Yellow Trace Paper? Whats the dealio?


What is the deal with yellow trace paper? why yellow? I remember in school one teacher in particular would only talk to us if we had yellow trace by our side. whay makes yellow trace paper so special? is it like those peeps still stuck in the 60's that wear yellow tinted glasses? does it make the ink pop more? i need answers yo!

Apr 4, 10 4:49 pm

kids these days... by the way, its called 'bumwad'...

Apr 4, 10 5:17 pm

isnt bumwad toilet paper?

Apr 4, 10 5:20 pm
Distant Unicorn


This is also called bumwad.

Apr 4, 10 5:21 pm
Distant Unicorn

K4d, the deal with yellow trace paper is purely subjective and personal.

Yes, that paper is nice. The thing is though is that it is a "quality" item in the same way that white socks, black shoes and vinyl are "quality" items.

Trace paper can't be made without industrial technology. Smooth hot-pressed paper has more regularity but that's not the reason it is "quality." The quality comes more from the writing instrument.

Fountain pens (and other 'contact' pens) do not like to be dragged even though we often use them in that way. By have the smoothest paper possible, you can drag them easily over long strokes with out having to reapply ink.

Typically, trace paper works best when using fountain, nib, stylus and quill type pens.

However, before the invention of "modern" ink... artists often preferred thicker and heavier paper. The reasoning for this was the widespread use of nib pens (made out of glass, brass and steel) that glided well on thicker paper but needed thicker stock to cushion the pen tip and absorb the ink quickly.

Lastly, the other reason for trace paper was the popularity in transference... you can make "blueprints" (photographic copies via the sun) easier, it copies better in both old and modern xerographic machines and it is easier to use trace to transfer ink onto plates (via the xylene transfer method) for lithography.

Apr 4, 10 5:31 pm
Distant Unicorn

As far as the yellow goes... many men have red-green color blindness problems where blues, browns and yellows are far more visible. Combined with eye strain, colored papers are preferred for ease of reading and ease of contrast.

(Most commercial inks are often not actually black but rather a "pitch" black. "Pitch" black is often made by super saturating black ink with another colored ink to make the ink "blacker" than "black." By applying color tempered black ink to color paper, your eliminate the faint color traces that "pitch" black ink provides.)

Apr 4, 10 5:34 pm

good stuff unicorn! awesome read! :)

Apr 4, 10 6:40 pm

i'm partial to yellow. for me it's that things 'pop' better than on white.

it's purely a personal thing, though, and that's why we stock both in our office.

they seem to be used at about the same rate, by the way.

Apr 4, 10 9:15 pm

One thing about yellow trace is that you can see it on a white surface. My board liner is white and when you put white trace on it, you can tend to lose track of your paper size.... and draw off the paper. Similar phenomena when pinning your white trace up on a white wall.

Apr 4, 10 10:04 pm

OK but wait: do you mean canary trace, or buff trace? They're two different yellows. I like both of them, and prefer them both over white trace.

The cool thing about canary yellow is black ink with white and non-photo blue Prismacolor pops on it like crazy. So Pop-ey.

Other names for it:
buff (this is what we called it in undergrad in the late 80s in Az)
transparent (spoken with a fake French accent)

Apr 5, 10 9:34 am

Boo bumwad. Pure white all the way.

I love not having to PS the yellow out of scanned sketches.

Apr 5, 10 10:47 am
vado retro
Apr 5, 10 11:17 am
le bossman

that's strange. i've had teachers who specifically told us NOT to use yellow trace. personally, i recommend the white. when you scan it, it looks better in the portfolio, plus you can inverse the color so it becomes white on black.

Apr 5, 10 12:07 pm
le bossman

the buff is better than the canary. the canary is horrible imho.

Apr 5, 10 12:07 pm

i loved scanned yellow bumwad in porfolios!

bossman, why the hell would professors care what kind of trace you personally use???? Architecture professors are some of the most stuck up professors ever. They think they know absolutely everything, just because they are 'analytical' thinkers!

Apr 5, 10 4:58 pm

funny... my instructor advised us to use yellow paper instead of white due. she was an elite bitch

Apr 5, 10 5:10 pm
le bossman

because they don't like yellow.

