A Collection of Sizing Recipies

Sizing recipies and procedure

As most Japanese paper in its 'raw' form is far too soft to stand up to the (sometimes intense) printing pressure, it must be sized with a gelatine mixture before use. This work is generally done by a professional, but it is something that the competent printer should also understand, if for no other reason than to know how to communicate his requirements to the man doing the job.

At some future point, we'll give a complete outline of the process here, but for now, you'll have to make do with this listing of various 'recipies' for sizing paper, culled from a number of old printmaking books. They are given here without comment or editing, just as they appear in the original sources.

From: Japanese Wood-Block Printing, Hiroshi Yoshida, 1939

In summer thick sizing is necessary, but in winter thinner sizing is sufficient. Dosa is prepared by boiling glue and alum in water in the following proportion: glue about thirty-three ounces and alum about fourteen ounces, boiled in about four gallons of water. This is the proportion for preparing the standard dosa for the top side of the hosho paper.

This dosa is spread over the top side of the paper with a broad hake, or Japanese brush, and is dried by hanging it on a line. When the paper is dried, the underside of it is treated in the same way. The sizing on the underside may have to be thinner or thicker, according to the condition of the paper after applying dosa to the top side, and also according to the particular requirement at the time; that is, the paper should be strengthened with thick dosa, if a great number of printings have to be made on it. The sizing on the top side is to allow the pigments to stick to the paper uniformly; that on the back is to protect the surface and facilitate the rubbing by the baren. So if the work of the baren is to be repeated very many times, resizing may be required before the printing is finished. Fine days should be chosen for applying dosa to the hosho paper; rainy days should be avoided. It is impossible to print on hosho without dosa. The paper sticks to the block, and the baren will not move smoothly on the back, but will damage the paper.

When it is necessary to apply dosa again on account of repeated printings the print must be first dried, then the dosa put on, and the print allowed to dry before moistening it to make it ready for the printing.

Fusuma, a kind of torinoko paper, contains something that acts like dosa. But if fine work is to be done, dosa should, be applied, but diluted about four times; that is, add four parts of water to one of dosa prepared as described above.

There is great difficulty experienced in applying dosa evenly on the paper. The same dosa may be applied to a set of papers, but according to the speed used in drawing the brush across the paper, a great difference will be shown in the result.

From: Japanese Print-Making, Toshi Yoshida, 1966

Dosabiki (sizing) must be done on both sides of the paper before other preparations are made. Since paper manufactured by the process described above is too absorbent in its original state, the pigment applied to the block is likely to run into the fibers, thus exceeding the limits of the part to be printed and causing blots. Paper which has already been sized by a specialist has recently appeared on the market, but in order to suit individual circumstances or to secure the precise effects intended by the artist, the printer had better to the sizing himself.

Dosa (size) for this purpose is prepared by boiling sanzembon (dried animal glue in stick form) and alum in water. The glue strengthens the paper, constricting its fibers, and the alum that is combined with the glue serves to make it less absorbent. The uniform application of the size on both sides of the paper allows the pigment to adhere evenly and thus facilitates rubbing with the baren. The proportions for standard dosa are:

  • Alum 3~4 oz.
  • Sanzembon 8 ounces
  • Water one gallon (3.8 liters)

The consistency of the dosa, however, should be modified according to the season or to the frequency of application of the baren required for the print. In summer, for example, it is necessary to thicken the size by lessening the proportion of water and, in winter, to thin it by increasing the amount of water used.

Dosa is prepared in the following manner:

  • The necessary amount of water is put into a pan
  • The sanzembon is broken into pieces and placed in the water
  • When the sanzembon seems to be sufficiently softened, the pan is set on a heater, and the contents are stirred continually with a pair of chopsticks. The heating must proceed slowly until the sanzembon completely melts.
  • Next, alum is added and mixed well with the other ingredients by vigorous stirring with chopsticks.
  • Finally, particles of foreign matter are eliminated by filtering the fluid while it is still hot through a cotton cloth.

