There are three primary types of watermarks:


   Light & Shade.


   These primary types of watermarks may be used together. In other words, the wire watermark may be used to outline the light & shade watermark to produce a combined watermark.

   In 1997, the International Association Of Paper Historians (IPH) established a registry of watermarks, and in order to accomplish that, they identified seven types of watermarks:

Combined Line / Shadow
Molette (i.e. Impressed)
Thread Line

   Of the types listed above, the Line watermark is what has traditionally been known as the Wire watermark, and the Shadow watermark is what has been traditionally known as the Light & Shade watermark. The type listed as a Combined Line / Shadow watermark is what has traditionally been known as a Combination watermark, and the type listed as Embossed is sometimes used (erroneously) in place of the more traditional name of the Tonal watermark. The type listed as the Molette or Impressed watermark is the more correct alternative for what has been traditionally known as the Tonal watermark. {Note: The Embossed watermark will be more fully described in the discussion of False Watermarks.} And lastly, the type listed as Thread Line is not a watermark at all, but rather a particular security feature that consists of a very small 'thread' of material that is fed into the pulp as the paper is forming, to provide a security feature in addition to others, such as the watermark. The Thread Line may contain a repeating design in itself, or may contain encoded information for the sake of security.

   Any of the various types of watermarks may be positioned so that they appear on the paper in a particular manner. This is often referred to as the style or layout of the watermark.

Wire Watermarks

   The wire watermark, noted above as currently being referred to by the IPH as the line watermark, is one in which a piece of wire is bent or otherwise shaped into a design or symbol (usually referred to as a papermark to differentiate it from the image it produces) and then attached, in the process of hand-produced paper, to the mesh of the paper mold or, in the process of machine-produced paper, to the mesh fabric covering a dandy roll. Attached to the mesh of either a hand paper mold or a paper machine's 'dandy' roll, the wire papermark functions as a raised or elevated element.

   In the earliest days of watermarks, the wire forms would be attached to the paper mold screen by tying it on with other pieces of wire, and therefore small spots would be evident along the image's outline. Later, the wire forms would be attached by welding them to the screen. (If you look closely at some of the examples in the Gallery, you can see the small white spots on some of the watermarks.)

   In the process of producing paper by hand, as the paper slurry is drained of its water, the layer of fibers which remains will be thinner where it lays atop the wire papermark.

   In the process of producing paper by machine, the paper is formed by passing the slurry through, across and under the various dryers and rolls of the machine, and the water in the slurry is drawn off and/or evaporated in the process. As the paper slurry passes under the dandy roll, the mesh fabric covering the roll is pressed against the slurry, causing an impression of the raised element to be pressed into the paper fibers.

   The invention of the Dandy-Roll is credited to John Marshall (1826). The special open web design of the dandy roll was created primarily for the purpose of allowing a large amount of the water in the forming paper to be syphoned off, and in the process to quickly and effectively produce an impression of the papermark in the still slightly damp paper as it was moving through the paper machine.

   The open structure of the dandy roll would be covered with a changeable wire mesh covering (called a fabric or cloth) which was found to transfer its own pattern to the paper in the process of transferring the watermark image. The wire mesh cover of the dandy roll could be constructed to mimic the traditional laid or wove designs common to the earlier hand moulds.

   Laid paper contains an overall pattern of thin lines or bars 'laid' in columns. Wove paper contains an overall pattern that resembles woven cloth.


   In both cases, of hand formed or machine produced paper, the wire papermark will produce an image that appears lighter than the surrounding paper tone.

   The wire watermark is sometimes referred to as a line watermark because of the fact that the image produced will resemble a simple line drawing.

   The wire watermark is also sometimes referred to as an electrotype watermark because in recent years, rather than being utilized to create light and shade watermarks, the electrotype process has been used to create thin line designs which are as effective in producing a good watermark image as the wire ones.




This is an example of a wire watermark in paper used in the book, Explicationes Evangeliorum & Epistolarum, published in 1559.


Light & Shade And Tonal Watermarks

   The light & shade watermark, alternately referred to as a chiaroscuro watermark (in reference to the artistic method of using light and dark elements for their dramatic effect), a tonal watermark, a shaded watermark, a shade-craft watermark, a shadow watermark or simply as a shadowmark, is one in which a relief sculpture is created, from which impressions are made in the wire mesh fabric of the paper mold or the dandy roll.

   The appellations of shaded watermark, shadow watermark and shadowmark more accurately refer to watermarks which consist of only two tones, a light and a dark one, hence the name: 'light & shade'.

   The appelation of shade-craft watermark generally refers to a design that is created from an intaglio technique of etching or engraving the design into a flat plate, in order to produce a watermark that is simply 'shaded' or darker than the surrounding paper because of greater accumulation of pulp fibers in the depressions of the intaglio design.

   The relief sculpture is exactly what the name implies ~ the image is carved out of a flat plate, resembling a bas relief sculpture. Because the sculpture will contain a wide variety of levels and gradients, the resulting watermark will likewise exhibit a range of greys between black and white.

