Tuesday, 18 August 2015

What is ...manila, or is it manilla?

What is ...Number 20
Regular followers of this blog will know that in the middle of the month, I publish a "What is ....? post. The article covers various aspects of paper, printing and finishing in greater depth. However, many of these subjects are complex, so these posts are only intended to be a brief introduction to the topic.

What is ...manila, or is it manilla?

Manilla paper and Manilla board are two products which get talked about a lot but it seems to me that most people have a perception of what they are but aren't actually sure what they really are!
Manilla board
Manila is a type of buff-coloured fibre which comes from a plant called Musa textilis, which is a relative of a banana tree, native to the Philippines. It is often referred to as Manila hemp or Abacá, although the term Manila Hemp is incorrect as it is not hemp ( which comes from the plant Cannabis Sativa, which is no realtive of the banana). It is likely that the 'hemp' name was attached because both Hemp and Manila were major sources of fibre for both papermaking and ropemaking and it is likely that the words then became connected - this was back in the 19th century.

Manila fibres, which are hard fibres, are long and strong and it is for these properties that it was used for specific papermaking uses, where are hardwearing, durable paper or board was required. In it's unbleached state, it produces a buff coloured pulp which makes a brown shade of paper or board, which became synonymous with brown envelopes and files.

Here is a typical manila envelope:
Click on images to enlarge
Traditionally, manilla envelopes often have a 'basketweave' pattern, which is produced by a woven woolen felt on the paper machine
Basketweave pattern
Manila or Manilla? For some reason in the world of paper, Manila (the spelling of the capital of the Philipines) has had an extra L added to it and it is known as Manilla. Having researched this, I have found no reasonable explanation for this whatsoever other than it is likely that it was 'anglicised' - maybe the English just thought the word should have two L's!

The term Manilla paper and board, now describes either a light brown colour or a smooth type of coloured board. Sadly it is unlikely that Manila fibres will be found in either! Brown envelopes, which are called manilla enevlopes are usually just made from poor quality 100% recycled fibres and manilla file board is usually from normal wood pulp fibres. Where Manila fibres are used is in specialised paper products such as tea bags, filter paper and banknotes.
Posted by Justin Hobson 18.08.2015


  1. very well explained! Thank you. Since you are an expert in this industry, would you say "manilla" can be used as a colour as well? what I mean: The colour of manilla envelopes is manilla or is it brown?

  2. Hi there. Thanks for your comment. In some ways the term manilla in respect of envelopes has become synonymous with the colour - I think most people in the UK market would expect a manilla envelope to be a brown shade. In the olden days (!) it would have been possible to have a white or tinted manilla envelope, so it depends on whether you are wanting to know about the present or the past. Manilla is often now used as a colour description of brown shades as in paints for instance. I hope that helps. You can email me at Justin@fennerpaper.co.uk if you would like to continue our dialogue!


Thanks for your comment! If I like it, I'll add it on. Cheers J