The size must be applied to the paper with a dosabake, a broad flat brush made of Chinese sheep hair, which is at once resilient and soft. The size must be kept hot during the process. To do this, and at the same time to spread it uniformly, requires a great deal of skill. Sizing should be done only during clear weather. The procedure is as follows:

  • The paper is laid flat on a large board.
  • The dosabake is dipped into the hot dosa and allowed to absorb a sufficient quantity of the fluid.
  • The dosa is applied by drawing the brush in one stroke, quick at the start and slowing down toward the end so as to secure uniform application.
  • The paper thus treated with dosa is hung by hooks or clips on a line to dry
  • After it has dried, or sometimes while it is still wet, the other side of the paper is treated in the same way.

From: The Technique of the Color Woodcut, Walter Phillips, 1926

The following mixture (Mr. Urushibara's recipe) is sufficient to size about fourteen sheets of Torinoko paper (Imperial) on both sides:

  • Alum 1/8 oz.
  • Gelatine 1/4 oz.
  • Water 35 ozs.

Hosho paper should be sized only on one side, with half the quantity of water.

Heat the water but do not let it boil. Add the gelatine and when that is completely dissolved add the alum.

Different papers and different woods require slight modifications of the recipe. So does a change in atmospheric conditions. The necessary amount of modification is slight and is best decided by experience. Mr. Urushibara advises a pinch more of alum for soft woods such as whitewood, or for a soft paper or for a dry climate.

A broad brush is needed, neither thick nor long in the hair. My own is of Japanese manufacture, six inches in width, the hair one and a quarter long and three-eighths of an inch thick. Lay a sheet of Hosho paper upon a drawing board flat upon the table, smooth side uppermost. With your brush full, but not too full of warm size, cover the paper evenly. It is a delicate process; use the brush as carefully as though you were painting a portrait. Starting at one edge continue until you reach the other with a band the full width of the brush. The second stroke must touch the first but not overlap it. If possible do not go over the same place twice.

  • Do not flood the paper.
  • Keep the size warm.
  • The brush strokes should follow the same direction as the lines which constitute the watermark.
  • Lay a second sheet over the first, and proceed in the same way.
  • Creases made during sizing are permanent. Therefore carefully avoid making them.
  • Leave the pile of sized sheets for a while, so that the size may spread evenly through it, but not too long, say half an hour.
  • Now lay each sheet to dry upon newspaper spread upon the floor, or suspend it from a line strung across the room as clothes are hung up to dry. Use wooden clips for the latter purpose.

From: Woodblock Printing, Frank Morley-Fletcher, 1916

The sheet gelatine sold by grocers for cooking makes an excellent size. Six of the thin sheets to a pint of water is a good strength. The gelatine is dissolved in hot water, but should not be boiled, as that partially destroys the size. When dissolved, a little powdered alum is also stirred in, about as much as will lie on a shilling to a pint of water. The addition of the alum is important, as it acts as a mordant and helps to make a better colour impression.

In applying the size to the paper a four-inch broad flat paste brush is used. The paper is laid on the slanting board and the size brushed backward and forward across the paper from the upper end downward. Care must be taken not to make creases in the paper, as these become permanent. To avoid this the lower end of the sheet may be held with the left hand and raised when necessary as the brush passes downwards. The waste size will run down to the basin, but the paper need not be flooded, nor should its surface be brushed unnecessarily, but it must be fully and evenly charged with size. The sheet is then picked up by the two upper corners (which may conveniently be kept unsized) and pinned at each corner over a cord stretched across the workroom. The sheets are left hanging until they are dry. The Japanese lay the paper on the cord, letting the two halves of the sheet hang down equally on either side.

From: Colour Woodcuts, John Platt, 1948

Both Hosho and Torinoko require sizing before being printed upon, to ensure evenness of quality in the colour and also to enable them to withstand the rubbing of the baren, and prevent the fibres of the paper from sticking to the block. They are sized with a solution of leaf gelatine (obtainable from any grocer), made in the following proportions:


  • 1/2 oz. gelatine
  • 2 pints water
  • 1/4 oz. powdered alum


  • 1/4 oz. gelatine
  • 2 pints water
  • 1/8 oz. powdered alum

To make the size, put the required amount of water in a thick saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the gelatine, stirring continually. The water should not be more than warm whilst the gelatine is dissolving and should not be allowed to get near boiling point, though the size is best if used hot. Before using, strain it through a fine cloth, such as a handkerchief, into a vessel such as an enamelled pie-dish, convenient for the wide sizing-brush, which should be about four inches wide. A hoghair varnish brush is excellent, but a small whitewash brush will serve.

