How to choose the right shoji paper
Jul 22nd 2021
So, what are you working on?
- You have decided to make a shoji screen?
- You want to replace old, disintegrated paper?
- Or maybe you have a brand new screen that is lined with an unattractive plastic material. You know, the translucent "paper" that is supposed to be 'rice paper'?
- You are a designer, architect, DIYer, builder, landscaper, etc?
You are in the right place!!
What is shoji paper made of?
First things first. The real name is 'shoji paper', pronounced 'show-jee paper'. It isn't made out of rice or rice straw, and it's not edible. Sometimes people call it 'rice paper', probably because that sounds 'oriental'. But, shoji paper really has nothing to do with rice.
Shoji screen has a long history that goes along with a history of 'washi', which translates as 'Japanese paper'.
Originally the ingredients of washi was either 'Kozo' (a mulberry tree, Broussonetia papyrifera), 'Mitsumata' (a shrub, Edgeworthia papyrifera) or 'Gampi' (a shrub, Wikstroemia canescens). Only paper made of these ingredients was considered 'washi', until synthetic fibers join the list about 50 years ago. After that, new materials and technologies keep coming in to widen our selection of shoji paper....from authentic hand-made washi paper, mass-produced, chemically brightened paper, re-reinforced traditional looking paper, washable and tear-free paper, weather-proof shoji plates, peel and stick shoji film....
Tips for choosing the Right Shoji Paper for your Project
The choices are pretty amazing, and may seem confusing. This list will help you choose.
There are several things to consider when you choose shoji paper:
More traffic by the screen, more durable you'll need. Thicker, reinforced or laminated paper maybe needed for high-traffic area, for example, family room. If there are any small children or pets in household, consider tear-proof Hi-tec paper or Laminated paper. On the other hand, Basic paper might be good enough for master bedroom, tearoom, or meditation room. Also if it's a window treatment or a fixed panel that is backed by a wall, not too many things should run through it.
2. Moisture/Outdoor Use
Shoji paper is not supposed to get wet. No regular paper should be used in such locations as bathroom or by the sink. In places like this, use Waterproof Acrylic Plate. If there is a certain distance from water source, you might get away with laminated paper with good sealing on the edges. But even laminated paper can suck moisture in and stains the paper in between outer coatings. For outdoor, Waterproof Acrylic Plate is pretty much the only choice. Even that, the key is no huge temperature difference on either side of the panel.
Are you going to replace the paper every few years like Japanese used to? If not, you might want to go for tear-resistant Hi-tec paper or stain-resistant Laminated paper. They are still easy to cut with scissors and attach with tape. Extra thick laminated paper or Acrylic Plates are durable and maintenance-free, but it's harder to cut and need specific installation.
Shoji paper is quite thicker than regular copy paper. Common shoji paper's thickness starts around 0.1mm (1/250 inch). Regular copy paper thickness is somewhere around 1/1000 inch. (See Shoji Paper Specs) When the paper is laminated, the thickness is doubled to 0.2mm. There are 0.3mm, 0.45mm and 1mm thick laminates available, and they are still bendable. 2mm thick acrylic plate is very rigid, and at this thickness you'll need a saw to cut.
Shoji paper blocks the view, but not the light. Not all of our paper is rated, but this gives an idea. (See Shoji Paper Specs) The higher the transparency rate, more lights go through. Thickness doesn't match the transparency, as 0.2mm Laminated Tan paper is more opaque (39%) than Laminated 0.45mm (50%). It depends on any combination of thickness, density, weight, color, pattern and texture of the material. You have to hold a piece of paper to the light really to get the feel. The only way to be sure is to ask for a sample. Also, most of shoji paper cut about 95% of UV.
Common shoji paper is often bright white, because that's the most popular in Japan. Chemical is often added to brighten the whiteness of paper. If you want a soft, natural look of authentic washi paper, you might have to look further. Look for paper labeled as 'washi', 'kozo', 'natural', 'off-white', 'tan', etc. in that line of names. Other dark colored paper is not very common on shoji screen since the purpose of shoji is to let lights go through. Colored paper is sometimes used in small sections of shoji panel as an accent, and more often used in arts & crafts projects, since it usually comes in smaller sizes than a shoji door.
All of shoji paper used to be the width of 11 1/4 inch. It meant to be spliced horizontally so many times to cover a door. This kind of paper is still available on the market and reasonably priced, but this size requires more work and it doesn't work well with continuous patterns. Now most of shoji paper comes in at least 35 inches wide and 70 inches long. Because Japanese doors are shorter than Western doors, be careful to choose long enough paper so that you can cover the entire panel without splicing. Although, Basic shoji paper is easy enough to glue with overlap as little as 1/4 inch. Extra thick laminates or Waterproof Acrylic Plate need more support for each piece so they need to be sandwiched by the lattices which can hide seams. To use these durable materials, you almost have to plan shoji frame around the paper size.
Shoji Paper Samples
It's hard enough to see color or texture of paper on computer screen. It's even harder to describe basically all white paper. The best way to determine which paper is best for your shoji project is to see and feel the actual paper yourself. Request samples and ask questions!