How Does Carbonless Paper Work?

by Scott Becker; Updated September 26, 2017
How Does Carbonless Paper Work?

Creating Carbonless Paper

Carbonless paper is essentially the same as regular paper or stationery, but with an important, defining modification. A sheet of carbonless paper is half carbon-copying mechanism, half carbon-rich paper. It is only different from standard paper when placed beneath a sheet of carbon-rich paper.

To produce the carbon paper, a common industry practice is to heat hydrocarbons to a temperature such that they decompose partially. The carbon residue that remains is called "carbon black." Normal paper is then rolled around a rod laden with carbon black so that only one side of the paper becomes covered in it.

Neither the carbon-rich paper nor the carbonless paper is especially useful on its own. They are both regular pieces of paper alone. When combined, carbon copying is possible.

Using Carbonless Paper

To work, the carbonless paper must be situated directly beneath a piece of carbon-laden paper. It is important to position the two pieces directly on top of each other so the carbon copy is an exact replica of the original.

When the top of the papers is pressed on by the pen, minuscule chambers containing carbon black burst onto the paper below, leaving an impression of transferred ink. If compared side-by-side, the two copies generally look the same. However, one can recognize a carbon copy by its faded-gray ink color, compared to the black ink on the original sheet.

Potential Hazards of Carbonless Paper

Although carbonless paper is ubiquitous in office and legal settings, it is noteworthy that its contents can be slightly toxic. This becomes more noticeable when chemicals other than carbon black are used, such as benzene. The ink on carbonless paper is also known to have the potential to cause rashes if directly applied to the skin. There is no data to suggest the immediate termination of carbonless paper use, but certain precautions should be taken when using it, such as washing the hands after use. In addition, never heat carbon paper to high temperatures, as this can cause harmful gases to be produced.

About the Author

Scott Becker began writing professionally in 2008. His work has appeared on sites such as eHow and LIVESTRONG.COM. His interest and area of focus in his writing is science, particularly chemistry, biology and physics. Becker is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the University of California-Los Angeles.

Photo Credits

  • dspapertech.com
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