered' to make a book cover or end paper, a lamp or candle-shade, window covering, screen, hanging sculpture, box, piece of clothing or jewellery, wallpaper or cushion. These items then have dimension and resonance well beyond the norm.



Bookbinders love the colouful patterned Chiyogami (silkscreened) and Katazome-shi (stencilled) papers for cover and end papers. And although these papers are not made with a pure kozo base, the printing techniques give them a surface that wears very well.

Any of the natural kozo papers (Nishi-kaji, Tengu-jo Heavy, Uwa Senka) can be marbled or dyed or stencilled by an artist quite readily, and it creates a unique paper which can then be used on or in a book. Kozo is certainly the strongest paper for making books and boxes, and it is important for the bookbinder to know the percentage of kozo in the paper he/she is using. It should be at least 70% to be strong enough to wear as a cover. Using leather or bookcloth corners and spine ensures that the paper in the covers will be especially long-wearing. Gampi 's exquisite sheen and ivory color can contribute a special aesthetic touch to a project but is tricky to use and not as strong as kozo



Kozo is appropriate for almost any paper conservation technique because of its wet strength, its long strong fiber (10-15mm) and its malleability. For guarding signatures, hinging, attaching cover to book, repairing page tears, kozo is the best choice. We carry at least 50 variations of kozo from 5g. tengu-jo in rolls for repairing over print to 100g. Kurotani kozo for backing very heavy maps or documents.Top quality papers like Inoue 21g., Sekishu Hanshi Mare, Kurotani #16 and Usumino are all very popular with conservators for a range of repair.

Gampi has limited use for conservators, but is sometimes used in the repair of vellum bindings as a match for the sheen of vellum.

Mitsumata is occasionally used for the particular tone which is sometimes close to the color of aged paper, but its strength is not as great as that of kozo which is better for most uses in conservation.



The traditionally-made kozo paper is so strong that basket-makers can weave it, weavers can spin it and make shifu thread from it which can then be woven, sewers can stitch it,  and jewelers can wet and shape it into small articulated shapes. (It is also regularly used by jewellers who lay their wares on it to entice buyers.)  Furniture makers have used it to cover chests and tables, candle-holders and screens. One woodworker we know laminates it between glass for insertion in cupboard doors.


Graphic Designers

We often see Japanese papers used as background for photographs and graphics  to emphasize refinement or beauty of product. But it is the incredible range of colour, texture, weight and design that is most useful to graphic artists. As end sheets or divisions in annual reports or books, printable surfaces for invitations or special brochures, any letterpress edition, envelope or packaging to make a piece stand out from the rest, Japanese papers offer great solutions. Translucent or opaque, gossamer thin or pearlescent card weight, colorful or simply organic, the choices are yours. We stock up to 3000 sheets per sample, but delight in having larger quantities shipped quickly from Japan in a low-stress manner to any point on the globe.


Interior Designers

One of the early uses of Washi in Japan was for shoji, or the latticed sliding paper doors to the outside. As a medium for the transmission of light, these papers can be used in a myriad of ways.

The use of the translucent kozo or abaca papers have  great potential in the hands of interior designers. For window coverings, shutters, stained glass-like hangings, the translucent papers are perfect. For lamps too or wall sconces, the soft beauty of light filtering through the paper adds warmth and light to any room. As wallpapers or furniture coverings, the silkscreened chiyogami if used in moderate amounts, can bring interesting focus and color into a setting and can be made more serviceable with a protective coating. Imagine a bedroom ceiling covered with clouds cut from cloud-like multi-colored  kozo or a cupboard door bearing Japanese calligraphy-printed paper to liven up a kitchen.



Packaging, lampshade-making, book covers, boxes and framing mats are some of the uses of the paper which can be take place in large production facilities, often by laminating them to another material. Many of the papers we carry in sheets are available in rolls up to 43" wide and are available by special order.


Painters and Drawers

Kozo papers with extra weight like Seichosen or Kurotani  No. 4 are useable with all water-based media as long as the artist does not use heavy washes. Most Japanese paper shrinks somewhat when wet, though some are sized to prevent shrinkage. Acrylic paint and gouache are both very effective on washi. Oil paints are not recommended. It's best to keep your brush and paint on the dry side.

For drawing, all Japanese papers are possible, depending on the media used. Conte, soft charcoal, graphite (softer leads) and coloured pencils are all suitable on kozo papers. Gampi papers have a natural sizing which makes them good for pen and ink, and the sheen of the paper makes a beautiful ground for drawing. Pastels need a paper with some tooth like Moriki kozo or any Kurotani paper.

Drawing and painting are usually most effective if some of the beautiful surface of the paper itself is left to breathe or speak  and  is not completely filled in.



Printmakers can get a range of unique effects with Japanese paper, and if the paper is made the traditional way, any printmaking technique can work with almost any paper.

100% kozo papers - Handmade excellently prepared kozo papers without chlorine bleaching such as Hosokawa, Seichosen and papers from Kurotani, are the hardiest and are great for woodblock printing, monoprints and linocuts. Thin kozo papers are good for chine-collé. They have good absorbency even when very thin because the careful preparation of the fibre creates an even receptivity to ink and moisture. Their great wet strength makes them also appropriate for etching, though they are better misted rather than soaked. The fine texture of a well-made sheet of kozo means that it is used more effectively when there are areas of the paper left unprinted to go hand-in-hand with the artist's work.

100% mitsumata - Mitsumata paper often has a more creamy tone than kozo, has a shorter fibre than kozo which makes it not quite as strong, and is even more absorbent than its hardier cousin. It is especially good for relief prints especially when the artist wants soft edges on printed areas rather than very clear definition. Seikosen, Mitsumata Tissue and Izumo dyed papers are some of the papers we carry made from mitsumata.

100% gampi - Favoured by Rembrandt for his etchings, gampi papers hold the inked line with amazing delicacy yet depth. If clarity of image is desired, this fiber is the one to choose. Gampi tends to shrink when it is wet, so it can be tricky to use for chine-collé. To get around this problem a paper called gampi-etching was developed with a thin layer of gampi on top of a much heavier cotton and sulphite base. Thinner versions of gampi are wonderful for lithography as the sleekness of the surface prevents the fiber pulling off onto the roller and we have a wide range of weights of gampi