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Printable Paper FAQ: Carbon Paper Vs. Carbonless Paper

Carbon paper (or carbonic paper, as it was originally known) is typically coated on one side with a dark, ink-like substance (usually containing carbon, hence the name). Its main function is to make copies with the creation being on an initial document.

The first documented use of carbon paper was at the start of the 19th century, when Englishmen Ralph Wedgwood applied for a patent for a device he called a “Stylographic Writer.” A couple years later, an Italian inventor named Pellegrino Turri created a typewriting machine that used carbon paper as part of its operation, which leads historians to conclude that Turri and Wedgewood likely discovered carbon paper around the same time.

Use of carbon paper is rather simplistic. A sheet is put in-between the original and a blank sheet that the user wants the copy to appear on. As he or she writes (or types) onto the original, the pressure from this application applies ink upon the blank sheet. This creates what is known as a “carbon copy.”

Carbonless paper, also known as non-carbon copy paper or NCR paper, is the stain-free, biodegradable alternative to Carbon paper. Similar to Carbon Paper, this heavyweight paper option relied on pressure from a writing utensil, like a pen or a typewriter, to create a chemical reaction leaving a blue copy on subsequent pages.

Invented by chemists Lowell Schleicher and Barry Green, carbonless copy paper was initially produced by the National Cash Register Corporation (NCR), which lent its name to the product, calling it “No Carbon Required paper.”

Starting in the 1950s, Carbonless paper became the custom paper size of choice for many writers and businesses, replacing the outdated carbon paper. However, carbonless paper has experienced some marketing setbacks to due health concerns. In the 1960s and 70s carbonless copy paper was found to commonly cause mild to moderate skin and eye irritations, though no such claims have been reported in decades. And in 2001, three employees in an Eden Medical Center office filed a lawsuit that blamed carbonless copy paper for them being diagnoses with breast cancer.

The use of Carbon paper and Carbonless paper to make replications was typically restricted to five or six copies, and is mostly ineffective past that. Because of this, carbon and carbonless paper has been mostly replaced in modern society with electronic photocopying on printable paper, which is faster, easier, and more effective.

However, carbon and carbonless copy paper is still commonly found in receipts during the point of sale, often as backups when a POS device is on the fritz. It is also found used for invoices, service tickets, sales orders, and purchase orders. Additionally, carbon paper has become the custom stock sheet of choice for some modern artists, using it as a surface for painting.
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