Types of Coated Abrasives Backing

Feb 29th 2024

Image of various types of coated abrasive backings displayed on a wooden table. The backings include paper, cloth, film, vulcanized fiber, and non-woven materials. Each type of backing has its own advantages and disadvantages, making it suitable for different sanding and grinding applications.

While abrasive grains do the cutting, the backing material also plays a major part in the performance of different abrasive products. From aggressive material removal when grinding metals to sanding a fine finish on wood, the different types of backing will determine the quality of your work and the longevity of your products.

Each backing material has its own unique properties and benefits. Below, we go over the different types of backings found in coated abrasives, providing insights into how each material enhances the functionality of sandpapers, sanding belts, and discs, and helps you achieve the perfect finish.

Paper Backing

It’s not called sand “paper” because it looks like a sheet of paper with sand on it. Most sandpaper is made with a paper backing that has abrasive grains adhered to the surface.

Paper backing provides a number of advantages, including:

  • Affordability: One of the most affordable options for sandpaper, making it a great choice for budget minded DIYers and professionals.
  • Versatility: Available in a range of weights (A-F), from lightweight for hand-sanding to heavy-duty for machine-sanding.
  • Flexibility: Flexible and easily folded or contoured to fit the shape of the workpiece, making it ideal for sanding intricate surfaces.

Disadvantages of paper backing include:

  • Durability: Paper backing is not as durable as other types of backing, such as cloth or plastic, and can tear or wear out quickly if used for heavy-duty sanding.
  • Dust generation: Paper backing can generate a lot of dust when sanding, which can be a nuisance and a health hazard.
  • Water resistance: Paper backing is not water-resistant* and can lose strength when wet, making it unsuitable for wet sanding.

*There are some exceptions, such as waterproof latex backed sandpaper

Common Uses:

  • Light sanding applications: General sanding tasks like smoothing rough wood, removing paint, or preparing surfaces for painting.
  • Hand-sanding: Due to its flexibility, it's well-suited for following contours and reaching into tight spaces.
  • Dry sanding: Not recommended for wet sanding due to water absorption.

Related Products:

9” x 11” Aluminum Oxide Dry Paper Sheets

36 to 120 Grit 16" Silicon Carbide PSA Floor Sanding Discs

12" x 50 Yard Silicon Carbide Floor Sanding Roll

Fabric/Cloth Backing

Cloth backed abrasives are made using woven fabrics, most often cotton. The fabrics are specially treated to improve durability and flexibility, offering superior performance compared to paper.

Advantages of cloth backing include:

  • Durability: More durable and resistant to tearing than paper, even in demanding, heavy-duty sanding/grinding applications.
  • Flexibility: Available in a range of weights (from light JF to heavy duty YY) for both hand and machine sanding.
  • Water resistance: Many cloth-backed abrasives are water-resistant, allowing for wet sanding applications.

Disadvantages of cloth backing include:

  • Cost: More expensive than paper-backed abrasives.
  • Weight: Heavier than paper, cloth can add bulk to the sanding process.

Common Uses:

  • Heavy-duty sanding: More durable than paper, making it suitable for tough tasks like shaping wood, deburring metal, and weld prep.
  • Machine sanding: Available in heavier weights for power sanders and grinders.
  • Wet sanding: Many cloth backings are water-resistant, allowing for wet sanding applications like polishing or finishing metal or wood.

Related Products:

Emery Cloth

Cloth Sandpaper Rolls

Cloth Backed Zirconia PSA Disc

Ceramic Sanding Belts

Film (Polyester) Backing

Polyester film is one of the newer types of backing materials for coated abrasive products. These backings are constructed from thin, durable polyester films. This backing provides a smooth surface for the abrasive grains.

Advantages of film backing include:

  • Durability: Highly resistant to tearing and creasing, extending the abrasive lifespan.
  • Controlled Flexibility: Not as flexible as cloth, but polyester film excels at balancing stiffness and flexibility, conforming to curved surfaces for better control.
  • Minimal dust: Creates a cleaner sanding experience, reduces loading/clogging, and improves visibility for detailed work.
  • Consistent finish: Maintains its shape, preventing warping or curling, to provide the most consistent, uniform finishes.
  • Moisture Resistance: The film is water-resistant, making these abrasives ideal for wet sanding, when they have the right abrasive grains embedded in them.
  • Precision Sanding: Ideal for precise sanding and finishing tasks.

