Is Graphite Paper Reusable?

If you're like me and work a lot from home, you probably like to reuse art supplies. Until you need to buy more, these days it's essential to stretch your budget as much as possible. In this article, I'm going to tell you how to get the most out of graphite paper.

Is Graphite Paper Reusable?

Is Graphite Paper Reusable?
Is Graphite Paper Reusable?

It's easy to say that graphite paper is completely reusable up to a point. A single answer. Takes a certain amount of wear and tear but can be reused hundreds of times for the most part. But that's where my old high school days taught me a valuable lesson on how graphite paper can last over the years. I've always been a hoarder when it comes to art supplies since money wasn't an option.

You don't have to have to save every scrap you come across, but there are tricks to keeping graphite paper reusable. Where I grew up, the weather was always a concern, it was damp because of the fog and rain. I would often keep my graphite paper inside a manila envelope with cardboard slices sandwiching the paper in between. I also kept this inside my wooden file cabinet so any kind of moisture wouldn't ruin this thin tissue-like paper.

Is graphite paper reusable in this kind of weather? Not really, since I needed to take care of it just like rice paper. If you've ever handled rice paper, it will decompose in a couple of days outside. Leaving it out on the top of a file cabinet for too long will shorten the lifespan too. It's sad to see good paper bite the dust before you have a chance to use it. And many of my projects for drawing often relied on making quick copies of the same image.

Just how many times can you use a single piece of graphite paper? It depends on a lot of issues first of all. How hard are you pressing on the top layer of graphite paper? Is your pencil too sharp or did you tear a little hole by accident? Things like this will determine that fate ultimately. If you aren't in a rush and use light strokes, you'll further retain the graphite amount on the backside. It all depends on how much you take care of that magical paper. Click Here to Check the Price of Graphite Paper at Amazon.

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Can You Reuse Graphite Transfer Paper?

No matter what your art store wants to call it, graphite paper is still graphite paper. It's used to transfer an image using pressure from a pencil or a rounded instrument. Any kind of paper is placed under graphite paper, and then you trace whatever you like. Unlike the days when they used to use carbon paper (which is terrible for transfer tracing), carbon paper is better.

You can reuse this tracking paper as many times as possible before it starts to lose the carbon. On the back of each sheet is a layer of carbon that's been deposited. The harder you draw a line, the more the carbon is transferred to your drawing paper. Normally this is fine, but heavy lines are problematic if you're adding paint on top. Graphite, if you don't know, is an excellent dry lubricant used for bicycle brake cables and select metal parts.

Before they invented graphite infused liner tubing for brake cables, you had to rely on graphite dust. Lighter tracing on top of transfer paper will give you an image that's harder to see, but not invisible. This increased the lifespan of transfer paper until it runs out of graphite that can be useful to see. If a line isn't showing up so well after a while, you can lightly connect-the-dots with a light pencil line.

Always be sure to save left-over pieces of paper and protect it from the weather. Excessive handling and folding are a big No-No', in my opinion. Treat it like it was a museum relic and try to keep it as flat as possible. They always say to use tape to keep it in place, but this just ruins the paper. I found that using flat paperweights on each corner was the best way to preserve the paper for later.

How Many Times Can You Reuse Graphite Paper?

The average artist will go through one or two pieces of graphite paper and then toss it away. This is truly wasteful and doesn't make sense to me at all. On average, I've found that I can get up to 100 uses of graphite paper through various techniques that always work. The first is your tracing technique, which has improved over the years. In the old days, you put the drawing paper down, then the graphite paper layer, and then a reference picture.

After that, it was a matter of copying the lines to get an idea of the overall form. Perhaps some shadow lines and other reference lines for highlights. I always used a soft-lead mechanical pencil so the line would never cut too deep into the graphite paper. It also left a sharp carbon line on the drawing paper after I was done. It's also important to draw on a hard, smooth surface like glass, melamine, or hard plastic sheets.

Using wooden surfaces just dents your paper if you've ever seen what drawing on plywood does. It's so soft it leaves fingernail marks if you scratch at it. I recommend the kind of material they put on school desks. If you can find a glass sheet, it is the best, but melamine laminate gives a little pencil pressure. You're less likely to break a pencil tip while tracing if you use that kind of surface.