Apr 5, 10 5:21 pm

right, so THEY don't have to use yellow.....

Apr 5, 10 5:24 pm

I prefer the yellow (canary) for the same reason I like blue pens --
because you can spot an original versus a photocopy.
and also Ms Sink sez -- you can use white pencil on it, etc..

Apr 5, 10 5:55 pm

canary, all the way.

Apr 5, 10 6:02 pm

i've always found that yes, the yellow makes everything pop ... and i've always loved how layered prismacolor colored pencils look on the yellow too. Yellow rules!

Apr 5, 10 6:20 pm

there-in lies the divide...

Old school: Yellow makes my prisma pop.

New school: White photoshops better.

Apr 5, 10 6:42 pm

Not sure if it's been said yet but for some, the yellow vs. white debate is a matter of psychology...On yellow trash, some argue that your less likely to be focused on a finished product since most finished drawings are/were done on a white medium. I sort-of halfway buy this logic for times passed but now since most of us are working in a digital medium, it may no longer have as much relevance as it once did.

This may be the only Michael Graves reference my my 10+ year career as an architect, but his color pencil sketches on yellow trash are pretty impressive. Can't say I'm a fan of the mans work but I do appreciate his drawings.

Apr 5, 10 7:20 pm

tagalong, you summed it up. Well done.

To defend the professors who demand one color or another: there is value in a consistency across an entire class. When we assign students certain drawings at GSA, we require them all to use the same size, type, and orientation of paper. It helps, when the projects are all posted and you want to compare IDEAS not presentation, to have the consistency of one paper type. Granted, that's not as significant when doing trace overlay over trace overlay with no intention of pinning them up, but it may be a peek into what your profs are thinking.

Apr 5, 10 7:56 pm

i never knew paper mattered. guess thats what comes of going to a crazy fine arts school before switching to architecture.

whatever works is cool for me, trace, lace, or space.

so i guess we are odd because we don't have any tracing paper in our office. we use models and draw on top of a3 sheets of reglar white paper from the printer and thats about it. don't know why. not interested in analyzing too much either ;-)

Apr 5, 10 8:59 pm

well if trace isnt an option do the massimiliano fuksas! write on the walls! (especially those of museums lol!)

Apr 6, 10 12:54 am

Just don't throw it away afterwards

Apr 6, 10 1:56 am

Similar to what Marlow said: Psychologically I feel like yellow trace is easier to use. Rather than staring at a pristine white canvas (over whatever other thing I am tracing) there is already a layer of yellow crap covering the drawing so I am free to dig in. The fact that something on yellow trace always looks like a work in progress is a good thing.

That said, there is an architect in FL (don't remember name) who does beautiful finished, hand drafted, drawings on yellow bumwad.

It seems like bumwad would be the more appropriate term for the white stuff as I have never had yellow toilet paper.

Apr 6, 10 11:17 am

Thank god you demand sheet and layout consistency. I always felt I was one of the few students who understood that logic. There were always a handful of students printing plans at 1" scale and creating insanely large diagrams to hide their mediocre ideas.

Apr 6, 10 12:29 pm

"It helps, when the projects are all posted and you want to compare IDEAS not presentation, to have the consistency of one paper type."

It seems with the consistency of the paper, they are more worried about the layout consistency as opposed to the ideas.

Ideas don't have to be on the same paper to make sense. Some people like to draw/sketch on different materials/paper size/paper color to help them express the ideas. Maybe it helps them in some odd way, but for a professor to require certain paper type/color for YOU to use to express YOUR ideas seems very odd.

Apr 6, 10 12:38 pm

wow, now i think on it that whole idea of asking students to use the same paper is a real turn off for me. i think i would be tempted to present things on an entirely obtuse material of some sort just to keep myself sane. green shingles or a roll of batte insulation might be fun.

the most beautiful presentation i have ever seen was one done on white bedsheets wrapped around 6 foot pieces of timber. the presenter made a simple show by unwrapping his drawings and laying them out on the floor. Was brilliant and perfectly in tune with the work as well. Much better than paper.

while i appreciate architerp's point of view I kind of suspect that mediocre ideas can be hidden on any number of materials, including trace paper. not sure that mediocrity is actually signaled by drawing scales. sounds unlikely, truth be told.


