Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 1, Number 5
Nov 1993

Some Want Alkaline Paper, Some Want Acid

by Ellen McCrady

When people call the Abbey Publications office to order pH pens, I may engage them briefly in conversation to find out what they use the pens for. This helps me to stay in touch with the field, as all nonprofit corporations must do in order to make sure that their activities support the mission of the corporation.

The pen ("Abbey pH Pen") contains a pH (acid/alkaline) indicator, chlorophenol red, that turns a different color depending on whether it is marking on acid or alkaline paper. Here is a recent partial list of types of purchasers:

Art stores
Business machine mfrs
Chemical suppliers
Comic book dealers
Consulting firms
County record offices
Egg carton manufacturers
Envelope converters
Frame shops
Hand papermakers
Ink mfrs & suppliers
Library suppliers
Matboard distributors
Outdoor advertising firms
Paper brokers
Paper merchants
Paper mills
Photo album mfrs
Photocopy machine mfrs
Preservation centers
Printing suppliers
Recycling firms
Retail archival suppliers
Stamp collectors
Waste paper exporters

The variety of purposes for which these customers use the pen is staggering. Some of them are making paper, some are preparing it for sale or selling it, so}ne (comic book dealers, recycling firms) are in what might be called the "paper aftermarket," and others are hard to classify.

Frame shops, libraries and several other customer types are interested in permanence of paper and board supplies. So are comic book collectors and dealers, surprisingly. Because comic books are sometimes worth a great deal on the collectors' market, owners want to protect their investment by storing the items in archival envelopes. They know that alkaline paper lasts much longer than acidic paper, other things being equal, and that comic books can be kept in pristine condition if they are carefully stored.

The egg carton manufacturers, like the milk carton manufacturers who were the first users of alkaline sizing in the 1950s, want to make a board that resists moisture and does not crack where it has been bent or folded to shape. (Alkaline board can bend further without cracking.)

People who run paper through machines (especially sheetfed machines) in order to cut, fold, print, photocopy, coat, perforate or wrap it sometimes have trouble with alkaline paper. It may not feed right, especially in high-speed machines, because it is generally not as stiff as acid paper (because of the high filler level), and its surface characteristics may be different. Adhesion is also sometimes a problem with alkaline paper.

The machines, of course, were designed for use with acid paper, so they may have to be modified or used differently if alkaline paper is to be used in them. Onsite troubleshooters from the supplier may use pH pens to find out if the problem at hand involves alkaline paper. Most problems with machines do not have anything to do with the pH of the paper, but it helps the troubleshooters to know what kind of paper they are dealing with.

At first. a few years back. I was disappointed to learn that the pen I invented to help people find alkaline paper was being bought sometimes to help people avoid it. Then I reasoned that people have a right to buy any kind of paper they choose, and what mattered was whether they learned more about the effect of pH as they went along. Eventually, most of the problems people are seeing are bound to be solved, and it is well to remember that most users do not have any trouble with alkaline paper.

Here are a few reasons given by customers for buying a pH pen:

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