Hosho paper need be sized only on the front. Torinoko, being less absorbent, must be sized back and front, and the back must be done first. It is for this reason that a weaker solution of size is used.

Arrange a large, clean drawing-board in a slanting position (about forty five degrees from the horizontal), with a pie-dish of the sizing solution immediately below its lower edge. To prevent the first sheet of paper from slipping on the dry board, slightly brush the latter with size. Place the paper on the board, holding up the lower margin of the paper with the left hand. Then - starting at the top - brush the solution evenly across and across the paper until it is damped all over, making all the strokes from left to right. The paper should not be flooded with size, but it must be uniformly and generously soaked. Use the brush lightly and gently so as not to disturb the surface of the paper. The left hand is gradually lowered until, at the last stroke, the paper lies flat on the sloping board. Place the second sheet of paper on top of the first and proceed as before, and continue thus until all the sheets are sized. Leaving the sheets one above another will help to ensure even damping throughout. But soon after the last sheet is sized they should be hung up to dry, or they will stick together.

For drying, the prints may conveniently be pinned to a picture rail or table edge, or strings may be stretched from side to side of the room and the paper hung with spring-clip clothes-pegs. Whilst the paper is damp flaws may be removed with fine tweezers, the paper being placed on a sheet of clean glass or rubber cloth.

During both the sizing and the hanging care must be taken to avoid wrinkling the paper, as creases cannot be eradicated.

From: Evolving Techniques in Japanese Woodblock Prints, Petit & Arboleda, 1977

Handmade Japanese paper is seldom used by print artists without dosa, or 'size', to control the absorbency of the paper. In fact, when many artists order paper, they specify the amount and kind of sizing that they prefer. Presized washi is also readily available at art supply stores, but some artists prefer to size their own paper. To test the amount of dosa on a sheet of washi, lick a corner of the paper. If the spittle is quickly absorbed it means the dosa is thin; if not, the dosa is thick.

Dosa is generally made by mixing nikawa (animal glue) with boiling water and alum. The following are several basic recipes. Depending upon requirements, the artist obviously can make proportional adjustments.

  • 1 liter hot water
  • 42 grams nikawa, softened in water
  • a pinch of burnt alum

Another widely used preparation is:

  • 180 cc hot water
  • 3.75 grams nikawa, softened in water
  • 1.12 grams alum in a few tbsps. of warm water

A third preparation consists of:

  • 3.8 liters hot water
  • 228 grams nikawa, softened in water
  • 85 to 114 grams of alum in a small amount of water

In each of these recipies, the nikawa is softened in some water over a very low flame or in a double boiler. Then the hot water, just taken from the boil, is added. The softened nikawa and hot water should be thoroughly mixed.

There are two ways to add the alum. Either add it directly to the glue mixture, or dissolve it in a little water in another pan and bring the solution to a boil, finally adding it to the glue mixture. The glue-and-alum mixture should be thoroughly stirred and cooked until all ingredients are dissolved and the mixture is translucent and the color of weak tea. During the cooking, the glue mixture should never be brought to a boil.

Once all the ingredients are completely dissolved, in accordance with the effects the artist wishes to obtain, he may or may not strain the mixture through a cotton or silk cloth to eliminate foreign matter.

The dosa should be at least room temperature, or slightly above, when it is applied to the paper. If it is too hot, it will damage the paper; if it is too cold, it will be gelatinous and unspreadable. The dosa is applied with a dosa-bake, a large flat brush of Chinese sheep hair which is both resilient and soft.

Of course, the sheets of paper should be dried separately to prevent them from sticking together. One good method is to hang them by clips or hooks on a line. When the paper has dried, or sometimes when it is still wet, the other side of the sheet can be sized if the artist so desires. It should also be noted that the amount of sizing applied must be adjusted to the weather because the paper itself holds water or is dried out depending on climatic conditions. Dosa does not keep and it should be used on the day that it is prepared. Do not attempt to reheat or reconstitute an old batch of dosa.

It is recommended to use two or more coatings of rather thin dosa than one thick coat. Naturally, since an individual artist takes the trouble to prepare his own dosa, there is always room to alter the percentages in the ingredients and, thereby, the consistency of the dosa - thinner or thicker - in order to secure the precise effect he intends for the printed work.

