Synthetic Paper

Paper That Isn’t Paper

Synthetic paper is a substance that acts and looks very much like the paper you use every day, but instead of being made from wood fibers it is made from synthetic petroleum-based materials. It is really closer to plastic in terms how it is made, but the way it feels, looks and moves it is very much like paper. You can write on it, print, cut and fold it. Some synthetic papers are so much like natural paper it is very hard to tell them apart. The real advantage to using synthetic over natural paper is durability. It is very difficult(bordering on impossible) to tear, doesn’t break down when wet, it can even be disinfected. If you need something to stand up to the elements, but act and read like paper, synthetics are the answer.

How It’s Made

Synthetic paper is made from layers of either polyethylene or polypropylene film. The base layer gives synthetic paper its strength, the subsequent surface layers are then woven together to give the paper a clean finished look, and add tear resistance. This gives the paper a smooth bright surface and add opacity. Synthetic paper is petroleum-based, and 100% recyclable.  

There are a number of different manufacturers of synthetic  paper, and each one makes their product a little differently. Using synthetics allows you to formulate an amazing amount of specialized and custom papers. Each manufacture has their own proprietary products and processes. This does mean however that each different synthetic paper will react differently when being printed. If you are planning on using synthetic paper knowing what brand and type you are using is very important. Some need special inks, some can only be used in certain printers, and all of them have varying drying times. Synthetic paper will typically not work with your home printer because of how the ink needs to be applied. 

Uses For Synthetic Paper

There are differences when it comes to synthetic paper, but the things they have in common are what really make it special. Wood fiber is something that we have used to make paper for almost ever. The problem with wood fiber is that it can break down in certain environments. If a sheet of wood fiber paper gets wet it swells up, and it breaks apart easily. Every one has seen the effects moister has on natural paper. You get a book wet, it swells up, doesn’t close properly, and the ink runs. With synthetic paper you don’t have these problems, it can be used in places that normal paper can’t survive, even under water. Making it very useful in applications in very wet environments.


One of the most common uses for these products are maps. Because synthetic paper doesn’t soak up water if you get it wet, you just wipe it off. They are almost impossible to tear, and synthetic paper doesn’t crack when bent, so you don’t have to worry about it being damaged by constant use. This makes synthetic paper ideal for maps. They can be taken outside rain or shine, tossed in bag, dropped in the mud, and run over, just pick it up and dust it off. Synthetic paper can even used by divers while submerged.

The food service industry is another common place to find synthetic paper. No need to worry about menus getting spilled on, or torn apart, synthetic paper can handle it, and in the kitchen itself many cookbooks are made with synthetic paper. Not only for the spills, they can be wiped clean and sanitized as well, unlike wood fiber paper. Book publishers are starting to use more and more synthetic paper making it easier to take your favorite novel to the beach, or even in the pool, without worrying about damage. Synthetic paper is used for driver licenses, passports, and other government issued identification because of its durability.There are countless other places that synthetic paper is being used. Right now it is still much less expensive to print on wood fiber paper, but depending on the application the versatility and durability of synthetics can be worth the expense.

You can add a protective layer to natural paper by laminating it(something we have talked about in a previous blog). Which is essentially adding a synthetic layer to natural paper. If you have questions about what type of synthetic paper you should use, or if it is the right fit for you, a local printer can show you options and help you decide what would work best for your individual needs..



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