Unryu is absolutely beautiful paper, there is no doubt about it. It has long fibers that swim majestically in all directions, a huge palette of colors, translucent appeal, and a perfect wow-effect.
But the moment I got my package and opened it, I knew I was in trouble. Unryu is soft, seems to be too arrogant to hold a crease, or to remember it - hence totally unfit to origami - unless you treat it nicely.
There are multiple ways you can treat such soft paper to make it origami-capable. You can coat it with Methyl Cellulose or paint it with acrylic color. You can make tissue foil by gluing tissue paper, such as Unryu, to kitchen foil, or even make a foil sandwich, by gluing tissue paper to both sides of the aluminum foil. You can use another thin paper, like Onion Skin paper, and glue them together. And finally, you can fight your way through the natural stuff and work with it as it is.
Knowing all that, we realized reviewing Unryu would have to be done differently. No one buys Unryu to cut it to 30 small squares for a modular, nor would they fold a crane or a barking dog from it. So this review will be dedicated to complex and 3D animal models only, the main reason people will buy this paper. And we will test such models on Unryu after treating it in different ways.
There is a lot of confusion about its origin, and what is it made of. I worked hard to gather as much information on it as possible, and here is what I found.
Unryu is part of a family of papers, which are all made from Mulberry. The different papers get their surname depending on the type of Mulberry used, either Kozo (Broussonetia Papyrifera, the paper mulberry), Gampi (Wikstroemia Diplomorpha), or Mitsumata (Edgeworthia Chrysantha).
Unryu is Japanese for cloud dragon paper and the term is used for paper containing strands of Kozo fibre. Unryu papers are distinctively unique in their appearance and are available in many colours, textures, and thicknesses. Like all Mulberry papers, Unryu is made from the bark fibres of the Mulberry tree, and not from the inner wood or pith. Traditionally the paper is made by hand. Some Unryu varieties include shiny metallic silver threads for a shimmering effect and others have leaf inclusions for a natural addition.
We are not the only ones who worship this paper. Many crafter or paper artists have Unryu in their paper collection, to be used for Scrapbooking, Card Making, Collage, Painting, and Lamp Shades.
Since there are many producers of Unryu, we had to choose one vendor and check its merchandise. As usual, I got my Unryu from Nicolas Terry's Origami-Shop in a ten-color pack. There is no official information about it except for its origin: Thailand.
In this paper review we will present the result of most of the options of treatment we could think about. Although this is not a guide for paper treatment, we do linger on this part, just to make sure you understand how we treated the paper before we tested it. I thank Herman Mariano, our mentor in all paper treatment issues, for preparing all papers with me, and for guiding me in the process.
Thickness: The measured weight is 27gsm, but it varies slightly from sheet to sheet. The thickness measurement is 75-145 microns on the same sheet. This is most likely a handmade paper, so an even thickness is very hard to achieve, especially with the beautiful paper fibers, which are included in the paper.
Product image of sheets of Unryu, as seen at Origami-Shop
- Sizes: This paper is usually sold in big sheets. Some shops cut them for you in advance. Origami-Shop sells them as 40cm×40cm and 60cm×60cm squares. Paper Mojo sells 25in×37in rectangles (63.5cm×94cm).
- Colors: Unryu is available in many colors. If you look around in different shops, you'll easily find 50 different shades. The colors tend to have strong hues, but quiet, pastel shades are also available.
- Paper Coloring or Colorability: With such a large variety of colors available you hardly need to color Unryu yourself. But still, we tested the colorability using Ecoline water color. The white paper absorbed the color quickly and resulted in a paper with a deep blue tint. It took more time than usual to color a full 30cm square. After the sheet had dried it was still a 30cm square, it did not get distorted, as you usually see with handmade papers. (We will later see that Unryu reacts differently when using varnish.)
Texture: Beautiful. You can clearly see the long, swirling strands of Kozo, in no specific direction. Unryu is translucent in some parts, more opaque in others. I believe this paper was left to dry in the sun on a smooth surface, so the lower side is smooth and has a little shine to it. The upper part is more textured, you can actually feel the bumps of the fiber clusters.
- Photogenic: a top model. Unryu is beautiful, beautiful paper. And with the variety of colors available you can make sure your photo will be a hit.
- Aging and Wear and Tear: The result from the test machine was 1010, second only to Elephant Hide (~1130), which is four times thicker, and Tissue Foil. Its value is better than that of Origamido® (~990). The paper has no acid and should last for many years. 9 out of 10.
