Dealing with Show-Through: The dark paper trick illustrated by Nanami Paper

I’ve mentioned Nanami Paper before when writing about the thin Tomoe River paper I like to use when inserting note pages into a Bible, and now I’d like to point you to the site for a lucid demonstration of an old trick for dealing with thin paper and “show-through.” Since Dave at Nanami sells a lot of notepads and bound books that use thin paper, he’s familiar with the show-through dilemma and has written a step-by-step explanation of the problem and how to solve it by placing a sheet of dark paper behind your page. Look at the difference:


This works with handwritten pages like the ones in the photo, and with the printed pages in your Bible, too. Click through and read Dave’s entire post:

“Thin Paper Show-Through” at Nanami Paper

There are a couple of points I’d like to highlight. First, you’ll notice that even a highly coveted, cult-status paper like Tomoe River suffers from show-through. The reason fountain pen users love this paper is that it shows off the properties of their ink to best effect (if you love shading inks, you’ll love this paper). Even a wet, broad nib will not bleed through the page. Try that with your Moleskine. Second, this ought to call into question an assumption we often make — namely that show-through is the result of publishers using “bad paper.” Tomoe River isn’t bad paper, it’s great paper. But it does have show-through because, hey, it’s quite thin.

If your ambition as far as Bibles go is to have minimal show-through, then you’re not after good paper per se, you’re after opaque paper — which might be expensive, but might also be cheap. Thickness is a major factor, so ironically, with more expensive thin papers, you might actually be paying more money for less opacity. The trade-off is, you get a thinner book.

For example, I’ve been using one of Dave’s brilliant Seven Seas Tomoe River A5 Journals (I’ll write more about this on my other blog at some point), and while I get a lot of show-through writing on both pages, I absolutely love the paper’s ink-handling characteristics and the fact that I get so many pages — 480 — in such a handy form factor. That’s the same trade-off we face with our Bibles, and they require quite a few more pages.

Now I would love for someone to figure out the secret of super thin, 100% opaque paper, and I’m not suggesting that we take the pressure off publishers to do better in terms of opacity. Just recognize that the issue is complex, there are interim solutions, and “good” paper isn’t the issue — opaque paper is.

11 Comments on “Dealing with Show-Through: The dark paper trick illustrated by Nanami Paper

  1. I wonder: how story is the desire for lightweight Bibles? Would people be okay with Bibles that were 1.5-2x the width if the paper were as opaque as your average novel?

    • There’s a limit. I’ve asked that question of a lot of people, online and in person, and haven’t found a lot of support for thicker Bibles (say 2 inches) or multi-volume editions (which allow individual volumes to remain handy). Some of us say, “Bring on the thickness,” but I’m not sure we’re a large enough niche to make an attempt viable. I wish someone would try, though.

      • I dream of nicer version of the Pocket Cannon. In my preferred translation. As someone who can’t afford “luxury”, I still think I would shell out a great deal of money for a complete box set.

  2. The thickness thing becomes much more complicated for us catholics, and for orthodoxs.

    • Orthodox don’t require additional non-canonical books in their Bibles above the sixty-six verbally inspired books. (Although some Orthodox have different views on that: some view the apocrypha as having a degree of inspiration lesser than the actual Bible, some view it as being reliable and providentially-preserved history and philosophy, for lack of a better way to put it, but the full-on “deuterocanon” view is /rare/.)

      Generally the apocrypha are viewed, as the original, God-supplied Bible study tools, like an ancient study Bible with essays, references, and even some morality tales in the back (the books of Maccabees being the equivalents of the history essays, Wisdom being the philosophical background, Judith and Tobit being the morality tales, etc.). In America and the UK, when an English translation is needed, the real Bible (i.e. the Authorised King James Version) is usually used in ROCOR and OCA churches, although the GOAA sometimes use the NKJV or, (God forbid!) the NRS’V’, depending on the training of the presbyter, usually.

      Mostly this is due to the fact that the authorised NT text of the Orthodox Church is nearly identical to the Textus Receptus of Western Christianity, of which only two English translations exist: N/KJV. The received OT text, with the LXX and MT, etc. etc. etc. (etc.), is a much more complicated story, but most Anglophone Orthodox don’t tend to worry about it, in my experience, beyond reading the Masoretic text supplied by Bomberg while paying lip-service to the LXX. (Some who are Christianity nerds, such as myself, attempt to read Brenton.)

      • Fr. Christopher, your post is very informative. Then that leaves only us -roman catholics- to deal with the problem of thickness in bigger bibles. I’m from a spanish speaking country (Argentina), and I don’t really know what bibles Orthodoxs use down here. If I followed your logic, I’d said “Reina Valera”, wich is the spanish KJV, and uses the Textus Receptus too. As for the OT, there is no single volume translation of the Septuagint to spanish that I know of.

  3. Thanks for the assertion that ghosting does not equal cheap paper. I really tire of hearing on various Bible blogs. 🙂

    • No problem, Alan. I think it’s just one of those assumptions that gets recycled without thinking. I’m reading a really cheap, stiff-paged novel right now — horrible paper but extremely opaque, so the subject is on my mind.

  4. Personally I’m all for thicker bibles and from what I understand paper is not that big of a factor when it comes to the cost of a bible. I’m kind of tired of all the large 9″ x 6″ thin line bibles and although I like the size of the Clarion it does not seem to be cutting it either. I’m thinking somewhere in the middle lies the solution such as a Concord 5″ x 8″ sized bible with a 1.5″ to 1.75″ thick text block. The paper doesn’t have to be super opaque and about a 36 GSM paper would probably do the job. I also never understood the complaint about a bible being too big or heavy just because it exceeds a certain thickness, I mean no one is recommending a Lectern or Family sized bible. Also, this isn’t exactly rocket science, so you’d think some of these college guys or gals could figure all of this out. Based upon the results it’s becoming clear to me that these guys and gals who are making and designing these bibles apparently do not love what they are doing.
    Col 3:23-24

  5. I prefer thinner Bibles and replaced an old wide-margin Oxford with a Longprimer two years ago. I’ve been using Sakura Pigma pens in it, and the show-through isn’t too bad.

    One thing I don’t hear much about is “Egyptian Papyrus”, which is apparently what the pages of my Oxford wide are made from. It’s brilliant stuff — thick, zero show through, no bleed. It’s just that the overall Bible becomes quite faffy to actually use.

    General related comments on marking here:

  6. I’m the guy who emailed you about papers, etc. — I used Tomoe River paper for the first letter, since you recommended it here, and a cheap bottle of the Pilot Iroshozuku gunmetal grey ink: it worked like a charm. Even the paper, being somewhat insubstantial, bright white, and altogether different from what I had in mind, had the rarity/uniqueness necessary — along with visibly shouting, “fine paper”, even to those who are unaware of the finer points of papers, inks, pens, etc. Sadly, though, sealing wax destroyed several pages until I got it right with great effort).

    I am looking for thicker (32-48lb) laid paper for the next one, and look forward to becoming even more lost in the world of stationery. I’ve always had a fountain pen since I got my first Waterman for Christmas when I was 8 years old. I had no idea there were so many types of… everything, from nibs to papers to inks of every possibly variation and effect, to go with it.

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