Let's Start with Defining Some Terms
Rice paper is a generic term that really just means paper that is for Chinese Brush Painting or Calligraphy. It doesn't define anything more specific than that.
Shuen and Xuan Paper:
These are different spellings for the same type of paper. This is the original type of paper used for Chinese Brush Painting and Calligraphy and is named after the region where the paper was historically produced. Xuan paper is smooth, absorbent paper with faint lines in the paper that result from the process by which the paper is made (typically by hand). It comes commonly in two different thicknesses. Single Xuan is more sensitive to moisture and shows the best color. Double Xuan is more forgiving with moisture but shows color less vibrantly.
Xuan paper is most commonly raw or untreated but it can also be treated with sizing (an alum coating) to make the paper more moisture resistant. Along with the various forms of raw xuan paper like Single Xuan, and Premium Jade Plate Double Xuan that OAS sells we also offer these treated Xuan papers like Semi-sized Xuan and fully sized papers like Glass paper and Shimmer Xuan.
(Sometimes people refer to sized papers as "cooked" or "processed.)
Pi or Mulberry Papers:
Pi or Mulberry Papers contain a larger amount of tree bark than xuan paper. This makes them less smooth and more moisture resistant. In general these papers show textures more easily than xuan paper but show colors less vibrantly. Some examples of these types of papers that OAS sells are Pi Paper, Vintage Mulberry Paper, Dragon Cloud Paper, and Cotton Paper.
Machine Made Papers:
These papers are (as the name suggests) typically manufactured by machines and have a different feel than the papers that are traditionally handmade. They often come in continuous rolls and are more economical than handmade papers. These papers are excellent for practice and good for beginners because of their cost and their consistency from batch to batch. Examples of these papers are OAS Practice Roll and Moon Palace Paper.
How to Choose Paper
The more experienced artists often do not follow rigid rules for selecting paper. They learn what the nature of each paper is and select the paper for its qualities and how well those qualities allow the artist to achieve whatever particular goal with the group of paintings that they plan to create.
For most of us starting out, if helps to have specific recommendations for which paper to use with what kind of painting.
Start With Practice Roll:
The biggest challenge we have in working with artists who have some experience but are new to OAS is trying to have a conversation about paper that is "apples to apples." For this reason and many others, we often recommend that people start painting on a machine made paper like OAS Practice Roll. It is an excellent, versatile, economical paper that properly simulates the qualities that you can expect in Artist quality handmade papers. Once an artist has tried this paper, we can have a common reference point with the artist when talking about paper.
Best Paper for Calligraphy:
Most experience calligraphers want a paper that is dynamic with moisture. They want the ink to flow more freely on the paper to give the writing a dynamic quality. It is most common for Calligraphers to choose Single Xuan. For practice, they most commonly select Moon Palace Paper.
Best Paper for Chinese Flower Painting:
In Chinese Flower Painting, an artist will typically want vibrant colors balanced for good moisture forgiveness. For this reason, most artists select Double Xuan for Chinese Flower Painting. We recommend Premium Jade Plate Double Xuan for final work and Vintage Double Xuan AO for practice.
Best Paper for Chinese Landscape Painting:
In Chinese Landscape Painting, an artist will want to paint strokes and then paint washes over those strokes. For this reason, most artists select a semi-sized paper for Chinese Landscape Painting. We recommend, Pi Paper for final compositions and Cotton Paper for practice. Vintage Mulberry Paper is a good choice for artists who want to show more dry textures in their line work.
Still confused about papers? Watch our 90-minute Virtual Office Hours recorded event "All About Paper."