- Memory: Without treatment, this paper has evident memory, but it is much lower than that of average origami paper. Unlike other handmade tissue papers, this brand is not as soft as you could imagine. 7.5 out of 10.
- Forgiveness: Good. You might think the paper is too fluffy, but it actually has enough resistance and agility to break to the other side nicely. 8 out of 10.
- Tensile Strength: We refer here to the maximum stress the paper can undergo while being stretched or pulled. We have no numbers from the test machine, because - lo and behold - it failed to tear this paper. The QA employee said he'd never seen something like this before. 10 out of 10.
- Bending Resistance: This section rates the amount of force you need to apply to get a sharp crease and how strong the paper is while being curved (like during the puffing of the PowerPuff unit; see below). Unryu is a thin paper and the machine needed very little force to bend it. The results were 6 with the grain, and 15 against the grain. This compares to thin Kraft, and is much lower than Tant (54 and 104). 5 out of 10.
- Where to buy: Since this paper appeals to many people, not just those in the origami community, you can find it in many paper stores.
With the model I wanted to fold in mind, I chose the green paper. It was pasted with 3M Super 77, multipurpose adhesive, applied as a spray. For the foil we used kitchen foil. First we cut a quarter out of the 60cm folded sheet. Luckily, our local brand of kitchen foil is 30cm wide, too, and we cut a strip that was about 40cm long. Spreading the papers on old newspapers outside, I sprayed both with an even coat of the 3M adhesive, and let it dry for 7 minutes (as instructed to have a strong bonding). When ready I held the green paper in the top two corners, and Herman attached the two lower corners to the foil. Then slowly I lowered the top edge while Herman smoothed the tissue with a small cloth. We tried to align the papers (since both are 30 cm in length), but we couldn't, and we used rulers to cut it to a square. The paper was ready.
Bullfrog by Roman Diaz, 29×29cm
The general feeling is Blahhhh. All fold lines looks rough from the inside. You cannot feel the paper while folding, just feel the foil. Every reverse-fold is a struggle. In step 24 you are asked to bring the flaps forward; for that you need to reverse relatively big flaps, which is very difficult to do. Sinking the legs in steps 30 and 37 resulted in a lot of crimps badly shaped on the foil side. With so many crimps on the foil side, I soon got lost and couldn't identify the crease lines referenced. Because of that, the last steps were done by guessing and some brute force shaping. The final result is far from satisfying. Although it is foil, I found it resisted the shaping of the head. Moreover, I get sparkles of shiny foil here and there, and the lower jaw is made from the foil side.
An afterthought I had is to make the foil just a little bit smaller then the tissue paper, so you will not have this shiny effect all over the edges of the paper.
Tissue-Onion Skin Paper sandwich
For this preparation technique I used the red paper. I applied the 3M super 77 glue to this sheet of Unryu, as well as a sheet of Onion Skin paper. Again, I laid the papers with the glue applied to dry for seven minutes. Then I asked a helpful hand to hold the edges of the red paper, while I held it with the tip of my fingers on the bottom. I pulled it slowly downward, until the red paper touched the Onion Skin paper, and then I smeared it slowly with a hand movement from side to side, each time fastening a further two to three centimeters (1 inch). Still, at the end some snakes of squashed paper emerged and I smoothed them with a strong hand and my bone folder. Since I used a big sheet of Onion Skip (it is cheap, and I have a big stock of it), I had to cut away the surplus paper.
Rose by Toshikazu Kawasaki, 20×20cm
The folding experience was much better. The Onion Skin layer allows you to see the crease lines more clearly than on pure Unryu, and even the tissue foil. Reversing is still a pain in your fingers, yet again, it worked much better than while folding the bullfrog from tissue foil. The general feeling of this preparation of Unryu is good. The paper has enough resistance and follows your leads. The curling part was the best - you get the feeling this paper can never be torn; you can pinch it, stretch it, shape it at will, and it will follow suit. The result is stunning, the texture is just wonderful.
Brown and white are the perfect colours for the color-change sheep by Hideo Komatsu we wanted to fold. I cut a 34cm square of the brown paper, brushed MC on one side, and lowered the white 30cm paper slowly, with the help of Herman. We let it dry for an hour, and then cut the surplus brown paper.