From: Introduction to Woodblock Printmaking, Katsuyuki Nishijima, 1976

Basic Recipe:

  • One litre of water in the pot, along with 3~5 sticks of sanzembon, and alum (raw or 'yaki'). Alum amount should be 1/2 the weight of the nikawa.
  • Set the pot over another, in a double-boiler setup. (called 'yusen' in Japanese)
  • To prevent it from boiling over, add more water as necessary
  • When 'ready', pour into a larger container for use.
  • Load a brush well with the size, and wipe it on the edge of the container.
  • Draw the brush across the front surface of the paper to be sized, in a single stroke.
  • Before the paper can dry, hang it up with clips


  • The strength of the sizing necessary will vary with the type of paper. Torinoko, which is generally tough and not so absorbent to start with, will need lighter sizing, but a paper like hosho will need stronger size.
  • Generally keep the sizing on the light side. If you want a generally non-absorbent paper, first do a light coat, then after it has dried apply a second (or third) coat as necessary. Don't try and do it all in one go.
  • If you flood the paper too much, when you hang it to dry, the running liquid will leave streaks in the end result.
  • After about 3~5 years, the sizing in a paper will become uneven, so don't do more than you will use in a year or so.

Using sized paper:

With properly sized paper, it becomes possible to regulate the amount of water absorption into the fibres of the paper. But sizing also has the effect of discolouring the paper, giving it a brownish tone, and the alum may also leave 'sparkle' traces on the surface. Because of this, it is common when the printing job involves only small areas, or only delicate lines, to use unsized paper. But when wide printed areas are involved, the surface will abrade easily, making it difficult to print without sizing.

For ukiyo-e prints, in the case of delicate lines, or smallish printing areas, the colour and condition of the paper could be maintained by omitting general sizing, but printing size onto the paper using one of the beta blocks, which would then subsequently be used to print a colour on that area.

Paper sized this way is difficult to use, with possible streaking in the sizing and the work must proceed very carefully.

From a data sheet supplied by Uematsu, supplier of materials for Japanese painting and printmaking

Basic recipe: Per one litre of water ... 20 grams of nikawa ... 2.5 grams of myoban

About nikawa:

  • Best to have nikawa at 60~70 degrees (C). To hot will weaken it. (never go over 70)
  • Best to wait to add myoban until nikawa is properly dissolved.
  • In summer, things easily get moldy, so take care ...

About dosa:

  • Lower the temperature of the nikawa liquid at the time of adding myoban.
  • If it is too hot, the effect is weakened.
  • But don't put myoban in before the nikawa is warmed properly.

Other points:

  • After the mix is ready, strain it through a nylon stocking before use. Nylon is preferred to other material, as it does not 'catch' the collagen or carotene in the liguid.
  • [Many strong warnings about not letting it get moldy.]
  • Liquid can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator if necessary. Do not freeze it, as this will destroy the structure of the collagens.


Added by: Dave on July 30, 2010 1:46 PM

It's difficult to understand the recipies with all the different measurement systems and amounts, so here is a list with everything converted to metric, and then adjusted to a base of 1 liter of water (with the next two amounts being nikawa glue and alum respectively):

Yoshida Hiroshi
1 liter : 65 gm : 28 gm

Yoshida Toshi
1 liter : 63 gm : 24~31 gm

Walter Phillips
1.05 liters : 7.5 gm : 3.75 gm

John Platt
1 liter : 16 gm : 9 gm

1 liter : 21 gm : 6 gm

Petit (alternate)
1 liter : 60 gm : 22~30 gm

1 liter : 60 gm : 30 gm

1 liter : 20 gm : 2.5 gm

It's hugely interesting that the westerners were using such a weaker mix than the Japanese. Their information mostly came from a single source - printer Urushibara in London. Did he perhaps get it 'wrong', or did he make adjustments for overseas climate? (But London - like Japan - is a humid place ...)

The other strong discrepancy is the figure from Uematsu, the Japanese supplier. But it is worth mentioning that the data sheet they supply is not specifically for printmakers, but seems to be intended for painters. So the presumption may be that painters require a generally weaker sizing.


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