What Is a Deckle Edge?

Old deckle-edged blank French postcard

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When paper was manufactured before the 19th century, the process left a ragged or feathered edge known as a deckle edge on the paper. This edge was often trimmed off when the paper was cut to its finished sheet size. A deckle edge gets its name from the frame — called a deckle — used in manual papermaking. Occasionally, for specialty usages, the deckle edge was left in place as a decorative feature of the sheet of paper. Modern paper manufacturers no longer use a deckle frame, but they can manufacture a deckle edge artificially on paper. This feathered edge sometimes appears on wedding invitations and can also be seen on some greeting cards, thank you notes, envelope flaps, and scrapbook pages.

Working With a Deckled Edge in Graphic Design

When you plan a print project that will use a deckle edge paper, set the size of your digital document as usual but leave a margin along the edge where the feather appears that is sufficient to include the ragged edge and the usual margin the document needs. When creating the design, keep in mind that the deckle edge cannot be printed on and no printed elements can bleed off a deckle edge. 

Printing Considerations

Working with paper that has a deckle edge has some special considerations which affect the price of the finished piece.

  • Deckle paper is specialty paper and is usually priced higher than paper that is sheeted normally.
  • Because the feather effect appears on only one edge of a large parent sheet, the usual methods that printing companies use to get the most printed pieces out of a sheet of paper—such as printing several pieces on one large sheet and then trimming to finish size—cannot be used. Every piece must be aligned to have a deckle edge. This produces a larger-than-usual amount of paper waste.
  • Deckle paper does not accommodate the popular printing imposition called work and turn, which prints both the fronts and backs of a piece on a single sheet that is then flipped over and re-run through the press again to complete the run.
  • Many deckle paper projects are for relatively short runs — wedding invitations, for example — so the per-piece cost is high.
  • Because most commercial printers don't stock deckled paper normally, the paper may need to be special ordered, which requires a minimum purchase quantity and may cause a delay. 
  • Sometimes it is easier to purchase blank deckled edge paper from specialty suppliers, such as wedding invitation companies, and then take it to your commercial printer. In this case, the paper is already trimmed to size with one deckled edge. Your digital file may need be to be adjusted to accommodate the standard sizes. Also, when it is run through the printing press, the piece can only be printed one-up, which increases printing costs. Check with the printing company to find out how much paper to supply to accommodate set up and spoilage during printing.

Deckle Edge Paper Cutters

If your print job is a short run — not many pieces — you might be able to use a deckle edge paper cutter to trim your finished printed piece and avoid the price and complications that occur with printing on deckle-edge papers. These are small, hand-operated trimmers designed to add a feathered or ragged edge to paper when they cut it. There are also deckle-edge rippers or tearing rulers that you can use to literally rip a deckled edge onto single sheets of paper. Rippers work only with thin paper. If you decide to take this path, practice first and order additional printed pieces to account for spoilage. You may need to have the printer leave some additional blank paper at the end of your piece to make trimming or ripping possible.