Inkjet Photo Printing Tip: How to Uncurl Roll or Sheet Paper

Darlow-Inkjet-Tips-Book-CoverThis is the first in a series of inkjet photo printing tips, It is excerpted with permission (and minor modifications) from the book “301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers” by photographer Andrew Darlow.

TIP 108: How to Uncurl Roll or Sheet Paper

One of the most frustrating things that artists often have to deal with is curled paper. This is primarily an issue when printing on paper from a roll (especially as you reach the end of a roll), but I’ve also seen curled paper in cut-sheet boxes.

Learning how to uncurl paper can help avoid the dreaded “head strike” or paper jam problems that can occur on some printers, and it makes for a better presentation when delivering prints to clients.

Flat paper is also easier to frame and mount, and less likely to show unevenness when matted.

One way to uncurl paper is by placing weight on the paper with the curled side down—usually that’s the print side. A box of paper or sheets of MDF (medium density fiberboard), like the type commonly used for shelving and furniture, work well as weights.

For more stubborn curls, you can roll the print in the opposite direction around a tube. A room with medium to high humidity (over 50 percent) will generally help paper to uncurl more easily, and you can achieve this by laying out your pigment-ink photo prints in a humid room (for example, near a running shower, or in a room with a humidifier) for about 15 minutes just before rolling or flattening them. This should help to remove the curl, especially when used with the following rolling technique.

I’ve prepared a step-by-step rolling tube technique that I use for uncurling paper, and photographs are provided to illustrate the steps. I recommend using a lightweight piece of canvas, or a similar material. I generally use leftover coated inkjet canvas for this purpose.

A three-inch-diameter tube with a curled print from a roll. I recommend using tape under the very front edge of the canvas (where it touches the tube) to adhere the canvas to the tube. Double-sided tape (such as carpet tape) is recommended because you don’t want to create uneven bumps under the canvas. Photo: ©Andrew Darlow

The diameter of the tube will usually determine how well the paper gets uncurled. I recommend a two- to three-inch diameter tube for prints under about 16 × 20 inches, and a three- to five-inch tube for prints over 16 × 20 inches.

Every paper reacts differently, so you may have to experiment to find just the right tubes and just the right time to keep the prints rolled up when uncurling your favorite papers.

Here are the steps:

Step 1: Place a print with the curled area facing down on the canvas. It should be about three to six inches from the edge of the canvas so that when you begin rolling the canvas around the tube, only the canvas (not the tube) will be touching the print. Make sure that the print meets the canvas on the roll completely straight. If the prints are very curled, a second person can make the process much easier. Also, the tube, as well as the piece of canvas should be at least one inch wider than the art on both sides.

Step 2: Roll the canvas very tightly, using medium downward pressure as you roll.

This image shows the beginning of the rolling process. It’s important to keep the paper straight and to apply medium pressure (similar to the way you might roll up a carpet). Photo: ©Andrew Darlow

Step 3: If your paper has just a slight curl, wait about a minute and then unroll it in the opposite direction, with medium pressure. It may need to be rolled again if the curl does not come out to your satisfaction, or you may need to leave the print rolled around the core for a longer amount of time. Ten minutes can make a big difference in the amount of curl that will come out compared with just a minute, and keeping a print rolled up for a day will generally have an even greater effect.

Step 4: If you keep the paper rolled around the core for more than a minute, I recommend using about two or three pieces of tape on the outside of the roll to hold the canvas tightly wound around the core. I also recommend de-curling just one print at a time (especially with prints on matte paper) unless they are placed side by side prior to rolling, and not stacked.

A sheet of very thin protective paper can help to protect very fragile print surfaces (especially prints with a lot of heavy dark ink coverage). However, a sheet of paper placed on a print and then rolled can also cause marks in the print, so it’s a good idea to do a test first. A good protective paper option to consider is Acid-Free Permalife Buffered Paper from University Products. The sheets of archival papers can also be used for print interleaving when showing work in a portfolio, or when transporting prints.

The 25-inch-long tube used for uncurling prints, with three pieces of packing tape attached to hold the rolled print in place. Photo: ©Andrew Darlow

The 25-inch-long tube used for uncurling prints, with three pieces of packing tape attached to hold the rolled print in place. Photo: ©Andrew Darlow

 

After about 10 minutes, the print is unrolled, and becomes almost completely flat. Photo: ©Andrew Darlow

After about 10 minutes, the print is unrolled, and becomes almost completely flat. Photo: ©Andrew Darlow

Step 5: When you unroll the print, do it very carefully, and apply the same type of pressure as when you initially rolled it up. A commercial product made to eliminate printer curl is the Bienfang D-Roller. It comes in two sizes and is available from companies that sell framing supplies. There is an excellent video demonstration of the D-Roller by Michael Reichmann on The Luminous Landscape website. Other sites feature some good online discussions that describe how a number of people are de-curling their prints.

About the Author 

Photo of Andrew Darlow

Andrew Darlow is a photographer, writer and digital imaging consultant. He is the current editor of ImagingBuffet.com, an online imaging magazine and podcast. His work has been featured in numerous magazines and websites, including Photo District News, Popular Photography, Rangefinder, and Studio Photography. For more than 20 years, he has taught thousands how to improve their  photography, workflow and digital print output at conferences, industry events, and educational institutions, including the PDN PhotoPlus Expo, the Arles Photo Festival (Arles, France), the School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography in New York.

His award-winning book, 301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers, is a resource that covers many aspects of digital printmaking. It includes the imagery and advice of over 20 photographers and other artists. Darlow also publishes a free newsletter,available at www.imagingbuffet.com/newsletter and provides tips and advice on facebook.com/andrewdarlow

 

 

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