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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), often described as multipart stationery or forms.
Shape and form
Continuous form 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 a printer can print across the perforated edge without stopping or jamming.
When continuous form paper is fed through a printer its edges normally form the left and right edges of the page.
Continuous form paper is punched (perforated) longitudinally along both edges with regularly spaced engagement holes. 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 form paper have longitudinal slit perforations along each 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.
Continuous form paper of all types remains in production, although largely supplanted with the introduction of fast laser printers with single-sheet feed.
The highest grade of continuous form 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.
The cheapest grade of continuous form paper is often preprinted 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, music or music-ruled paper. It is a very lightweight bond, usually without slit perforations to remove the engagement hole strips.
- 241mm x 279mm (9.5in x 11in)
- 381mm x 279mm (15in x 11in)
Separation and binding
A decollator separates multi-part continuous form paper into separate stacks of one-part continuous form paper and may also remove the carbon paper.
A burster is a machine that separates one-part continuous form paper into separate, individual, sheets along the transverse perforations. A burster was typically used with printed continuous form paper applications such as mass-mail advertising, invoices, and account statements. Bursting is done by firmly gripping the second-to-last sheet while feed rollers grip the last sheet firmly and pull it away to burst the perforation. The continuous form paper then advances into the feed rollers to burst the next sheet. Bursting is often a high-speed process that allows the continuous form paper 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.
Large continuous documents 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 form 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 is normally flipped top to bottom or bottom to top rather than side to side.
This paper type was developed for use with autographic registers around 1910, was later adopted by tabulating machines beginning in the 1920s, 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. 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.
Notes and references
- Paper and Printing Glossary: Microperf
- 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
- Rugby Borough Council, e-government and Information Technology strategy
- IBM (1953). Principles of IBM Accounting. 224-5527-2.
- The Free Online Dictionary of Computing
- Related info at the Free On-Line Dictionary Of Computing
- Photo of a decollator in operation
- Photo of a decollator and a burster