What the hell is tracing paper for?

You have a piece of paper. There is a design on the paper. You trace the design onto tracing paper. You now have the same design on a piece of semi-transparent paper. AND? What can you now do with the tracing paper version that you couldn’t do with the original?

Cover the back of the tracing paper with soft pencil shading.

Place face-up on a blank piece of ordinary paper.

Draw over the traced lines again.

The image will now be transferred to the ordinary paper! Ta-daah!

The same things you can do with a photocopy. Before photocopies were invented.

You could use tracing paper to trace the outlines of a photograph so that you can make a drawing from it. Or you may need to copy a diagram, and may not have access to a photocopier.

Listen up, children, to this tale of the olden day.

Pre-xerox, to be specific. The point of the tracing paper was to have another copy of the design that you could do destructive things too and still retain your pristine original.

Some of the things you could do with tracing paper:
Trace the pattern of a quilt block. Then cut the copy into its sub pieces and use them as guides for cutting material.
Trace your design. Then turn the paper over and color the back-side in heavily with a soft lead pencil. Then lay the tracing paper – design side up – on top a hard surface and retrace over the lines heavily. Result: a sort of ‘carbon copy’ of your design on the hard surface. Then you can use the outline to paint a copy of your school’s logo onto your car, for example.

Experiment while creating designs. Say you have the start of one, and like it, but don’t know where to go from there. Lay a piece of tracing paper onto of the design on a light table. Continue your design on the tracing paper. Like the new stuff? Fine. If not, discard that sheet of tracing paper for a new one.
Pretty much all the things I remember ever using tracing paper for can now be done better and faster with xeroxes, carbon paper, computer drawing programs, etc.

It’s also useful for making paper lanterns etc; A while back, I had to make a traditional streetlamp for a theatrical production; I used tracing paper to glaze it, as it’s considerably more durable than greaseproof paper and glass was out of the question.

I still use it for my artwork, Photoshop all you want there’s something about pen and paper that really gets the old creative juices flowing.
Kids today, hrmph.

My project:

Several years ago I had this sweatshirt with a really cool Grateful Dead design on it. I had not seen it anywhere but on this shirt. I bought a roll of tracing paper, traced the outline of the design then cut it out of the paper. I carefully traced it onto bristol, inked it the outline and colored the rest with pastels. I framed it and, voila! I had a perfect replica of the image that I could hang on my wall. The shirt is long gone but I still have the art.

Tracing paper was/is also used by artists to copy selected areas of rough sketches, to reposition elements improve compositions, etc. Some of the same things that are done using “layers” in Photoshop.

Animators used is to draw all the in-between sketches to create cartoons. Being able to see several drawings superimposed was extremely helpful.

I also think that architects drawing made with black ink on tracing vellum were used to create blueprints, which are basically negative prints made by shining light through the original drawings.

Please pardon all the screwed up grammar above.

I agree. I’ve seen some incredibly creative talent on photoshop but seeing something done with raw materials really moves me.