Continuous stationery

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Listing of a large computer program on continuous form paper, bound in a printout binder.
Continuous paper sheet

Continuous stationery (UK) or continuous form paper (USA) is paper which is designed for use with dot-matrix and line printers with appropriate paper-feed mechanisms. Other names for continuous stationery include fan-fold paper, sprocket feed paper, burst paper, tractor-feed paper, and pin feed paper. It can be single-ply (usually woodfree uncoated paper) or multi-ply (either with carbon paper between the paper layers, or multiple layers of carbonless copy paper).

Shape and form[edit]

Preprinted continuous form paper

Continuous paper is usually perforated transversely at regular intervals with a line of small slits which form a tear edge that defines the top and bottom of each page. When unfolded into a flat continuous sheet, this slit perforation closes up to allow the printer to print across the perforated edge without stopping or jamming.

The paper is fed through the printer with its edges forming the left and right edges of the page.

The paper is punched longitudinally along both edges with 5/32-inch (4 mm) diameter engagement holes at a regular 1/2-inch spacing. These holes engage with sprocket wheels or toothed belts, which move the paper through the printer. The holes can either be of a serrated edge pattern (older production machinery) or with smooth plain edges (New Generation production method).

Some types of continuous paper have longitudinal slit perforations along the edge inside the engagement holes, allowing the strips with engagement holes to be torn off the printed page, leaving only the printable part. This part may be punched with file or ring binder holes to allow the separated sheets to be bound in ring binders.

Older teleprinters often used a continuous unperforated paper roll, with paper torn off as required. This was especially typical in telegrams, or news agency ("wire service") dispatches,[1] where most messages were much shorter than a single sheet of paper. Continuous stationery of all types remained in production, although largely supplanted with the introduction of fast laser printers with single-sheet feed.[2]

Common types[edit]

The highest grade of continuous paper uses a heavy bond weight similar to typing paper. Perforations are very small and close together, referred to as microperforations or microperf, to allow the sheets to be separated and the sprocket hole strip torn off leaving a very smooth edge almost as if guillotine-cut.[3]

The cheapest grade of continuous paper is often printed with bars of light green lines across its width, to facilitate following a line of information across the page, a type commonly referred to as green bar,[4] music or music-ruled paper.[5] It is a very lightweight bond, usually without perforations to remove the engagement hole strips.

Common sizes:

  • 241mm x 279mm (9.5in x 11in)
  • 381mm x 279mm (15in x 11in)

Separation and binding[edit]

A decollator and a burster
Continuous perforated paper

A decollator separates multi-part continuous paper into separate stacks of one-part continuous paper and may also remove the carbon paper.

A burster is a machine that separates one-part continuous paper into separate, individual sheets along the perforations. A burster was typically used with printed continuous-fed paper used in mass-mail advertising, and still sees service in separating invoices or account statements. Bursting is done by firmly gripping the second-to-last sheet, and feed rollers grip the last sheet firmly and pulls it away to burst the perforation. The continuous forms then advance into the feed rollers to burst the next sheet. Bursting is often a high-speed process that allows the continuous sheets to feed in at a steady rate, with burst pages either stacked or fed into a single-sheet conveyance to the next paper processing stage. Burster equipment and paper manufactures had to generate perforation specifications so that the paper perforations reliably separated under the force of pulling the sheets apart and not tear down into the printed part of the sheet.

When used to print large continuous documents, they might not be split into separate sheets. By continuously folding two single sided printed sheets back-to-back and binding together a stack of continuous-feed paper along one of the folded edges, it is possible to flip through the stack like a book of double-sided printed pages. With this technique, the stack of papers is normally flipped top to bottom or bottom to top rather than side to side.


This paper type was used with tabulating machines beginning in the 1920s,[6] and its use grew with the introduction of commercial computers in the 1950s. IBM cards, preprinted, optionally numbered and pre-punched, were available as continuous form cards and were used for checks and other documents.[7] Continuous form paper became widely used and well-known to the general public in the 1980s due to the development of microcomputers and inexpensive dot-matrix consumer printers.

Continuous form paper began to disappear from the consumer market in the 1990s as desktop publishing, and WYSIWYG document generation became more popular and widespread. Consumers were willing to pay more to get a laser printer or inkjet printer that could produce near-typeset-quality documents. These printers accept standard size cut sheets (letter, legal or A4) of paper and do not require continuous form paper. Continuous form paper continues to be used in specialty commercial and industrial markets and, as of 2013, is still available from large retailers of office supplies such as OfficeMax and Staples.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ One newsie's reminiscences of the teletype room at Brenneman, Richard (2010-03-07). "Of bells and bygone newsrooms". Retrieved 2012-07-26.  mentions using a metal rule to tear off the news items: "When you picked out a story to run, you pulled the copy, usually tearing with the ubiquitous newsroom ruler call a pica pole, which measured in picas—a sixth of an inch—as well as inches."
  2. ^ One advertiser is
  3. ^ Paper and Printing Glossary: Microperf
  4. ^ See: Evans, Christopher (1981). The Making of the Micro: A History of the Computer. VNR. ISBN 0-442-22240-8. ; the first several pages of book are replicas of green bar form
  5. ^ Rugby Borough Council, e-government and Information Technology strategy
  6. ^
  7. ^ IBM (1953). Principles of IBM Accounting. 224-5527-2. 
  • The Free Online Dictionary of Computing

External links[edit]