A Comparative Look at Printing on Hosho Papers
By: Jennifer Anderson

     Hosho student is one of the most widely known and used Japanese papers. Most larger art supply stores carry it, and more often than not it can be found on the supply list for university level introductory printmaking classes. However, the name Hosho does not belong just to this paper, but instead to a large group of Japanese papers.

     Hosho-shi translates into “document paper,” a name that reflects the history, tradition and use of this paper. Manufacture of Hosho began in the 16th century, in the Echizen district of today’s Fukui Prefecture, an area where the paper continues to be made. During the Edo period, Hosho was a luxury item, made only of the best kozo for uses of the samurai and aristocracy. By the mid 18th century it was the preferred paper for Ukiyo-e woodblock printing. Able to withstand the stresses of multiple color printing, the technology of Hosho papers and ukiyo-e printing were intertwined from that point on. Over time additions and substitutions were made to Hosho pulp, and the result is the wide range of Hosho papers available today. A range that includes the Echizenshosho, the fine artist grade paper made of pure kozo by one of Japan’s National living treasure, as well as the sulphite pulp Hosho used because of its bright white color for disposal mass-produced ceremonial documents.

     HPI’s inventory of Hosho, all handmade or semi-handmade, also varies greatly in their material make-up. Hosho student (HM-52) and Hosho professional (HM-51) are composed purely of sulphite pulp. Hosho Natural (HM-60) is composed of 80% kozo pulp with the remainder being sulphite.  

     The composition of these papers is reflected in their physical characteristics, the more kozo in the paper pulp, the smoother and more glass-like the working surface. The higher concentration of sulphite pulp is reflected in a softer, more fibrous working surface of the paper and a brighter white color. The kozo papers also tend to be more natural or off-white in color when compared to the bright white of the sulphite Hosho. 

     At the prompting of Hiromi, I have recently completed a printing test with each Hosho paper at HPI to gain a better understanding of their differences and similarities. For this project, I decided to create what I refer to as “combination prints” by printing both digitally, through the inkjet printer and traditionally, intaglio and relief, on each paper. This reflected my working practices while it also created a platform to fully test and challenge each paper. Working much like a scientist, I repeated the same processes without changing any variables on each paper. Success or failure was largely dependent on the paper’s ability to handle the stress of each process, and that ability directly correlated with the paper’s content.

     The pure sulphite pulp composition of Hosho student (HM-52) and Hosho professional (HM-51) made these the more problematic papers with which to work. Sulphite pulp, a cellulose or wood pulp, is archival and often very close to a neutral ph, the fibers, however are short, which weakens the paper’s overall strength and flexibility. In order to get these soft and seemingly pliable papers through the inkjet, they had to be temporarily mounted to a support paper. Once through the printer the prints were good, although not as crisp as when printed on other papers. My first attempts with using these papers for intaglio printing were disastrous as they ripped, stretched, and stuck to the plate. Determined and with multiple attempts, I was able to get good, if not excellent, results from these papers with some coaxing along with minimal moisture and printing pressure. As expected these papers did work well for relief printing with the exception of surface marring if printing pressure was overly strong.

     Results were different for the papers with the greater kozo content. Kozo, a bast fiber, from the mulberry plant is renowned for its long length and strength. These kozo based Hosho papers and Hosho Natural handled all printing process from my test very well. Overall these papers were easier to run through the inkjet printer, being somewhat more rigid than their sulphite pulp counterparts. These papers also worked well for intaglio and relief printing. Quality results came more easily from these papers as they captured bold velvety aquatint blacks, subtle delicate marks, and tonal transitions. The surfaces of these papers were less likely to be disturbed in either intaglio or relief printing.

     Finally I printed on a one last sheet of kozo Hosho made by Japan’s National Living treasure, Ichibei Iwano. The sheet, part of HPI’s archive, was presented as a piece of art in itself as it bore the papermaker’s chop. Needless to say, this printer was filled with trepidation, but was pleased with the results as the paper responded well to my, perhaps meager abilities.

     In the end this Hosho experiment affirmed the well known fact that paper content does indeed affect, if not dictate, the quality of the end artwork. Although Hosho student and Hosho professional should not be discredited in light of their own properties and low cost, they are not of the same quality as the other kozo based Hosho papers.