Carbon paper

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A sheet of carbon paper, with the coating side down

Carbon paper (originally carbonic paper) was originally paper coated on one side with a layer of a loosely bound dry ink or pigmented coating, bound with wax, used for making one or more copies simultaneously with the creation of an original document when using a typewriter or a ballpoint pen. The manufacture of carbon paper was formerly the largest consumer of montan wax. In 1954 the Columbia Ribbon & Carbon Manufacturing Company filed a patent for what became known in the trade as solvent carbon paper: the coating was changed from wax-based to polymer-based. The manufacturing process changed from a hot-melt method to a solvent-applied coating or set of coatings. It was then possible to use polyester or other plastic film as a substrate, instead of paper, although the name remained carbon paper.[1]


Carbon paper is placed between the original and a second sheet to be copied onto. As the user writes or types on the original, the pressure from the typebar or pen deposits the ink on the blank sheet, thus creating a "carbon copy" of the original document. This technique is generally limited to four or five copies.

As the ink is transferred from the carbon paper to the underlying paper, an impression of the corresponding text is left on the "carbon" where some of the ink was removed. A single piece of carbon paper can be repeatedly reused until the impression grows too light.


In 1801 Pellegrino Turri, an Italian inventor, invented carbon paper to provide the ink for his mechanical typing machine, one of the first typewriters.[2] Ralph Wedgwood obtained the first patent for carbon paper in 1806.[3]

Fuel cell application[edit]

Currently, carbon paper is being widely used in fuel cell applications as well. This kind of carbon paper, however, has nothing to do with the carbon paper used for copying texts. It consists of carbon microfibers manufactured into flat sheets. It is used to help as an electrode that facilitates diffusion of reactants across the catalyst layered membrane portion of membrane electrode assembly.[4]

Other uses[edit]

The advent of word-processing and the decline of typewriting meant that any number of copies of a document could be printed on demand, and the decline of carbon paper, which had already been partially superseded by photocopying and carbonless copy paper, became irrevocable. A few specialist or remnant uses remain. Examples of these are receipts at point of sale (though they have mostly been relegated to being backups for when electronic POS devices fail) or for on-the-spot fine notices, duplicate checks, and some money orders (though the United States Postal Service has recently converted to an electronic format), and tracking slips for various expedited mail services requiring multiple copies. In India, form-filling is on a sufficient scale that carbon paper is still widely used.[5] As of 2013, in Canada only one eight-person company still manufactures carbon paper, in the United Kingdom one company and in the United States only two small companies.[6][7]

There have been some experimental uses of carbon paper in art (as a surface for painting) and mail art (to decorate envelopes). Carbon paper is commonly used to transfer patterns onto glass in the creation of stained glass .[8]

Carbon paper disks are still used in school physics labs as parts of experiments on projectile motion or position, velocity, and acceleration.[9]

See also[edit]


  • Wissinger, R. R. (1950). Carbon Papers and Other Duplicating Papers. In Mosher, R. H. (ed), Specialty Papers, Their Properties and Applications (pp. 335–367). Brooklyn, N.Y.: Remsen Press.
  1. ^ "Transfer element and method of making the same 1959 Patent app. (via Google search)". Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  2. ^ "Italian Inventors and their Inventions". 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-25. 
  3. ^ "Ralph Wedgwood: Pioneer of Office Copying". 
  4. ^ Westerheim, Daniel. "What is the Difference Between Carbon Paper and Carbon Cloth Based Gas Diffusion Layers (GDL)?". Fuel Cells Etc - Tech Article. 
  5. ^ "Makin' Copies: the Complete History". Mental Floss. 2009-12-10. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  6. ^ "Inside the UK's last carbon paper factory". BBC News. 2013-05-15. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  7. ^ Morgan Campbell (2013-02-08). "Copy this: North York’s Form-Mate is the last supplier of carbon paper in Canada". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2013-02-09. 
  8. ^ "Carbon Paper - Glass Crafters Stained Glass Supplies". 
  9. ^ "Practical Physics Labs". 

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