Printing on Papyrus

Out of all my fonts, Medu — the authentic hieroglyphic one — is probably my favorite. (it’s for sale on DriveThruRPG if you’re interested) And, probably unlike the average person (but then again, are any of us gamers average people?) I have played around with real papyrus a time or two. Naturally, these things converged.

papyrus detail
Detail of Medu printed on papyrus

Specifically, they converged in that this morning, I successfully printed some text (the Negative Confessions) in Medu on a piece of real papyrus!

The example to the right is a detail from the printout. A picture of the full page, and more information about how I printed it, is after the break.

As I mentioned above, the text is from the Negative Confessions in what is popularly called the Book of the Dead, as translated to English by Wallis Budge:  I have not committed sin. I have not committed robbery with violence. I have not stolen. I have not slain men or women. And so on for 38 more things that the person professing their goodness to Maat has not done. I find “I have not polluted the water” to be quite interesting: might that be the oldest example of environmental laws?

medu on papyrus
Printout of Medu on papyrus

The papyrus in question is a 20×30 cm piece from Crafts of Egypt, ordered through I suspect pretty much any commercially available papyrus sheet would be the same; they likely come from the same wholesalers.

I chose one of the more uniformly colored specimens from the package of them that I bought to do this printing test. I’ve noticed in my printout that there was more ink spread in the darker areas; presumably they’re from squishier papyrus reeds, so keep that in mind.

To prepare it for printing, I pressed it before printing by keeping it for 6 days betweenthe Warhammer 40k rulebook , 2012 edition, and the Morrow Project 4th edition rulebook (I am a gamer, after all!).

The printer is an Epson Artisan 835, with Espon standard ink cartridges. Whether aftermarket cartridges would be better or worse for ink spread is unknown. I put my hopefully flattened papyrus sheet in the main tray of the printer on top of normal 8.5×11 paper, because this printer has a known issue with pickup with only a few sheets of paper; it fed through straight. Since there was still, despite the squashing, a slight curve to the papyrus, I put it with the curve uppermost. This particular printer feeds upward but prints on the bottom side, so the convex side would be the one to be printed on.

The results came out as you see. (click on the thumbnail for a full-sized picture of the printed papyrus)

In general, it looks good. I wouldn’t be at all reluctant to hand that out for a prop in a game, etc. There are, however, a number of things I want to try for the next experiment.

For preparation of the papyrus, I intend to try both a household iron and the heat press I use for making Wintertree T-shirts to see if either of them flattens the pages either faster or better than squashing them between books. I’m also hoping that they smooth the surface a bit more. I’m also going to try artists’ spray fixative to see if that will seal the surface enough to reduce the ink spread without making it too smooth for the ink to stick properly.

Some changes to printing are also worth investigating; in particular, using the ink-saving mode in the printer options (I just used the default) with the hope that will reduce the spread as well, since it applies less ink. Also, I definitely want to use larger text. I set this in 20-point because I wanted to get the entire Negative Confessions onto one page, and that turned out to be a mistake. A major flaw in its pseudo-authenticity is that no scribe could have written that small; they didn’t have Rapidographs back then, and that’s what you would have needed. Somewhere around 48 point text would be about right, I think.

If my experiments with pressing and coating work out, maybe I’ll add printer-ready papyrus to the Wintertree offerings. If I can find a wholesaler who sells quantities less than 1000, anyway.

In unrelated updates, added another new command (well, on the code side it’s a different command; on the user side it looks like a command option) to TableMaster 1.4.4. And found a particularly nasty bug, where under some circumstances (I haven’t figured out which yet) it doesn’t catch duplicate tables. Also yet another way that it can leave table files open when it shouldn’t. Which is why I should probably be working on code, not writing blog posts!