   The early light & shade watermarks were produced by the process known as electrotype. The electrotype plate was created by carving a relief sculpture in a flat wax plate, which would then be coated with powdered graphite, to which copper would be electrically bonded until a layer approximately 1/32 inch thick was created over the entire surface. Both, male and female plates (i.e. a die and a matrix) would be created. Currently, the electrotype process is being used to create wire watermarks, and the bas relief sculpture, for light & shade watermarks, is generally created by means of computer-generated 3D programs.

   Then a piece of heated wire mesh fabric would be placed between the male and female plates, and they would be pressed together. This part of the process, impressing the relief into the wire mesh fabric (aka countersinking) has given rise to the alternative names of the Molette or Impressed watermark. After the relief sculpted into the plates would be transferred to the wire mesh fabric, the impressed fabric would then be attached either to a hand paper mold or to a dandy roll on a paper machine. Paper slurry poured into the hand mold, or passed over the machine roll, would be thinner where the areas of the relief was higher and thicker where it was deeper, with graduated levels corresponding to how the relief was graduated.

   As noted above, the light & shade watermark is produced today the same way with the exception that the relief plates may be produced by a number of means other than by either the lost wax or the electrotype methods. Computer software programs are available to the watermark artist today which enable the plates to be 'sculpted' in the virtual space of the computer, with the pertinent data being directed to an engraving machine, which engraves the watermark design in either brass or aluminum plates.


This is an example of a light & shade watermark in paper used for currency, from a Banque de France, 10 Francs note dated 1940.


Combination And Other Watermarks

   It is possible to combine the two primary types of watermark together in order to produce an effect of having a relief image (from the light & shade papermark) with distinct and sharp light areas (from the wire papermark) in the same watermark image.

   Combination watermarks are especially desired in instances in which a rather small image needs highlighting or emphasis.

Positioning Of Watermarks

   The manner in which the watermark is positioned or repeated across a sheet of paper is referred to as its layout or style.

   During the Renaissance, when paper was all produced by hand, and the size of individually formed sheets was under two feet square (that being about the largest size of a paper mould that an average man could handle), a single watermark was usually positioned at the top, center of the sheet.

   The difficulty of bending and shaping the wire papermark, and then duplicating the design closely, provides the basic reason for why the early hand-made papermakers did not create paper containing multiple and variously positioned watermarks. As time went on, and other processes, such as electrotype became popular, multiple identical papermarks could be created and utilized, and the positioning of the watermark was freed from the top, center of the sheet.

   At the present time, in regard to machine produced paper, the watermark may be positioned in a number of general layouts. Because of the nature of the cylindrical shaped rolls on which the paper forms and is transported through the paper machine, the placement of the watermark is pretty much free to the imagination of the papermaker.

   Regardless of the type of the overall layout, the amount of 'tightness' or 'looseness' of the watermark images, in relation to each other, is determined by the number of times the same image is to be repeated around the roll. And for that reason, the distance between an image and its closest duplicate is known as the repeat. Longer repeats will result in a looser layout, while shorter repeats will result in a tighter layout.

   At the present time, layouts are generally determined to accommodate two types of finished product: individual sheets of paper and bank checks. In the United States, a standard size for a finished sheet of paper measures eight and one-half inches in width and eleven inches in height. A standard size for a bank check is six inches in width and two and three-quarter inches in height.

   A number of layouts have been identified by papermakers:

   Solo, Central or Individual.



     This layout features a single watermark image per each finished, standardized (8-1/2" x 11") sheet of paper. For this type of layout the repeat is very long ~ essentially eleven inches.



      This layout is one in which the image is positioned (apparently) randomly across the sheet of paper in a way that at least one complete watermark image will appear in the sheet or in the check. In a random layout, the image might be able to be 'read' from any direction: from left to right or from right to left, or upside down from left to right, or upside down from right to left. Of course, due to the repeating nature of the watermark on a paper machine roll, no watermark layout can be absolutely random, so the positioning of the image to create a 'random' effect is dependant on the amount of diversity that is given to rotating the image itself. The watermark image, in a random layout, will not necessarily repeat in a uniform manner on each finished sheet of paper or check.


   Paraded or Strip.

     This layout consists of the watermark image being positioned either horizontally in a 'row', or vertically in a 'column'. The word strip is generally used to denote a layout in which the column or row of images is narrow, and hence creates the illusion of a strip or thin line. Both, the paraded or strip layouts are set up in order that the watermark image repeats in a uniform manner on each finished sheet of paper or check.





     This layout consists of the watermark image repeating in a column, as in the paraded layout, but where the column tilts at an angle to the vertical sides of the sheet of paper or check.


   Overall or Everywhere.

     This layout, similar to the random layout, consists of the watermark image being repeated rather tightly across the entire space of the sheet of paper or check. The overall layout may combine other layouts, such as staggered with paraded or random with staggered. The emphasis with an overall layout is on the fact that the watermark image is repeated many times in a tight spacing.

Orientation Of Watermarks

   The way in which the watermark will be positioned relative to the web of the paper machine is its orientation. There are three types of orientation:

   Vertical, Horizontal or Angled.