Apr 6, 10 1:11 pm

jump, i'm just thinking back to studio days when there were people who abused scale and consumed 50ft lengths of pin-up space for a project with a 2000 sq ft program.

I love when the presentation is part of the design process and creatively informs the audience and critics about the ideas and thought. An example I've seen executed well a few times is when the presentation is a cohesive graphic design drawing from the project. I also remember a guy actually pinning up all his (canary) trace in one big stack and ripping it down sheet by sheet furiously to describe his project as a whole. That was fun.

There was also a guy who dressed in a tuxedo and sang his presentation... not everything works...

Apr 6, 10 1:28 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)

I like the yellow sketch paper often because it's slightly harder to see the underlying image. That helps me concentrate on the overlay sketch, without being too distracted by the image below.

Sometimes with regular white sketch paper, I will put two layers of paper down for that very reason - often I'll start the drawing, pick up a few key lines from the underlying image, and then slip another piece of paper under to drop the underlay further back.

I also like the fact that with the yellow trace, you can scribble white Prisma over it and it will pop right out. Great for plaster walls.

Back in the old days (before 1995 or so). when we used to use diazo prints, I really liked the brownline prints. Print an elevation drawing a little dark, and you'd get a pretty warm sepia background that had a lot of character. Scribble some Prisma over the top of that, and you've got something very lovely indeed.

Apr 6, 10 1:47 pm
but for a professor to require certain paper type/color for YOU to use to express YOUR ideas seems very odd...

i think you guys have identified a key distinction: students' desire to express vs instructors' interest in clear communication and projects' ability to distinguish itself through design rather than choice of presentation media.

i sometimes like projects based on exploration of media, where the presentation is an integral part of the thinking about the project. this is especially fruitful in the early-ish exploratory stages of a project. and for independent projects, like a thesis, where all of the parameters are set by the designer, it makes perfect sense, too.

but there are times when a little discipline is required too. reviewing projects is an exhausting effort and, if understanding the presentation style can be taken out of the mix of variables, a reviewer is able to look at the merits of the design proposed. a lot of presentation almost (purposefully?) disguises the lack of exploration behind fanciness.

i was on a review a couple of weeks ago where a LOT of data-heavy information was presented on each projects' boards and each team had a completely different presentation style and looking for the information from which to evaluate the project took half the time we had to review each project. it would have benefitted a lot if an instructor had taken hold and developed standards across the studio.

it's not for every project, i understand, but an instructor must use his/her judgment and decide if there are rules and how far they should go.

Apr 6, 10 4:27 pm

absolutely Steven,

taking into consideration that every project brings different things to the presentation board, a professor should not require certain things without knowing a project, right at the beginning of the course and to be potentially held back to the creativity because of a certain type of media/presentation type.

I understand what lb is saying and it sure is nice to walk around center spaces and see all same sizes, presentation boards, but that's what it is....its nice for us, the viewer of those boards, but it is somebody elses project and they should express it the way they want, the way it was easier for them to explore the ideas. Requiring certain things (and not only media) could restrict the thought process for certain individuals. Just because it's easier for me to grasp what is going on, does not mean it is for everybody else.

Apr 6, 10 5:50 pm

ck- those are beautiful... love the low-tech glory!

I second- canary is used so that you can use white pencil.

I'm going to go dig out old sketches and make a lamp now!

Apr 6, 10 6:11 pm
these people make them
Apr 6, 10 7:09 pm

I have to say I've never used yellow trace...I just assumed yellow trace was a cheaper alternative to white.

I have had to scan in various sketches, and I think the white scans are much easier to work with and "match" to other drawings than some weird shade of yellow. Since all of my final presentations end up being digital in the end, it's simply easier to plan ahead. I never know what early sketches may be useful in the future.

That being said, I just think using brand new yellow colored trace looks somewhat tacky. It's like buying something brand new that's been "distressed" in the factory to look old.

Apr 6, 10 8:22 pm
Requiring certain things (and not only media) could restrict the thought process for certain individuals

The grumpy old practicing architect in me says "Then those individuals should consider being artists, not architects." Architects have to, by definition, express themselves within restraints, to their own and their clients' satisfaction.

