Vellum Paper Vs. Tracing Paper


Paper comes in a wide variety of types, colors and sizes. There are papers of different weights (copy paper, card stock, construction paper, tissue paper and onionskin, for example) and sizes (letter, legal, ledger as well as huge paper rolls). Paper is used for everything from wrapping gifts to creating beautiful works of art. Two types often used are vellum paper and tracing paper. Each has distinctive characteristics and uses.


  • Before paper was invented, people tried a variety of materials on which to write—clay tablets, slabs of wood, sheets of metal, pieces of cloth. About 5,000 years ago, the Egyptians discovered that the papyrus plant could be made into a easy-to-carry writing surface. Two thousand years later, a man in China found that bamboo fibers could be emulsified, pounded flat and poured onto a loosely woven cloth to drain and dry. This process for making a sheet of paper was easy and inexpensive. Paper continued to be made in this way for centuries. Over time, the art of papermaking spread around the world. In the 10th century, Arab cultures began to use linen to make paper. Later, paper was again manufactured from wood fibers, though more expensive paper stock still contains cloth fibers. Today, there are almost 600 paper mills in the United States. Half of our paper supply is created from recycled materials.


  • Originally, vellum, sometimes called parchment, was not made of cloth or wood fibers, but rather from animal skins, especially calfskin, but also from the skins of sheep, deer and goats. This material was used primarily for legal documents and for religious purposes, such as copies of the Torah and the illuminated manuscripts of early Christianity. Today, true vellum is expensive to manufacture, so the more economical process of plasticizing cotton to create “paper vellum” or “imitation vellum” is used.

Use of Vellum

  • Today, vellum is used mostly for documents of distinction, such as wedding invitations, diplomas and certificates, as well as for blueprints and maps. It is being used increasingly by avid scrapbookers who want a distinctive, textured appearance to their creations. Because vellum is somewhat translucent, great care must be taken to preserve its elegance by handling it properly and using the appropriate adhesive.

Tracing Paper

  • Tracing paper is sometimes mistakenly referred to as vellum or parchment because of its translucent quality. However, tracing paper is made from ordinary paper treated with chemicals to break down its wood fibers. This is what gives it a slightly transparent quality. Tracing paper is about one-quarter the weight of the paper from which it is made, but much stronger. Tracing paper can be almost as thin as tissue paper or as thick as heavyweight paper.

Use of Tracing Paper

  • Tracing paper is primarily used by artists or draftsmen to recreate an image on an underlying surface. For example, an artist may lay tracing paper over a previous work and copy the lines he sees through the tracing paper onto the tracing paper. Tracing paper is often colored and used for various arts and crafts, such as origami, collage and paper-weaving, and can be used to create sewing patterns.


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