Repairs with Document Tape

Document repair tape is discussed in a previous post. In general, it should only be used on books that are not too valuable or part of a special collection.

Make sure the edges of the tear are lined up correctly and apply the tape over the tear. Do not try to repair a long tear with only one piece of tape. If necessary, apply tape on both sides of the paper to attach loose edges but remember that this will add two extra layers of thickness to the book.
Archival tapes are usually 5/8 to 1” wide. Tape that wide can often be cut in half or thirds so as to lessen the amount of tape used in each book. In addition to saving money, it will also be better for the book. When tape is applied to both sides of a repair, cut the second piece a little wider than the first so the edges are offset.

Document Repair Tape

Repairing Paper Tears with Japanese Tissue

Japanese repair tissueJapanese repair tissue adds strength to a repair. It is used when the tear does not have wide, overlapping edges and needs reinforcement.
Choose the best method for tearing and applying paste before beginning the repair.

Apply paste on the Japanese repair tissue, then pick up the tissue using a needle, microspatula or fine tweezers. Carefully lay the tissue on the tear. If
the tear is at the edge of the page, extend the Japanese tissue 3/8” past
the edge of the paper. This extension can be turned under now or trimmed
when the repair is dry.
It can be difficult to work with a piece of Japanese repair tissue over 3” so try repairing long tears with several short, overlapping pieces of Japanese tissue. While it may seem inviting to use one long piece of tissue, it is much harder to control, and the finished repair can look clumsy.

Once the pasted Japanese tissue is laid over the tear, cover it with a strip of
wax paper and use a folder to gently press the edges of the tear together.
Remember to always work from the base of the repair toward the edge of
the page.
Wipe away any excess paste that is forced out of the edge of the tear. If
there is much excess, use less next time.
When the entire tear is repaired, cover it with wax paper or non-stick
material and blotting paper, then put it under weight. Remember, if the repair
does not dry under weight, the paper can buckle and curl.
After the repair is dry, curl the paper around the tear and make sure all the
edges are well adhered. If there are loose edges, repaste and dry under
weight. If the page creases at the repair, consider applying a second
Japanese repair tissue patch on the opposite side of the original repair.

Simple or Complex Paper Tears

Paper tends to tear at an angle so most tears will have a top and a bottom. If the tear passes through the text or an illustration, it is easy to see which is the top or bottom because the bottom of the tear will show the white paper fibers. If the tear does not pass through text, look at the tear very carefully before pasting it together.
Some tears will go with the grain of the paper while others go against the grain. Tears that go with the grain of the paper will usually be smooth and straight while tears that go against the grain will tend to have more feathered edges and will curve as they try to align themselves with the paper grain.
In simple paper tears the page has been torn one time and the tear has an obvious top and bottom. This is easy to see when the tear passes through the text or illustrations.

Finding the Grain
Complex tears are really more than one tear. When a torn page is not repaired, the page can easily tear again and the second tear can have a different top and bottom. Always look at the tear and lay the edges in position before applying adhesive to make sure the tear is in the correct position. If the edges are not in the correct position, the repair will not lie flat and the text or illustration may be obscured.

There are three ways to repair paper tears in book repair – I will cover these in individual posts:

Paper Tears, Cuts and Losses

Over the next few posts I will cover the methods you can use to repair paper tears, cuts in paper or paper losses in your books. The same techniques are also used for a single sheet of paper not bound in a book.

Paper tears are a simple repair often handled incorrectly with clear plastic
tape. Clear plastic tape covers up the problem but it does not repair it and it
can cause additional damage to the paper over time.


Document Repair Tape

Document repair tapes differ from common clear plastic in several ways. The carrier (the part of the tape that holds the adhesive) is thin, acid-free paper, not plastic. It is not as stiff as plastic tape so a page can turn and bend more easily. The adhesive used is a neutral acrylic adhesive that should not dry up, yellow over time or seep out the edges of the document repair tape. Because this adhesive is neutral (neither’ acidic nor alkaline), it should not react chemically with the paper.

Document Repair Tape
The manufacturers of these tapes have tested the materials using artificial aging tests and they believe these tapes will remain stable over time and can be removed easily. Actual experience is not always so positive. Some libraries are finding that these tapes dry hard and crack or that the adhesive dries up and the paper carrier falls off leaving the paper discolored.
Because of these problems, document repair tapes should not be used on valuable books. Document repair tape has become accepted for use as a quick way to repair paper tears and is definitely better than clear plastic tape.

Heat Set Tissue

Heat set tissue is a thin tissue that has been coated with a heat activated, acrylic adhesive. The tissue is torn or cut to fit the tear or paper loss, laid in position and covered with silicone release paper (so the tissue doesn’t stick to the hot iron). The tissue is adhered to the paper with a heated iron (approximately 100 degrees F.).
A standard household iron or tacking iron from a hobby store can be used to adhere heat set tissue. It is sold with the silicone release paper.

Heat-set tissue tends to be more brittle than Japanese repair tissue as it does not have the long, strong fibers of the Japanese tissue. It is not recommended for use on the folds in paper or areas that need to flex and bend. Since heat-set tissue is not applied with moisture, it works quite well on shiny, coated paper that can buckle when wet (as might happen with glue or paste).

Japanese Repair Tissue

Japanese repair tissueJapanese repair tissue is sometimes called “rice” paper, but this thin paper is made from the fibers of the mulberry tree, not from rice as the nickname implies. The strength of Japanesere pair tissue comes from its long fibers which make the paper very strong, even though it is very thin. Handmade Japanese repair tissues are made on a mold and have mold or “chain” lines which can be seen in the paper. These lines generally run the same direction as the paper grain. The lines are visible when the paper held up to a light or held down to let the light shine from above. The grain can also be determined by using the tear, bend or water test discussed previously.
In general, Japanese repair tissue is torn rather than cut. A piece of torn Japanese tissue has a delicate feathered edge that blends into the repaired paper, so there is no sharp edge for the repaired page to turn against.
Different methods of tearing Japanese tissue are outlined in a separate post..
Japanese repair tissue can be purchased in different weights and colors.
Generally, three weights will cover most repair needs. Since most paper is not truly white, I recommend you buy the “natural” or “toned” colors.

  • TENGUJO light weight for working over type or illustrations
  • KIZUKISHI medium weight for most repairs
  • SEKISHU heavy weight for heavier paper

Although Japanese repair tissue may seem very expensive, only a small amount is used on any one tear. One sheet of Japanese repair tissue will last you a long time.

Repairing Paper

In general I use Japanese repair tissue, wheat paste, and heat-set tissue or repair tape to repair paper tears.

Over the next few posts I’ll cover the basic information about:

  • Japanese repair tissue
  • heat set tissue
  • document repair tape
  • clear plastic tape
  • repair adhesives 
  • the difference between glue and paste
  • pva glue
  • wheat paste (including recipes)

These repair methods will be applicable to any paper tear in a book whether its a paperback or hardcover.