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What is Transparency Paper?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Transparency paper is a type of paper which is designed for use with overhead projectors. This paper is clear, so that things printed or written on the paper can be clearly seen when light is passed through the paper to make a projection. In addition to being used with projectors, transparency paper can also be useful for overlays and lightboxes. Art supply and office supply stores are good resources for transparency paper.

The earliest transparency papers were made from specially-treated wood pulp papers. Modern versions could more accurately be termed “transparency film,” since they are classically made from clear plastic films. The advantage to using transparency paper as opposed to to traditional paper is that the opacity of regular paper can interfere with the projection or clarity of an image. The use of overhead projectors is on the decline, but this specialized paper can be useful for other applications, and it continues to be produced by several paper companies.

Some companies make transparency paper which can safely be run through a printer, so that people can make prints and copies of prepared presentations. However, caution should be used before running this type of paper through a printer, because some transparency sheets will melt or warp when they are run through a printer. Paper which has been specifically marked as safe for use with a printer is the best choice, as a partially-melted piece of transparency film can gum up the works of a laser printer or copier considerably.

It is also possible to write directly onto transparency paper. In environments like offices and schools, a clear transparency sheet is sometimes laid onto a projector as a writing surface, with the presenter using erasable pens as a presentation aid. In a math class, for example, the instructor can work a problem on the projector, and students can see the projection at the front of the classroom. When the presentation is over, the sheet can be wiped off and re-used.

Because most transparency paper is plastic-based, users need to be careful about smears. Transparencies fresh out of the printer will tend to smear if they are not handled carefully, and brushing one's hand against a transparency while using it with a projector can result in a smudge which renders the transparency impossible to read. Reusable sheets will also tend to eventually become smeared with ghost impressions from previous uses, making projections hard to see.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon343880 — On Aug 03, 2013

I've printed onto transparency paper and its not drying. What shall I do?

By anon304069 — On Nov 18, 2012

How do you use this?

By anon167764 — On Apr 13, 2011

I used to get transparent paper that was thick and did not warp. This has now been discontinued by my supplier and I cannot find it anymore. Other laser print transparencies also bow, do you recommend any brand that will not have this problem?

By anon129464 — On Nov 23, 2010

can you paint kids' washable paints onto transparent paper, and will it dry and stay on! thanks for any feedback.

By Charlie89 — On Sep 09, 2010

Is there a difference between transparency film and paper?

I have a school supply list that asks for: "3m transparency paper, 11x17". Could I just get transparency film instead?

By LittleMan — On Sep 09, 2010

I've heard that they've even made laser printer transparency paper now -- I bet that makes for some cool graphics.

Of course, I bet it's also a lot more expensive than normal ink jet transparency printer paper.

By StreamFinder — On Sep 09, 2010

@anon32632 -- I don't think so, not unless it was really thin. The whole point in using transparent paper is so the overhead lamp can shine through it. Hence the need for clear transparency paper.

And wisegeek, great job on mentioning how to print on transparency paper -- you have no idea how many gummy messes I've pulled out of my printer because somebody didn't use the inkjet transparency paper...

By anon32632 — On May 24, 2009

Can you use normal printer paper on an overhead?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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