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Three sheets of thin paper are formed into an inexpensive lightweight board. This looks deceptively simple but is structurally quite sophisticated. The stiff skins are separated by a rigid corrugated core which turns these flimsy components into a robust sheet.

This is so useful that cardboard constitutes a major element of the 400 million tonnes of paper and card manufactured world wide each year. Luckily 56% of this is made from recycled stock, so although production uses some 3.8 billion trees, recycling saves 3.0 billion.


Corrugated card was invented in the UK in1856 using one sheet of paper and a layer of corrugations to produce a stiff lining for tall hats. In 1871 Albert Jones from New York patented a similar material for wrapping bottles and gas lantern chimneys. Then in 1874 Oliver Long improved Jones’s design, inventing a board with lining sheets on both sides. This material was remarkably rigid, with the corrugations creating tubes which prevented the board from bending along its length.


Paper is softened with high pressure steam and formed on a fluting machine to make the corrugations.  Once formed, a ‘liner board’ is applied to one face with a starch adhesive. The second facing is added in a process called ‘double backing’. The top sheet can be bleached, mottled, coloured or pre-printed. The flat corrugated card can then be cut to shape on a forming press. This has cutting and creasing blades which make the ‘blank’ for a box or any other configuration. The excess card is broken away and discarded before the required shape is folded, slotted or glued together.


The open box is an interesting object to draw - the lighting clearly defines the basic forms. However, it is the texture that makes the box so intriguing, with the subtle undulations casting faint shadows and catching brief glimpses of light. The shadows and the highlights made by these corrugations on each surface vary as the light falls in different ways. The edges and the folds catch the bright light to show how the box is formed. The shadows, cast from two or three light sources, add an interesting visual effect.

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