The flow of liquids through paper is challenging to model due to the complexity and disordered layout of the fibre matrix. The expanding use and capability of microfluidic paper-based analytical devices (
PADs) and their requirement for precision has increased the need to accurately predict the flow of liquids through paper. Many studies have developed models and revealed some of the physical mechanisms responsible for the flow behaviour, but we still lack a complete understanding, particularly in relation to how the fluid fills the various voids with a wide range of shapes and sizes in the fibre matrix of paper. In the featured article, Chang et al. (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 845, 2018, 36–50) used a combined experimental and theoretical approach to uncover the importance of the liquid filling the intra-fibre pores, showed that this results in deviation from the flow behaviour predicted by the Lucas–Washburn equation and developed a model which accounts for this effect.