When your graphite paper is getting to the point of being too light to see, there is hope for refreshing it. Any decent hobby store will have graphite blocks or sticks. Laying your tracing paper with the graphite side facing up, you can rub new graphite onto the paper. This is tricky, so you'll need to make a couple of light passes with one side weighed down. Load it up with new graphite and then do the other side to finish your graphite paper sheet.

The Advantages of Reusing Graphite Paper

Not like me, who was too cheap to buy more graphite tracing paper, you'll stand to save some pocket money. I'll be honest by saying that art stores make their money from expendables. That's right, the stuff you end-up throwing out! Why would you waste that if it's already considered an investment? The cost of graphite tracing paper isn't cheap. Sure there's always a sale price attached, but when you buy a bunch of stuff, it all adds up.

Why not make those 20 sheets last for the next 10 years? This sounds crazy, I know, but think of the cost-effectiveness of those 20 sheets over 10 years… Let's do a little math here, for example, with 20 sheets bought for 5 bucks, that's 20 cents a sheet. That becomes 2.5 cents per year without losing your graphite paper along the way. Sure it sounds cheap enough to be considered expendable.

But when you start looking at what paint and other high-end items are costing, you'll see where I'm going. That's 5 dollars less- you'll have to pay for each art project every year, resulting in hundreds over 10 years! I would much rather spend my money on quality paint that will last longer than that. If buying top-quality materials is what your final painting or drawing requires. The stuff that people never see is the graphite paper sheet you just used.

The other advantage is putting your art, where it makes the most economic sense. Even in painting studios like Andy Warhol’s, recycled nearly everything that would otherwise be thrown out. Is graphite paper reusable for long-term art production, you can bet it should be. The more you spend on creating waste in making art, the more loss in profit you suffer over time. Treat every last piece like it was gold, and that makes it possible.

Why is it Economical to Reuse Graphite Paper?

As I mentioned before, your art studio (no matter how small), needs to be practical at saving every last supply. There will always be those dry periods where nothing is happening, and your art isn't selling. Or if you work freelance, the work can be on what I call Feast or Famine', and it's no fun. But despite the hardship in between big jobs (or little jobs). The materials you have should always find a way to be reused as much as possible.

When you work for a big company, they probably don't care much about being frugal. Smaller companies know that saving every last scrap is good for later. You need to do the same no matter what the budget you have a chance to work with. Consider your overhead costs, rent and electricity, and of course the mobile phone bill. If you can start with graphite paper and stretch that value until it screams, you're way ahead of the curve.

Save the fancy stuff for later and stick with low-budget methods to make your art projects worth every last cent. Most people don't know that James Cameron (that Avatar director guy), was notorious for being cheap! He's also a very good illustrator who recycled everything he used in his drawing supply kit. I'm sure he probably still has the blue and purple color pencils used to draw his characters. Then again, he most likely was reusing his graphite paper to make copies of his sketches in color.

The point is that your budget can be stretched to near-impossible lengths just by saving on short-term supplies. Why throw out a perfectly good piece of tracing paper that's been used. Use it until you cannot use it anymore- then start with a fresh piece that can go another 100,000 miles. With this attitude, you'll be able to make a difference in what you spend and where your project money goes.

Make a Collection of Different Papers at Home

Most artists that are just starting out will often be the typical starving artist type. Save everything and use it later attitude. But as they get older and more experienced, some forget that being frugal isn't important. I've been through both places' ups and downs, and I never lost what came naturally. If you didn't start with being conservative, chances are you'll end up broke.

This is why I saved every kind of graphite paper I've ever worked with. Whether it was for big companies or small, every item that was considered garbage to others I took home. You have to be careful with these kinds of things, so little stuff like graphite paper doesn't get damaged. Your employer or company that hires you should also know if you can take these things with you in advance.

Later you can create a library of useful graphite papers that can be applied for special projects. The best ones used for animated characters or prototype designs are the blue and red paper. If it's wax-free, then you've got something that can be reused for a long time. The more variety that you can make a library from will ensure that you have plenty of choices. This is especially important when it comes to paper type and transfer quality.

There is always going to be an issue with storage, so you'll need to solve that somehow. If you can keep your graphite paper in a nice dry place where there's no moisture, then do it. Separate each color and keep new sheets separate from the old. File them in order just like you would any other art project and be sure to lay them flat and not folded over. Check the flea markets and garage sales to save more money than going to the art store.

If you can follow all of these rules, then your graphite paper worries will be over. And hopefully, this answers your question on how graphite paper is reusable. Good luck!


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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