Some people are happy to take their topographical maps out into the field, but experience shows that maps get damaged out there, especially when the weather is bad. Either they get wet or they get torn, especially at the creases. Other people prefer to keep their ‘real’ topo maps safe at home and to take copies into the field – expendable copies.
The problem is that copies made on ordinary paper using an ink-jet printer don’t survive wet weather: the paper gets soggy and the ink runs. This is not good enough. You can get plastic paper from several sources, but to print on this requires a laser printer, and most low-cost laser printers only do black ink: you lose all the colour information. Also, some plastic papers don’t feed very well through some laser printers: there is a fine line between the temperature required to fuse the toner onto the surface of the paper and the temperature at which the plastic paper starts to deform. (I know!)
Another problem with laser copies is that the fused toner lines on some sorts of plastic paper tend to transfer (by rubbing) onto other sheets of the same paper when they are stacked together. The result is that you can get ‘ghost lines’ on one map from other map sheets, and this can be both annoying and confusing. It happens because the fused toner is sitting on top of the smooth surface of the plastic paper.
An enlarged view of the sample map
The Rite in the Rain Weatherjet paper made by the J L Darling company of Tacoma, WA, claims to be suited to ink-jet printers, and yet waterproof. Yes, this means that the company is claiming that your ink-jet-printed map won’t run when it gets wet. A slightly unbelievable claim, surely?
The company sent me a sample pack of the Weatherjet paper, including a copy of a topographic map printed in colour as shown above. Fine detail from the middle of that sheet is shown to the left. I have to say that the paper felt like ordinary paper of a bit more than 80 gsm, not like some of the glossy synthetics which I have used in the past with a laser printer. It had good tear strength too.
Now, what must be understood when looking at the first picture above is that the source file the company had used was not very good. It includes a scan of a topo map, but there are lots of stray coloured pixels in the source file which create a sort of blur around any details. This is marginally visible in the picture here to the left; it is more visible under high magnification, when I can see the individual dots of ink on the paper. Anyone who has scanned a map will recognize this problem. Also, the scale of the map was not very high, nowhere near the 1:25k many of us are used to. Anyhow, the fact that I can actually see the individual dots from the ink-jet printer (under magnification) means that the paper can support high resolution printing.
An enlarged view of some printing on the sample
If we look instead at some graphics printed on this paper, as shown to the right, we can see much cleaner edges to the printing. The ‘W’ at the left is only about 3.5 mm (0.14 inch) high. It comes from the word ‘waterproof’ under ‘Weatherjet’ at the top of the page. The blue grid lines were generated on the sample by software, not by scanning. So here we have some nice clean edges to look at for assessing the performance of the paper. It looks good: the ink has not smeared out when it hit the paper.
What is not obvious so far is that this sheet of paper has already been immersed in water for over ten minutes. Yes: the ink should have run all over the place, but it hasn’t. For that matter, the paper did not go soggy either: it stayed intact and dried quickly. The tear strength remained. I tried rubbing the wet surface to see if I could make the ink smear: it didn’t. In short, this paper works as claimed. It prints with an ink-jet printer, and yet gives a waterproof result.
An enlarged view of contours on a copy of a topo map
Just to verify that the sample map was not done specially by the company, the picture to the left shows a 15 mm (0.6 inch) wide scan of a map I created myself. I scanned a topo map at 600 dpi, dropped out the green forest background, increased the contrast a bit, and printed the result on a Canon 9950 colour printer at a 1:1 scale. The lines are crisp and sharp, and very easy to read in the field. After use in the field I did not see any sign of the coloured inks transferring to other sheets of plastic paper, although I did see some ghosts on this paper from the laser printing on the other sheets. So in a competitive situation this paper shows far better print-retention than conventional laser printing on really ‘plastic’ papers.
How is it done? The company tells me that the paper is actually synthetic, with a micro-porous surface, and that the dyes in the drops of ink-jet ink go into and bond to the special surface coating. Apparently once bonded, the dye molecules stay right there in the surface coating and don’t come out. Being a synthetic paper, retaining a wet strength is no problem.
The company also makes several sorts of waterproof paper for laser printers. I have not tested those.
Printing and writing on the paper
My ink-jet printer does not allow easy control over how much ink is put on the paper. The simple choices are between ordinary ‘bond’ paper and coated photo paper. There are no instructions given with the Weatherjet paper but it has a slightly porous surface like bond paper, so I treated it like bond paper. This seemed to be fine.
How much ink will it take to print a map on a page? This is almost impossible to answer as there are so many variables. Is there lots of green area (forest cover)? Are there lots of towns (black dots or maybe shaded areas)? Are there lots of contours? Is there a great big area of river or lake (blue)? About all I can say is that printing on this paper seems just like printing on bond paper.
An enlarged view of an attempt to tear the paper and to write on it
I tried writing on the paper with several implements. The results of some of these tests are shown in the picture to the right.
- Hard propelling pencil: this was not very successful: the hard lead put an indentation into the plastic surface of the paper but didn’t make much of a mark. I don’t recommend using a hard pencil.
- Soft pencil: this left a bit of a mark, but again it was not great. I don’t recommend pencils at all.
- Ballpoint pen: this worked fine. Both fine point and wide point pens left good clean writing. I am happy to use a ballpoint.
- Felt-nib marker: the permanent waterproof xylene-free markers I use left good clean writing. I am happy with marker pens as well.
The paper ‘feels’ much more like ordinary bond paper than some of the other synthetic papers I have used. It folds just a shade more like a plastic paper, but the difference from ordinary paper is small. I find some plastic paper tends to ‘fight’ me when I fold it, unless I really crease it. Then the crease is rather permanent. The creases in the Weatherjet paper behave seem a bit more like ordinary paper, although they do last a bit more. The creases don’t seem susceptible to having the ink rubbed off, wet or dry.
A major difference is apparent when you try to tear the paper: ordinary bond paper will tear, but the Weatherjet stretches instead. Even if I fold the paper sharply and then try to tear along the fold, it still stretches. Only when it has stretched a long way does it start to tear. You can see where I tried to tear the Weatherjet paper in the picture to the right.
The paper does take folding and rough handling in the field fairly well, although I have not had a lot of experience with stuffing maps in my pocket. I normally put the A4 and A3 copies inside an A4 plastic sleeve for protection, and that gets carried in a map case on the back of my wife’s pack where it is protected from the scrub. On the other hand, the plastic sleeve often gets shoved back into the map case with little care. The docile creasing behaviour and lack of tearing is of value if you use the larger paper sizes (11 x 17 inch or A3) and fold them in half, as I often do. They are not likely to fray and tear along the crease.
With ordinary bond paper you can always start a fire in an emergency (dual purpose, right?). This Weatherjet paper does burn, but in a rather strange way. There is just a small flame which progresses slowly across the paper, leaving a glowing ash layer behind. It does not flare up like ordinary paper, and it does not melt and drip like some plastics. Curiously, when I snuffed the flame out, a clean edge was left: the ash fell away completely. I think you had better light a fire with something else.
The paper works as claimed. With this paper you can copy your valuable topographic maps with a scanner and an ordinary ink-jet printer and yet end up with a waterproof field map. You will need to use a felt-tip marker or a ballpoint to make notes on the paper.
Features and Specifications
- Durable synthetic paper which feels fairly ‘natural’
- Comes in various sizes: 8.5 x 11 inch, 11 x 17 inch, A3 and A4
- Both sides can be printed
- Not for laser printers
- Waterproof printing
- Retains strength when wet
- MSRP A4: US$83.70/100 sheets, other sizes scale closely off this