But of course school is where you SHOULD be able to go crazy as much as possible and follow paths that may not lead to anything immediately concrete but will allow all kinds of new ideas to sprout in your mind. I certainly don't think all projects should have required media, and in school I was always one to try a new media with each presentation just to see what would happen. I'm just trying to explain what *might* be the thought process of a professor that requires certain things. You should ask your prof "why" when these kinds of requirements come up.

Apr 6, 10 9:16 pm

lol donna.

i hear you, but really i don't even use trace in the office and the young and striving architect in me says that rules are for those who are scared of failure.

mind you i am only a year or two younger than you and i only think that because i have my own curmudgeonly biases ;-)

still, as a teacher i don't put limits on students. i used to think they would love that, but you know in fact it really makes most students uncomfortable - which is a very important thing to learn to deal with. we live in interesting times and need to learn to be flexible if we are ever going to be part of fixing all the problems facing us...

i guess it may slow things down a bit with the understanding of what is going on, but that is fine for me. good students will do good work and bad students will do bad work and the paper they use will neither improve nor fix that reality.

all the above is of course nothing about paper, but an interesting topic. It is nice to read what you all feel about teaching and discipline.

Apr 6, 10 9:41 pm

Speaking of fear of failure, I read this very nice quote on Daniel Pink's website the other day:

Most people are more frightened of failure than of mediocrity. It should be the reverse.

Failure is a broken leg — painful, but easily fixed. Mediocrity is a creeping disease — invisible and insidious — that disables so completely that there’s often no recovery.

Apr 6, 10 9:49 pm

I'd say for the dozen or so projects I did in school, only once did a prof do anything concerning the final presentation, aside from the occasional "I want everything on 24x36 boards". Only in my final studio did my professor give us an InDesign file where we just removed the placeholder images and replaced them with our own. I'll admit it was nice to not have to finish my design and do a whole layout towards the end. Though I do enjoy "doing my own thing" in school, frankly designing a presentation is a whole separate project in and of itself that we're rarely given any time to work on, til we have to.

On the down side, my prof kept all our final boards, probably to present to someone and say, "see, this is what I can teach, hire me", or something. (Thus why he wanted them to look all the same). I wouldn't have cared much at all if they hadn't cost $75 to print. Whatever, I got an A- in the class, and I still have digital copies.

Apr 6, 10 11:17 pm

probably we should let this go back to the trace discussion, but...

i'm torn about the discipline vs freedom inclinations. i think freedom isn't lacking in school and there may, in fact, be too much.

the lack of constraints helps students develop their belief that the architect-as-expressive-individual-artist is the goal when, in fact, the architect-as-design-thinker-who-must-communicate-and-collaborate is so much more important.

and, generally, i think that constraints make design better, not worse.

Apr 7, 10 7:28 am

My technical studio required 24x36 boards due to the fact that we were producing "construction documents." The boards were only required for the final product, not the process which also had to be presented. How the process was displayed communicated the creative process.

Back to the trace. There is definitely a generation gap when it comes to the use of the two. All us computer savvy interns and young architects use white. The older generation who spins yarns about the glories of the BOCA code and maylines use yellow. I searched the office and found two rolls of half used yellow trace and dozens of white rolls. I think yellow trace is going to go the way of pounce, asbestos tiling, and blueprints...

Apr 7, 10 8:26 am

I don't know any good boca stories. Maybe I need to make some up to entertain you young'uns.

I hardly think a trace preference represents anything about my career trajectory. Neither does my choice of pen...

Apr 7, 10 8:38 am

I also cut my trace paper roll in half...but maybe that should go to the strange things architects do thread!

Apr 7, 10 8:44 am
Erik Evens (EKE)

They sell little 6" shorties. I love those! Great for the odd little detail.

Apr 7, 10 10:14 am

There's a picture of the 6" shorties at the top of the post.

Apr 7, 10 10:31 am

Yellow trace papers?

Yellow Tracing Paper : Inexpensive lightweight tracing paper that provides good contrast for pencil work.

Jan 3, 11 2:38 am

michael graves made it famous with his drawings...i still think its tacky

Jan 3, 11 11:58 am

graves 'made it famous'?! yeah, and wolfgang puck made pizza famous.

Jan 3, 11 2:31 pm

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