flashBACK Friday: Carbon-Copy Paper

Posted by: Staff Writer on July 25, 2013

I was reading a newspaper the other day and once I put it down I noticed my fingers were covered in print residue. The mess on my fingers suddenly took me on a trip down memory lane: carbon-copy paper used for note-taking.

Carbon-copy paper is a sheet of wax “paper” with a layer of dry ink which is placed between two pieces of regular paper. When the top paper is written on with a pen – the pressure pushes the loose ink from the sandwiched wax paper and transfers it to the paper below. Thus, a “carbon” copy is created. Carbon-copy paper is often used for note-taking during meetings, lectures, or in a classroom.

Deaf and hard of hearing students found great benefit in using these messy papers in the classroom where note-taking was essential. A volunteer or paid hearing student would take notes using the carbon-copy paper during a lecture which allowed us to devote our full attention to the lesson. Without carbon-copy paper, we were stuck trying to watch the interpreter or instructor while trying to write or speechread at the same time.  After class, the hearing note-taker would hand the carbon-copy notes over to the deaf student and take the original home themselves to study from.

What if more than one copy was needed? The introduction of deaf programs in public schools meant more mainstreamed deaf students in one classroom. To create multiple copies, the alternative was a carbonless paper which was fancier, but not any less messy. The carbonless paper became the preferred choice after the 1950’s.  Carbonless paper is coated on one side with a waxy pigment which gets released when pushed on. The papers provided an easier way to create three copies at the same time and on different colored papers.  In order, from top to bottom were: white, yellow, and pink. No one ever liked volunteering to take the bottom paper or pink one – it usually ended up being the most smeared and less visible. However, that meant no more throwing away used ‘wax papers’ when the ink was low and wouldn’t transfer anymore. One paper on top could transfer copies to other papers below through a chain of transfers between all the copies – you just had to make sure you were pressing the pen down hard enough to transfer the ink to the bottom one.

Since the invention of the copy machine, the scanner and the Internet – the use for carbon/carbonless paper has declined. Only those who do not have a school website for uploading class information or have time to run to the copy machine will find use for the papers.

When was the last time you had your fingers on some carbon/carbonless paper?




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