Carbon paper, and its equivalent, carbonless copy paper, is an older technology. This paper consists of two layers: one page that is written on, and a second page underneath that will automatically pick up what is written on the first page. Carbon paper is most generally used in the legal system for multiple parties to retain exact copies of handwritten documents. While typically only one copy is created, most carbon paper can make up to four or five duplicates at a time by putting multiple carbon sheets beneath the primary sheet. Carbon paper is available to purchase as single sheets, or as notebooks. In a typical carbon paper notebook, each sheet has a second copy sheet underneath which can be easily removed.
In an education setting, carbon paper can be used to allow a student to easily duplicate their notes. This may be useful for teachers to monitor a student’s written work; for example, when note-taking, the teacher can grade a copy of the student’s notes while the student can keep their original document. It may also be useful for the student themselves, perhaps to take one copy of their work home and leave another at school. When compared to the more common electronic photocopying, carbon paper may provide a clearer copy, especially for older printers or lightly printed work.
Research Rating: Use of carbon paper has not been empirically validated in the education setting.
Relatively cheap to buy
Easy to use
Provides access to relatively efficient and immediate exact copying technology without any advanced technology or ancillary machinery (no photocopier, no scanning, no internet)
May create more accurate copies than some photocopy machines, particularly cheaper, older models
Effectiveness has not been studied in education
Generally replaced by electronic worksheets and photocopiers
While having an easy way to copy something may be helpful to instructors, the exact skill or academic domain in which one would use carbon paper is vague and undefined
Carbon paper has become significantly less popular given the ubiquity of electronic photocopiers, and less popular again with the rise of electronic worksheets. Computer programs can, obviously, make perfect copies of work instantly. The only context in which using carbon paper in education would be expected would be when students are committed to pencil and paper work and photocopy machines are unavailable.
Special Consideration: Workflow
Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed.
$ - Under $5
$$ - Between $6 and $50
$$$ - Between $51 and $250
$$$$ - Over $250
Written by Francis Wall, Last Revision April 2018