Sheep by Hideo Komatsu, 30×30cm
The paper we got is unique. You can feel how your fingernails make a real dent in the paper, and the clusters of fibers are easily felt. Our bonding procedure wasn't perfect, and sometimes the papers separated. It's very hard to see crease lines, and while trying to make a sink fold, I had to guess where the lines I had to reverse were. The paper in the legs is too thick, and the head won't stay flat, but tends to be opened to the sides. The model has a very clever way of locking both sides of the animal, and preventing the legs from spreading, but with this soft paper it has very little effect. Still, this is visually the perfect paper for this sheep, there is no doubt about it.
Making a sandwich from Unryu, foil, and another sheet of Unryu asks for accurate placing of the sheets. Although you can cut all three papers to the same size, this is not recommended. We suggest you cut the two sheets of Unryu a bit bigger than the foil. We again used the 3M 77 spray glue, so our sandwich consists of a layer of tissue paper, a layer of adhesive spray, another layer of adhesive spray (applied to the foil side), the foil itself, two more layers of glue, and the final layer of tissue paper - so all in all seven layers. You might think you will get a thick paper, but the result still feels like it's as thin as Elephant Hide.
Panda by Hideo Komatsu
Folding with this tissue-foil-tissue sandwich was even better than the first two folding experiences. All creases are visible, but reverse-folding is still problematic. Another problem arises when you try to make a straight line that falls on a cluster of fibers. The paper breaks on the edge of this cluster, and not where you want it. The shorter the fold line is - the bigger the problem is. The three layer paper felt really nice, but from time to time the inner layers separated, making a little mountain inside a valley fold. This is probably the result of not spreading the glue evenly enough.
The best part is shaping the panda to its rounded contours. It is done so easily, and the model just holds it perfectly. If only I had been smart enough to cut the foil to a smaller square, I would have been very happy with the result. Since I didn't, you can see the foil emerge here and there, which ruins the beautiful contrast between the black and white side of the paper.
Double-Coated MC Tissue
I cut a 42cm square from the Ivory Natural shade to get a nice 40cm square for folding. I know that paper changes its proportions when soaked with liquid, so I didn't try to cut the right size before coating. I made my MC thick as a paste a day before, and applied it on the paper that rested on a glass plate. Using a wide brush I quickly covered one side, picked it up from the glass and moved it aside, to a clean area of the glass. This allowed me to clean the glass below the paper from all residue of glue. I continued to raise it gently and move it from side to side to make sure the paper would not stick to the glass. The first layer had dried after about 30 minutes, and I turned it over to coat the other side using the same procedure. An hour later everything was ready for cutting my square. Using two rulers to mark 37cm, I added a third ruler perpendicular to the other two and used a handheld rotary cutter to cut the square. A rotary cutter is much better than a knife, which can move the paper, or create a tear when you move it over the paper.
Pegasus by Satoshi Kamiya, 40×40cm
My square was perfect, judged by the first two diagonal folds. The paper is much more responsive and can be folded nicely. Reversing a fold is quite doable, you just need to go slowly. The main problem is all the creases are practically invisible. I could hardly see them on this ivory paper. For the closed sink in step 37, I pre-creased the flap in both directions, making it easier than expected. Finishing the body and finalizing the small details was like going downhill on a bike, no real effort is needed. The multi-layer steps are easy to do, and shaping, too. The final model does not need any extra treatment. It does feel a bit soft and tender, but the wings are stretched backward and stay there, and the legs can hold the model.
Colored and Varnished Tissue
I colored a white sheet using Ecoline water color. The paper absorbed a lot of water color, and took more than 40 minutes to dry. When dried, I was surprised to see that the dimensions of the sheet had not changed, and that the coloring was very even. Next I added a layer of a mat water-based varnish. Starting from the center, I brushed it left and right, outward. I let it dry for an hour, and measured the size again. This time the effect was a major shrinking, the varnish coating shortened the paper by two to three millimeters!
Rabbit by Hideo Komatsu, 22×22cm
I cut the prepared sheet down to a 22cm square, and started to fold. I immediately ran into difficulties. The long fibers were no longer flexible. They absorbed a lot of the varnish, and were now stiff and hard to fold. Reversing a simple valley to a mountain was now a major issue. The paper just refused to do so, and if not super careful, you just made another crease, rather than following the existing one. The general feeling is like folding a thin sheet of plastic. The ears, with many layers to be squashed, are doable, but you cannot perform the step precisely. Overcoming all those obstacles, by working slow and determined, I managed to finish it, and the result is good, I'd even say very good.
