Carbon Copy

Before photocopying became widely available, people made copies by stacking carbon paper between two sheets of regular paper. Typist keys or pressure from a pen would cause imprints on its coating to transfer onto another sheet, producing copies with equal quality as the originals.

Today, “cc” stands for carbon copy.  This indicates that an email message has been forwarded to additional recipients listed in either the “To” field or the “Cc” fields of an email program.


Before photocopiers and scanners existed, secretaries and shorthand-typists had limited ways of making copies of their work. Pens and pencils produced unreadable originals while copybooks provided only one copy per letter typed.

James Watt had first developed his carbon copy process in 1780.  However, its popularity only became widespread during the 1840s due to businessmen concerned that making carbon copies too easily might lead to widespread forgeries (Adler 1990).

Pellegrino Turri created carbon copy paper during the late 1800s. This unique copying system involved placing one sheet coated on one side with carbon black and wax, known as carbon copy paper, between an original document and one on which copies would be made. When placed between them, its coating of carbon black transferred its impression with pen pressure or typewriter pressure onto blank paper. Carbon copy paper proved both simple and efficient, quickly becoming popular.

Carbon copy paper can still be purchased, though most modern office equipment uses special ink ribbons that do not require carbon layers for printouts. You could use regular ink ribbons with carbonless versions of typewriter paper, though text quality might suffer slightly.

Carbonless copies are an efficient means of communication in email correspondence, enabling messages to reach multiple recipients without them knowing there are extra copies. Sometimes known as blind carbon copies (BCC), however more often than not the additional recipients know they’re receiving carbon copies of their message.


Carbon was an invaluable material, yet it had its share of drawbacks. The oil present in its coating often obscured letters and made them difficult to read, it could rip or tear easily and was expensive to purchase.

Carbon paper production became less costly with the invention of daisy wheel impact printers and the flexographic process, yet it continued to serve special purposes, including point-of-sale transactions, duplicate checks and money orders, etc.

Carbonless copy paper is more convenient and does the same job just as efficiently as its predecessor, often used for receipts, invoices and other important documents.  This process put the carbon directly onto the backside of the primary document, eliminating the need for an additional carbon sheet to be inserted.


Typed or handwritten text on carbon copies typically does not present preservation issues as long as it does not reach extreme light or darkness levels. Ink used for stencil and lithographic copies is less stable.  Black stencil prints usually use oil-based carbon pigments, while color typewriter ribbon inks often utilize aniline dye-based inks that fade under strong sunlight, and can run when they come into contact with water.

Early office lithographies and hectographs can be difficult to distinguish from carbon copies, particularly when it comes to text. Carbon copies often feature streaked or ghosted reverse text from prior (wet) printing processes on the sheet that gives it a clotted appearance on its verso side, suggesting carbon copy production.


Initial meaning of carbon copy refers to an exact duplicate. People creating copies would sandwich a sheet of black carbon paper between their writing tool and copy paper.  When making multiple copies this way, pressure from the writing or typing implement would cause pigment from carbon to replicate similar markings on copy sheets, based on pressure from writing implement. Limited copies could be created due to limited amount of carbon left on a master sheet.  Each additional sheet made fainter copies.

Carbon Copy People

The analogy of a carbon copy was later extended to describe people who resemble each other to a great extent. Just as the copied document appears identical to the original, carbon copy people share significant similarities in their physical appearance, mannerisms, or even thought patterns. This phrase is often used to emphasize the uncanny resemblance between two individuals, highlighting how closely they resemble each other in various aspects. 

The term “carbon copy” finds its roots in the world of typewriters and document duplication. Over time, it has evolved to describe individuals who bear a striking resemblance to one another. Whether it’s due to genetics, shared experiences, or social influences, carbon copy people continue to captivate our attention and spark our curiosity. Recognizing the existence of such individuals reminds us of the diversity and interconnectedness of the human experience, highlighting the fascinating ways in which our lives intertwine.

Similar Posts