Posted on 6 Comments

Size My Xuan Paper?

Cover Photo: Inkston Xuan Paper Workshop Craftsman, taken on 6th June, 2018.

How to make your raw Xuan paper more creative? Different from machine made papers, professional handmade Xuan papers can be so much more creative than you think. In this article, we will teach you how to ‘convert’ your raw xuan papers easily. 🙂

If you want to understand how to classify Chinese handmade Xuan papers, please kindly refer to our article on Xuan Paper Buyer’s Guide.

Materials Preparation:

  1. Any raw handmade Xuan Paper from Inkston.
  2. Glue: there are different types of glues in market. You can also find natural gelatin on inkston, see Traditional Natural Animal Gelatin 三千本胶.
  3. Alum: you can find it at your local pharmacy.
  4. Bai Zhi 白芷 (this is a type of Chinese medicine and you can get it from local Chinese pharmacy. In English it is called Hyacinth Orchid (Latin name Bletilla Striata).
  5. Soft wool brush: you can use Inkston Mounting Wool Brush which is wide and very soft. We also recommend you to prepare a small pure wool brush to help process the small part of the paper when you want to create different painting effects.

Making “Alum Gelatin Water” (胶矾水): a basic formula is 4g gelatin, 200cc water, and 1.3g alum. According to Chieh Tsu Yuan Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden, for different seasons the proportion of the formula is different.

  • In summer, 60% gelatin to 40% alum;
  • In autumn, 80% gelatin to 20% alum;
  • In winter, 70% gelatin to 30% alum.

Special tip:

  1. do not put too much alum powder because excessive alum will make the paper very fragile and crack easily. In Chinese, we say ‘ Alum can eat paper’, which means too much alum makes paper crack easily. 
  2. gelatin can take hours to dissolve in cold water, use warm water but no hotter than 70 Celsius Degrees because hot water will destroy collagen in the gelatin. Collagen is the element which makes gelatin sticky.
  3. If you want to make it even faster, instead of using warm water, you can use this method: soak gelatin in cold/ warm water to 30 to 60 minutes and then change the water and heat it with low temperature while stirring it. Still, remember to keep the temperature lower than 70 Celsius Degrees.

白芨 Bai Ji (Bletilla Striata):

Bletilla Striata

In one of our Inkston Art Forum discussions, a client from UK kindly suggested use of Bai Ji. This is a very smart and sophisticated way to deal with Xuan paper. Bai Ji is root of Bletilla Striata. Similar to normal gelatin, Bai Ji is also a kind of glue but it is much less sticky. Add Bai Ji in the Alum Gelatin Water can help make Xuan paper soft and easy to lock colours.

Another tip for using Bai Ji: rub the inkstone surface with Bai Ji before grinding your inkstick. This can make the ink stay moist for longer. (Normally ink can become dry quite quickly.)

How to use Bai Ji to make Alum Gelatin Water? 

Formula: 3.1g gelatin, 1.6g alum powder, 1.6g Bai Ji, 500g water.

Size Xuan Paper with Alum Gelatin Water

This is a set of photos taken at our Xuan paper workshop. They show you how we size large Xuan papers in the workshop by passing the paper through a large trough of alum water which is easier to do if you have a large paper workshop ..  but you can achieve the same effect by using a brush or large mounting brush which works fine for smaller pieces or detail areas of a painting.

When Xuan Paper, fine wool brush, and Alum Gelatine Water are all ready, you can start sizing your raw Xuan Papers. Leave Xuan Paper on a clean flat surface. Remember not to size Xuan Paper on painting mat because the Alum Gelatin Water is sticky and once it is dry, you will find Xuan Paper is stuck to the painting mat and cannot be separated.

When sizing paper, you need to soak the wool brush in the Alum Gelatin Water first and then apply it gently on the Xuan Paper. This might need to be repeated several times depending on how ‘sized/cooked’ you need your paper to be. (If the quality of the raw Xuan paper quality is not good you might also need to repeat.) Once the paper is wet, ideally hang the paper up to try like you would hang your clothes. After one day, the paper is sized.

Of course, if needed, you can also only size part of the paper to create special painting effects. This is a very common technique used by Chinese artists. Especially in Chinese landscape paintings, you can always see the painting is done on raw xuan paper but with a lot of nice details such as little kiosks, houses, birds, trees, etc. This is because the artist sized part of the painting after he finished the big landscape, and then after part of the painting is sized, he started painting details with Gongbi painting skills. To size small part of painting, you can use small fine wool brush, or use a spray bottle to spray Alum Gelatine Water on paper directly.


hang wet sized Xuan paper

Unlike Raw Xuan Paper which can be kept easily for thousands years, cooked/ sized Xuan paper is not easy to keep for such long time. This is because after certain time, the alum will start to get detached from paper. As a result of this, painting is destroyed. Of course, if you know the reason which causes this problem, you can restore it easily too. This is also one of the magics about authentic handmade Xuan paper.

* A special note: Inkston Xuan Paper workshop craftsman also commented that you can size raw Xuan paper with soya milk (not sugared). It can help size paper quickly and easily. However, the disadvantage of using soya milk is that the paper will attract moths easily and, therefore, not so easy to keep for long time. 

In fact, we do have a type of semi-sized/ half-sized Xuan paper which is processed with soya milk. We added extra things in soya milk to make sure the paper more endurable. If you are interested, you can try this paper out. The price is the same as our standard semi-sized Xuan Paper but we need extra 1 to 2 weeks time to make it. If you want to order this paper, please order our standard half-sized Xuan paper and leave us a message when checking out. We will be assisting you on this.

Inkston Handmade Raw/ Un-Cooked Xuan Paper



Posted on 6 Comments

6 thoughts on “Size My Xuan Paper?

  1. Great post, thank you! Much appreciated!
    I largely understand that all you need is atmost 2% binder-in-water solution to size raw paper. And inside those 2%, we can have different glue/alum ratios according to season.

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  4. Very interseting article, thanks a lot, but I think that you made a mystake in the begining of the chapter “MATERIALS PREPARATION”.
    On number 4, you mention “Baizhi 白芷 [this is a type of Chinese medicine and you can get it from local Chinese pharmacy. In English it is called Hyacinth Orchid (Latin name Bletilla Striata)]”.
    That’s wrong. You made a confusion between Baizhi 白芷 (Radix Angelicae dahuricae) and Baiji 白芨 Rhizoma Bletillae striatae (Hyacinth Orchid). Both are Chinese medical herbs but their functions are very different. Although, later on, you speak only of Baiji.
    If the readers want to buy it, it is important to know if they want to order Baizhi or Baiji.

  5. Will the process of sizing parts of the paper for details leave a warmer hue on the paper, or any other effects from the glue?
    Thank you.

    1. Not really will the sizing parts leave a significant warmer hue. 🙂 The effects would be, the paper can be more ‘crispy’ and less/ not absorbent.

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