Carbon vs Carbonless Paper

Carbon vs Carbonless Paper: What Are the Differences Between Them?

Both carbon and non-carbon papers have been used for years to make copies of documents without a printer or other electronic devices. Since their purposes are so similar, it’s common for people to mix up the two.

Are there actually any differences between carbon vs carbonless paper? Surprisingly, we’ve come across many. So, we’ll be breaking down the unique attributes of these papers in the following article.

If you’re a newbie to device-free copying, don’t worry, we’ll briefly go through the purpose and uses of each paper type to fill you in.

What Is a Carbon Paper?

What Is a Carbon Paper?

Carbon duplicate paper is a sheet of paper that has one side coated with a pressure-triggered substance. The coating can be a variation of pigments or dry ink that is bound with wax, giving this side a leathery feel.

Since the 19th century, it has been used for copying documents on both typewriters and by hand with pens. Though its use today has declined, it’s still a well-known form of device-free copying.

How Does Carbon Copy Paper Work?

How Does Carbon Copy Paper Work?

Given that one side of the carbon copy paper has a waxy coating, while the other is used for layering a piece of document on.

In simple words, the document you want to copy goes on top of the non-coated side, and a blank sheet of paper goes under the coated side.

With a pen or typewriter, you basically trace over the already complete document.

Then, the pressure from the tip of the pen or keys of the typewriter causes the pigment from the carbon copy sheet to come out of its wax coating. This makes an exact imprint on the blank paper underneath.

Types of Carbon Paper

Carbon paper usually varies in color or use, but its structure and mechanism stay the same.

The color variations of carbon copy paper are associated with their ideal use, but they can be used interchangeably for a number of purposes.

Since there are many colors of carbon paper, we’ll only go through the most commonly used ones –

1. Blue or Black

In any local art supply store, you’ll notice that most carbon paper stacks are in the colors blue or black.

Since the initial purpose of carbon duplicate paper upon its invention was to trace and imprint documents without a photocopier, black and blue were the only color types available.

To this day, the few people that copy with carbon paper will choose black or blue for tracing their documents.

2. White or Clear

Carbon paper that looks “clear” is actually a waxy film holding white pigment. This is widely used for fabric arts or making measurements on fabric by tailors.

Out of all types of carbon paper, this is the one that is still in frequent use in the modern era.

3. Red or Yellow

Aside from the usual white – blue, and black carbon copy sheet, red, yellow, or other colors are used mainly for artistic purposes. This includes paintings, animation, celluloid, and fabric arts.

In some cultures, vibrant colored carbon papers are used to make illustrations on blankets or banners.

Benefits Of Carbon Paper

To summarize, the advantages of using carbon paper include –

  • Inexpensive, does not require devices such as printers, photocopiers, etc.
  • Able to make vivid traces on blank paper
  • Can be reused a few times
  • Comes in a variety of colors
  • Usable with pens, pencils, typewriters, and more
  • Used for many purposes, including art, tailoring, tattoo tracing, etc.

Disadvantages Of Carbon Paper

However, there are also some downsides to using carbon paper. They include –

  • Color vibrancy starts to fade after the first copy
  • Dust from carbon can cause reactions to the skin (rashes, itching, etc.)
  • Requires high caution during use, dust is extremely volatile

What Is a Carbonless Paper?

What Is a Carbonless Paper?

Non carbon copy paper, or No Carbon Required paper (NCR paper), carries the same purpose as carbon paper.

Instead of wax-bound ink, the carbonless paper has a side covered with microcapsules of ink on the top sheet and a reactive clay side on the bottom sheet.

Simply put, the document is placed on top of the carbonless paper sheet with colored paper underneath.

The pressure from your pen while tracing the document will burst the microcapsules and release ink which will react with the clay layer to leave an imprint on the colored sheets.

To make multiple copies in one go, you just have to increase the number of colored sheets.

Benefits of Carbonless Paper

Just like carbon paper, carbonless paper is another variation of duplicate copy paper with a number of advantages. These include –

  • Copies various types of documents in vibrant color
  • Does not require a printer, photocopier, or other devices
  • Can make multiple copies in one go
  • Can be reused a number of times, environmentally friendly
  • Biodegradable does not leave any waste
  • Does not cause any harm to users

Disadvantages of Carbonless Paper

However, even with carbonless paper’s benefits, it is not completely exempt from flaws. Here are a few downsides of using this kind of copy paper –

  • Expensive for its transparent coating and multilayer structure
  • Using in printers can cause damage to the unit, unless with specific printers
  • Carbonless copy paper chemicals (PCBs) can cause skin irritation

Difference Between Carbon vs Carbonless Paper

Difference Between Carbon vs Carbonless Paper

To summarize everything we’ve covered so far, both carbon and carbonless paper carry out the mutual purpose of copying documents without needing a device.

They are used similarly as well, by being stacked and used alongside document papers and blank sheets.

However, their chemical components and material make them significantly different. Here’s how they differ from one another –

1. Color Vibrancy

As we already know, carbon paper is only able to make 3-4 individual copies with a single sheet. Right after the first copy, the color and its vividness start to fade as the wax-bound ink wears out.

With carbonless paper, this isn’t an issue as the microcapsules contain a fairly large amount of ink to make multiple copies at once with little fading along the way.

2. Reusability

Since carbon paper’s ink wears out quicker, it makes it less reusable. Carbonless paper, on the other hand, can be used for up to 10 individual copies or more, making them much more sustainable.

3. Environmental Impact

Not only is carbonless paper more reusable, but it also does not harm the environment like carbon paper allegedly does.

Carbon paper has a waxy side which makes it impermeable to water and therefore takes a long time to decompose.

Carbonless paper does not contain such substances and is biodegradable, making it much better for the environment.

4. Health Effects

Carbon paper contains carbon which is extremely explosive. Even small amounts of carbon dust from the paper can cause minor explosions when used.

So, it has been out of sale in most places but warned to be used with high caution. It can also cause irritation to the skin.

Carbonless paper also has a few health hazards due to its polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. This chemical has been banned since the 1970s but is still used in some carbonless papers in moderation.

Some carbonless copy paper chemicals are even known to cause cancer, as shown in a lawsuit taken on in 2001.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is Carbon Paper Still Used?

No, carbon paper use is very outdated due to legal restrictions. But, there are very few places where carbon paper is still commonly found.

2. Does carbonless paper expire?

When stored properly, carbonless paper can last about 2 years at max.

3. What is 2 part carbonless paper?

A 2 part carbonless paper consists of one original form and one single copy of the original form.


So, what’s the final verdict on the carbonless vs carbon paper debate? We believe that carbonless paper is the safest option to use as it’s better in color quality and has fewer health risks.

Both papers serve the same purpose, but it’s best to take the safe route and bite the bullet on the pricey carbonless papers.