Papel Amate: Made in Mexico

Amate is a type of paper in Mexico made from tree bark.

Papel Amate is a type of paper made in Mexico from tree bark.

Papel amate stems from the Nahuatl (ámatl), a type of tree.

The word “amate” is applied to the paper and the paintings done on the amate paper.

The culture of the amate process and use dates to Pre-Columbian times in Mesoamerica. Stones used in the bark-beating process date to around 1000 B.C.  have been found by researchers. It is also believed that “paper” made from tree bark goes back to the Stone Age, as papel amate fragments has been found in ancient organic materials.   

In ancient Mexico, papel amate was used extensively. It was used as a tribute, to make codices, rope, adornments for the game of ball, and diverse type of paper elaborations in the representation of deities. Due to its sacred connotation, it was prohibited by the Spanish and thousands of manuscripts were destroyed. Production was concealed but continued in México by Indigenous communities.  

The pages of the Dresden Codex, a Mayan manuscript, the oldest surviving codex from Mesoamerica, are made of papel amate.

Papel amate stems from the Nahuatl (ámatl), a type of tree. The word “amate” is applied to the paper and the paintings done on the amate paper.

Photo credit: etniasdelmundo


For more than 500 years, the technique of making papel amate has not changed. According to the accounts of some of the early Spanish observations, they noted that the bark (from the amate tree) was left in water to soak overnight. Then the inner fibers were separated from coarse, outer fibers. These were then beaten or pounded into flat sheets.

Presently, bark from the wild fig (ficus), nettle and mulberry trees is used. The bark is softened, cleaned, and then extended on a flat surface.

Each type of bark produces a different shade of color, ranging from dark brown to white. Often, the pulp is combined to produce a marble effect of colors. Interestingly, the Otomies have incorporated innovations. New species of trees are now used to obtain the bark. Other materials have been introduced to the process of softening the bark, and artisans have experimented in the diversification of shades and colors from brown to white.

Once the pulp is on the flat sheets, it is beaten or pounded with stone beaters. 

Beaters made from stone are mostly made of volcanic stone. Types of beaters, similar to ancient beaters, are still used by Otomi artisans. Most beaters are made of volcanic stone, some are made of granite. They are usually rectangular or circular with grooves on the sides to macerate the fibers.


Papel amate is an excellent option for works of art. Amate paper products are sold in markets, bazaars, workshops, handicraft and specialty shops and on the Internet.

Papel amate is included in various types of artwork, handicrafts, and is used to create paintings.

Papel amate can still be appreciated and acquired by artisans in the states of Puebla, Michoacán, Morelos, and México City.

As a process that requires great ability and craftmanship, Otomi artisans have proudly preserved and transmitted techniques to new generations, such that this forms part of a living culture that Mesoamerica continues to contribute to the world.



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See Paul Tolstoy. ‘Cultural Parallels Between Southeast Asia and Mesoamerica in the Manufacture of Bark Cloth’, in: Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, Series 2, 1963 (25/1), pages 646-662.

The Amate Tradition. Author Jonathon Amith

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