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NCR Forms: How does Carbonless Paper Work?

A 3-part NCR form with white, yellow, and pink ply sheets

How does Carbonless Paper Technology work?

Multi-part NCR Forms are created from two or more sheets of Carbonless Paper. When direct pressure is applied to the topmost ply, such as when writing on it with a pen or striking it with a typewriter or impact printer, the markings instantly transfer to every ply within the form.

This allows for the quick and easy duplication of form documents. The markings made on the topmost ply are duplicated onto subsequent plies because of special coatings that have been applied to one or both sides of each ply within the form.

The underside of all plies, with the exception of the last ply, is treated with a thin coating that contains microcapsules of a coloring agent. The topside of all plies, with the exception of the first ply, is treated with a thin layer of clay that absorbs and reacts with the coloring agent.

Making a firm impression on the form with a ballpoint pen, typewriter key, or the print head of an impact printer will cause the bubble-like capsules of coloring agent to burst. Not only will the microcapsules on the underside of the first ply break open, the microcapsules on each subsequent ply will also break.

As the coloring agent leaks out, it chemically reacts with the clay coating that is on the topside of adjacent plies. This reaction creates darkened images that replicate the writing or other markings made on the form. As such, every ply below the first ply becomes a duplicate copy of the first ply.

The white, yellow, and pink plies of a 3-part carbonless business form
Each ply of a multi-part business form will almost always have its own color. This helps to identify each copy at a glance and ensures it is distributed to the proper person or department.

Some additional points about NCR Forms…

Carbonless paper uses several different abbreviations to indicate the placement of the coating(s) on a sheet. CF means the sheet has a coating on the Front only. CB means the sheet has a coating on the Back only. CFB means the sheet has a coating on the Front and Back.

Thus, to create the necessary chemical reaction, a 2-part NCR form would have two sheets positioned in the order of CB-CF. Likewise, a 3-part NCR form would have three sheets placed in the order of CB-CFB-CF and a 4-part NCR form would have four sheets in the order of CB-CFB-CFB-CF.

Also, the carbonless paper used to create multi-part NCR forms is quite thin. The reduced thickness minimizes the resistance to the impressions made on the first ply and helps ensure the dye capsules break open to transfer information from one ply to the next.

Even though each ply of a multi-part NCR form is pre-printed with an identical layout, or at least one that is very similar, different colors of paper are used to differentiate each ply. Lighter paper colors, including pastels, provide better contrast, not only with the pre-printed form layout but also with the user-added markings that transfer from one ply to the next.

NCR forms can be made with any number of parts as long as the combined thickness does not inhibit the transfer of data. That said, the most popular NCR forms are 2-part forms, 3-part forms and 4-part forms. Though the color schemes can be customized, the most common paper colors used for 2-part forms are a white first ply and a canary (yellow) second ply. The paper colors used most often for a 3-part form are a white first ply, a canary second ply, and a pink third ply. Likewise, 4-part forms are frequently created with a white first ply, a canary second ply, a pink third ply, and a goldenrod fourth ply. Other colors, such as light green or light blue, are sometimes substituted into the mix.

A brief history of Carbonless Paper and NCR Forms

Carbonless paper was invented in the early 1950's by the National Cash Register company (NCR). As such, carbonless paper became known as NCR paper. Over time, people interpreted NCR paper to mean "No Carbon Required" which remains a fitting moniker to this day.

Prior to the invention of carbonless paper, duplicate copies of handwritten or typewritten documents were made by slipping pieces of carbon paper between the topmost sheet and subsequent sheets. Developed during the 1800's, carbon paper is a tissue-thin sheet that has a dark pigmented coating on one side. The coating often contains carbon, hence the name.

The pressure from the strokes of a pen or the strikes of a typewriter key is what forces some of the dark carbon to transfer to the sheets beneath, thus creating a duplicate copy.

A pad of business forms with four lines of handwritten text
Multi-part Carbonless Forms are sometimes created in book form. This allows one part of each form to remain intact within the book's cover for future reference.

Unfortunately, the dark carbon would also transfer to fingers, clothes, and other unwelcome places. Besides being messy, another drawback of carbon paper was that it retained a visual image of the text that was being duplicated. So it was not a secure choice for documents that contained confidential information.

The advent of carbonless paper allowed duplicate copies to be made easily, without the messy residue or security concerns of carbon paper. Though typewriters have largely been replaced by word processing software and desktop printers in most business offices, carbonless paper still remains popular for many multi-part forms and documents.

What are the main uses of Carbonless Forms?

Whether referred to as Carbonless forms or NCR forms, these multi-part forms offer a quick and convenient way to create duplicate copies of receipts, delivery tickets, invoices, proposals, contracts, purchase orders, requisitions, work orders, and any other document type that requires multiple copies to be made instantaneously.

NCR forms are particularly useful in the field, such as when contractors or salespeople are handwriting individual proposals, contracts, or receipts without the aid of a printer or copier. Also, many business offices still use NCR forms that feed continuously through an impact printer for batch processing documents such as invoices or purchase orders.

Are you in the market for Custom-Printed Business Forms?

Color Vision has been serving the printing needs of business for 40 years. We offer a variety of single and multi-part forms in just about any size, configuration, or color scheme.

If you have an upcoming project and would like to receive a price quotation, please complete our Quote Request form and we will be happy to email a quote to you. Or, if you prefer to discuss your project by phone, we can be reached at 800-543-6299.

We hope to hear from you soon and look forward to assisting with your custom printing needs!

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