What is Kraft paper and how is it made?

7 min read

March 29, 2022

Kraft paper is an everyday household essential but have you ever thought about how it’s made and what it’s used for?

Kraft paper is used for a variety of everyday tasks such as packaging items, arts and crafts and even cleaning. It’s also the usual choice of paper for creating paper bags. Whilst you may be used to using kraft paper at home and in the workplace, you may not know much more about it, such as how it’s made and whether or not it’s recyclable. If so then you’re in the right place. In this article we will learn more about kraft paper and its manufacturing process.

What is kraft paper?

Kraft paper is a type of brown paper that’s typically made from wood chips. For over a century it has been used for everything from packaging to printing. Kraft paper usually comes in large rolls that can then be cut and shaped for the desired use. Even though kraft paper isn’t waterproof, it’s strong enough to provide a waterproof barrier if treated properly. The most common way to treat kraft paper is by coating it with wax or oil. This allows the kraft paper to stand up against moisture, making it perfect for food packaging, one of the most popular uses for kraft paper (more on those later). 

What is kraft paper used for?

Kraft paper is used in a variety of everyday ways. From packaging to printing, kraft paper is an economical choice that is long-lasting. Due to its heavy-duty and tear resistant properties, kraft paper is often used when a thicker alternative to traditional paper is required. As it hasn’t been bleached extensively, kraft paper tends to be more sturdy and long-lasting than white or coloured paper alternatives. Kraft paper is one of those everyday items that we easily take for granted, we’re always using it but rarely stop to appreciate how useful it can be.

Often used to wrap fragile items or as packaging for groceries, gifts and shopping, we probably overlook kraft paper when in fact, we would be lost without it. Kraft paper has become a popular choice for gift wrap and stationery in recent years, thanks in part to its environmentally friendly nature as well as the “pinterest-worthy” rustic aesthetic it creates. 

Some common uses for kraft paper include:

  • Food wrapping
  • Arts and crafts
  • Packaging and protecting fragile items
  • Gift wrap
  • Clothing tags
  • Surface protection 

How is kraft paper made?

Kraft paper is made using the chemical process of converting wood into wood pulp. The term “kraft” refers to this process where softwood chips are cooked using intense pressure and heat in a mixture of strong alkaline chemicals. The two structural components of wood are lignin and cellulose. When it comes to making kraft paper, it's the cellulose we need so this needs to be separated from the lignin. 

A good way to think about making kraft paper is comparing it to cooking instant noodles. When you first take them out of the packet the noodles are hard and tightly compact together, much like the wood chips. Add hot water to them however and the noodles become soft and separate, this also happens to the properties of the wood chips allowing manufacturers to separate the useful components from the parts that aren’t needed to make kraft paper. The pulp is then washed and screened through large rollers to remove any large chunks and the large rolls of kraft paper that we are used to seeing in factories and manufacturing plants are created. The kraft paper is rolled and dried and is then kept ready to be cut down as required to be made into various items, including brown paper bags.

Can you print on kraft paper?

You can print on Kraft paper and one of the most common ways that you can do so is through silk-screen printing. Silk-screen printing a design onto Kraft paper allows you to get a relatively high quality print in a number of different colours. You also have some other options for printing on Kraft paper such as laser-printing and inkjet printing, but both of these methods work best with lighter coloured papers. 

When it comes to printing onto traditional brown kraft paper it’s best to stick to darker and muted colours as these are usually less impacted by the colour of the paper. Lighter colours may not show up as well or may be distorted due to the brown colouring of the kraft paper. Overall though you should feel free to use whatever printer you like when working with Kraft paper as the paper is durable and absorbs ink well. 

When printing onto kraft paper it’s always best to perform a test print as not all machines and papers are the same and you want to ensure the very best results for your project. 

Is brown kraft paper recyclable? 

Yes, brown kraft paper is 100% recyclable which is why it’s such a popular choice in 2022. We are all becoming more conscious of the environment and switching to recyclable options (such as using paper bags instead of plastic ones) is important. While at the very beginning of its life cycle kraft paper comes from wood, used pieces of kraft paper can be recycled, turned back into pulp and made into a new roll of kraft paper. Nowadays most rolls of kraft paper are made using a combination of recycled and raw materials. The process of turning used kraft paper back into a fresh roll is incredibly similar to the process of making kraft paper in the first place but requires less chemicals and is considerably less-harsh. 

How thick is kraft paper?

When it comes to weighing out the thickness and weight of kraft paper we usually use the metric GSM (Grams per Square Metre). Put simply, the higher the GSM the thicker the roll of paper. This metric allows manufacturers and buyers to know exactly what the quality of the paper is like. Different uses for kraft paper require different weights. Kraft paper is available in various weights but is generally one of the thicker paper options on the market making it a durable choice for packaging and paper bag manufacturing. 

What is the difference between recycled paper and kraft paper?

It’s easy to get confused between kraft paper and recycled paper. As we’ve already mentioned, kraft paper can be made from recycled paper. So kraft paper is recycled paper right? Well, yes and no. The key difference between kraft paper (both kraft paper made from recycled materials and kraft paper made from raw materials) and traditional recycled paper is how it’s made. When normal waste paper is recycled it is dumped in mounds and is then sorted into its various types and weights. This kind of paper is traditionally things such as discarded letters, magazines, writing paper and newspapers. 

The waste paper is soaked and churned in soapy water and separated from any inks, stains, metals or adhesives that may be on the paper. The pulp is then dyed white in order to create the traditional white paper sheets we are all used to. It’s this bleaching that creates the biggest difference between recycled paper and kraft paper. The bleach not only changes the colour of the paper (which is why recycled paper is white and kraft paper is brown) but it also breaks down the paper fibres and weakens them. 

Traditional white recycled paper is therefore much weaker than kraft paper. The bleached pulp is then dried, stretched and flattened, creating rolls of white, recycled paper ready to be repurposed into anything from newspapers to writing paper.

Where can I buy brown kraft paper bags?

One of the most popular uses for kraft paper is creating brown paper bags. Brown paper bags are becoming increasingly popular. First manufactured over a century ago, the popularity of plastic carrier bags meant that for a while, brown paper bags were considered a rarity. With people now more conscious of protecting the environment and reducing their plastic waste, paper bags are experiencing a surge in demand and use.

It’s no surprise that paper bags are proving popular. They have various uses including carrier bags, gift bags and flat sweet bags. If you’re wondering where you can buy high-quality, sustainable and environmentally friendly brown paper bags then look no further.

The team of experts at Bestpac are on hand to talk you through what makes our brown paper bags the best choice for you. 

Get in touch today to discuss your packaging needs.

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