Disadvantages of film backing include:

  • Cost: Compared to paper or cloth backings, polyester film is typically more expensive.
  • Limited conformability: While offering some flexibility, it isn’t as conformable as cloth for highly contoured surfaces, making it less effective for sanding intricate shapes or deep contours.

Common Uses:

  • Precision sanding and finishing: Offers consistent finishes due to dimensional stability and minimal clogging.
  • Sanding curved surfaces: Provides good control and conformability for slightly curved surfaces.
  • Clean sanding environments: Generates minimal dust, improving visibility and reducing cleanup.
  • Automotive: Finishing and polishing in the autobody repair and restoration industry

Related Products:

6" Green Film Hook and Loop Wet / Dry Sanding Discs

Green Film Longboard PSA Continuous Sandpaper Roll

PSA Wet/Dry Green Film Sanding Discs

Vulcanized Fiber

Vulcanized fiber backing is made from cellulose fibers treated with chemicals and heat to create a dense, strong backing. Used mostly for resin fiber sanding discs, it is much more durable and can be used for more aggressive grinding and sanding applications

Advantages of fiber backed abrasives:

  • Durability: More durable than paper backing, offering greater tear and wear resistance.
  • Toughness: Offers high strength and durability, which is ideal for aggressive sanding tasks.
  • Cost-effective: More affordable than cloth backing, but slightly more expensive than paper.
  • Heat Resistance: Capable of withstanding higher temperatures, making it useful for high-speed sanders.

Disadvantages of fiber backed abrasives:

  • Less flexible: May not be ideal for highly contoured surfaces.
  • Dust generation: Can generate dust during sanding, similar to paper backing.

Common Uses:

  • General sanding: Suitable for various sanding projects on wood, metal, and other materials.
  • Metalwork and Welding: Heavy grinding and sanding of metal surface as well as removing welds and smoothing out welded joints.

Related Products:

4-1/2" Aluminum Oxide Resin Fiber Sanding Disc

5" Silicon Carbide Resin Fiber Sanding Discs

4-1/2" Ceramic Resin Fiber Sanding Discs

7" Zirconia Resin Fiber Sanding Discs


Non-woven abrasives are a unique type of abrasive product that doesn't use a traditional backing material like paper, cloth, or film. Instead, they are made up of a web of nylon, or other synthetic fibers, embedded with abrasive grains.

Advantages of non-woven abrasives:

  • Conformability: Highly conformable to uneven surfaces and intricate shapes.
  • Consistency: The even distribution of abrasive grains provides a consistent and uniform finish.
  • Reduced loading: The open structure minimizes clogging, for cleaner sanding and material removal.
  • Gentle material removal: Effective at removing surface material like paint or rust without significantly damaging the underlying material.

Disadvantages of non-woven abrasives:

  • Durability: Generally less durable than traditional abrasives with solid backings and may wear out faster, especially for heavy-duty sanding.
  • Limited coarseness: Typically available in finer grits, making them less suitable for heavy stock removal or aggressive sanding.
  • Cost: Can be more expensive than traditional abrasives with paper or cloth backing.

Common Uses:

  • Finishing and polishing: Ideal for final finishing and polishing various materials like wood, metal, and plastics.
  • Surface prep: Suitable for light cleaning tasks, stripping paint, or rust removal.
  • Sanding intricate shapes: Great for sanding curved surfaces, moldings, and other intricate shapes.

Related Products:

Non-Woven Scuff Pads

Quick Change Surface Conditioning Discs

Non-Woven Abrasive Drums

Surface Conditioning Polishing Belt

Any Questions?

If you’re still unsure about what abrasive backing material is best for your project, we are here to help. Our knowledgeable abrasives experts are here to guide you. During regular office hours, you can reach our team by phone, email, or using our convenient website chat feature. If you prefer, you can also contact us after-hours by leaving a voicemail or sending us an email. We will be sure to respond to your inquiry on the next business day.