Rat by Eric Joisel, 10×10cm
A thin paper asks for small models. Surprisingly, the rat was easy to fold. Although the paper hardly holds a crease, I managed to complete the rat. Shaping is almost impossible, since the paper never stays in the right posture. The final model tends to unfold itself, especially the legs.
Owl by Katsuat Kyohei, 30×30cm
Seeing the rat that Gadi had folded from untreated Unryu, I had to try it, too. And what a big surprise I had here. First, I managed to finish the model, and even more, it looks very nice. While holding it, the paper gives the feeling that it is not suitable for folding without treatment, but when actually folding it you discover it is responsive. Crease line are hard to see, but reversing a fold (which is done a lot in this Box Pleating model) is doable if you work slowly and search for the break in the paper. Squash-folding is a problem, because the paper can go flat anywhere, and it's hard to feel the right path, but work slowly and you can do it. The big problem came with the talons. Sinking such small parts was difficult, and I was not so happy with the result. Actually, there were no results; I just used brute force to bring the paper into place. But this may be the only real problem I encountered while folding. The final model is not firm and refuses to hold its shape, especially the head, beak and wing tips. It's hard to enforce those small flaps to stay in their place with a strong crease.
There is no verdict here. This paper is a prince and cannot be judged. It will give this unique and beautiful look to your models, and to get that you have to work hard. Pamper your paper and be rewarded.
As to preparation techniques, I would not choose the foil options. I liked the Tissue-Onion Skin sandwich, and the double MC coating. Folding it as it is was a nice experience, but just one layer of MC can prevent all its shortcomings. Double tissue should be used for color-change models. Again, I prefer it without the foil inside.
In Flickr we found 493 results, which shows how popular this paper is. Almost all models folded are intermediate to complex 3D animals. One of the few exceptions is a tessellation made by Eric Gjerde, treated with starch.
There are even more options to treat Unryu, but I do hope you got the hang of it from this review. Don't hesitate to test your ways, and share them with us.
How can we score it? Yes, it's not versatile at all, and can be used mostly for complex or 3D. But it is soooo charming, with sex appeal and you do get mesmerizing results. Choose the right treatment method for your model, and Unryu becomes highly suitable for folding.
Bottom line: enchanting!
|Paper||Thickness (gsm)||Size||Color palette||Texture||Aging||Memory||Forgiveness||Tensile Strength||Bending Resistance|
|Unryu||27||40cm, 60cm||10||Hand-made||Many years||7.5||8||10||5|
|Skytone||90, 176||A4, 63.5cm×96.5cm||12||Smooth, marble-like||Unknown||8||9||7||8.5|
|Kami||60||7.5cm, 15cm, 30cm||200+||Smooth, a bit shiny||Many years||8||8||7||8|
|Ingres||90||B1, B2, A4||5 (previously 21)||Rough||Years||8||8||7.5||8.5|
|Nicolas Terry Tissue Foil||50||15cm, 20cm, 30cm, 40cm, 60cm||8 hues||Glittery; handmade look||Unknown||8||8||9||8|
|Onion Skin||35||A4; Letter; 84.5×64.4cm||White||Cockled||Many years||8||5||8.5||5|
|Kraft||35||15cm; 30cm; 48cm; 35cm; 40×60cm||Light brown||Smooth and a little shiny on one side||Unknown||9||5||8||4|
|Crumpled||48-51||64cm by 64cm||28 hues, plus 12 pearled||Bumps||Less than a year||8||6||4||4|
|Stardream||110-340 (120 tested)||72cm by 102cm||33 hues||Smooth and sparkly||Years||9||9||7||9.5|
|Origamido||10-100||40cm by 50cm and more||Very broad||Varies||Many years||5 to 9||6 to 8||10||2|
|Printer Paper||50-120 (80 tested)||A0-A7, B and C equivalents, ANSI. Many others||Mainly white, but many colors||smooth and dull||Few years||7||9||4||4|
|Japanese Foil||50||various from 3cm up to 50cm squares||12 colors||smooth and shiny||Many years||10||4||5||6|
|Tant||78||7.5cm; 15cm; 30.5cm; 35cm; 110×80cm||100 colors||Mildly rough||Many years||9||8||6||5|
|Elephant Hide||110||A4; 70cm×100cm||7 colors||smooth||Many years||10||7||10||10|
|Paper||Classic||Action||Tessellation||Complex||Modular||3D||Wet Folding||Final score|
|Nicolas Terry Tissue Foil||9||8.5||8.5||9.5||8||9||9.5||9+|