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Home » How to Marble Paper – at home with Ashley

How to Marble Paper – at home with Ashley

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How to Marble Paper - at home with Ashley

Marbling paper is a centuries old craft where you create a pattern with paint that looks like marble and then dip paper into it to create decorative paper. I’ve been wanting to get into book binding and love when the end papers or book covers are made with marbled paper. So I’m going to show you how to marble paper.

how to marble paper

Let’s start with the video tutorial so you get an overview on what I did. Then, I’ll dive in with more details below:

 

If the video doesn’t work here, you can watch it on YouTube here. It’d mean so much if you’d watch the video! I’m trying to get better at my video skills so I can grow my YouTube channel. If you have a few minutes to watch this and/or subscribe, I’d so appreciate it.

SUPPLIES


Tools/Supplies to make the Marbling Rake (or comb)

Supplies to make Splatter Brushes

Helpful Books for learning how to Marble Paper-

step 1- mordant the paper with the alum solution

To begin, select the correct paper. It’s best to use 100% Cotton Paper so that the paper is durable enough to make it through the marbling process without ripping. Another good thing to note is if the paper is shiny. That usually means it’s been coated during the manufacturing process and won’t accept the paint well.

Next, it’s time to mordant the paper. This is the process of treating the front of the paper. If this step is skipped, the paint won’t adhere to the paper and just run off.

Mark the back of the paper. I like to write “B” on mine for the back, or an X will do. It’s smart to mark the back so that later, when marbling, it’ll be obvious which side is the front so it can be put in the bath solution.

To make the mixture to treat the paper, mix 1 teaspoon of the Alum Powder with one cup of water in a bowl. Mix well with a whisk. Note, my Alum took awhile to dissolve, so it’s good to get it started and do some of the other steps while waiting on it to dissolve.

Put the paper in a cookie sheet or the lid from the tray that’ll be used for marbling. Use a Natural Sponge to apply the alum on the paper. Make sure the entire front is covered. The mixture gets the paper wet so check that the front is all wet. If any of the paper doesn’t get the alum on it, it will not hold color. I used a normal sponge I had on hand and it worked just fine.

Note, don’t overwork the paper. If the sponge goes over the paper multiple times, it tends to peel.

Hang the paper to dry. It’ll usually take 30 minutes to 2 hours for the paper to dry completely.

Once dry, press the paper between two books overnight so it won’t wrinkle.

Make sure to use the treated paper within two days. If not, store the paper in an air tight container.

step 2- make a marbling rake

Look at different papers that have been marbled in the Marbling Paper book and see how they were made. I like the look of peacock marbleized paper which means I need a comb.

To make a comb, look at how long your tray is. I’m creating my combs 2″ longer than the longest side of my tray so it can sit on top. For the top, I’m using a piece of wood trim. To cut it to 15″ long, I’m using a miter saw.

Next, use a ruler and mark with a pencil every 1″ along the length of the wood trim. I’m start at 1″ in so that the nails fit inside the tray. I’m also creating a fine-tooth rake with 1/2″ spacing.

Use a nail gun to attach nails into the trim where marked. These will go though the trim to create the rake.

The third rake I wanted is a peacock rake where the nails go in diagonally from each other. The nails are spaced every 1″. The second row is 1/2″ over and still spaced every 1″.

They are not perfect, but I think they will get the job done. I love how they sit on the tray and will make the pattern with the nails.

You can buy marbling rakes if you don’t want to make your own. Here are some links- Marbling Rake option 1 or Marbling Rake option 2

step 3- mix the water for the bath

To successfully marble paper, the paint (or pigment) needs to float on the surface of water. To achieve that, the water needs to be thickened. It’s best to do this the day before marbling because it takes awhile for the powder used to thicken the water to dissolve.

Grab a watertight container for creating the bath where the marbling will happen. I’m using this Plastic Bin with Lid, but a roasting dish or casserole pan will work. It’s best if it’s at least 2-3 inches deep. It needs to be big enough so there’s space for the color to spread and the paper to be laid down on the surface.

Start by figuring out how much water you need for your tray. To do this, measure 1 liter of water at a time and pour it into the tray. There’s enough water when it fills the tray as high as possible. I found I need 3 liters. 

Note, as you marble, some of the sizing will come out on the paper and when skimming the bath. So it’s smart to fill the container as high as possible with sizing so that the rake will be able to make a pattern in the paint for awhile- even with the liquid slowly diminishing. 

Next, mix the bath solution (this is also called the size). The solution needs to be prepared the day before the actual paper marbling will be done, so plan ahead. I am mixing my solution in a cleaned out milk jug. Put 3 liters of water in the milk jug.  Use a funnel to keep it from being too messy. I still dripped some water and so it’s nice to have a towel under the milk jug.

Continue making the size by adding Methocel to the water in the jug. Methocel is a powder commonly used as a thickening agent in foods like ice cream and bread. Measure out 1 Tablespoon of Methocel for every liter of water used. So I measured 3 Tablespoons.

Note, it is better to use too much of the Methocel than too little. It can be too thin, but not too thick. So I recommend adding an extra 1/2 a Tablespoon to really thicken it up.

Use a funnel to add the Methocel into the water in the milk jug. Shake it well. Let it sit 24 hours so the powder can dissolve, shaking periodically. This will create a solution that has consistency like wallpaper paste- nice and thick so the paint will sit on top of it and not sink. 

It’s important to leave the size in the room where the marble will occur. This will help the bath be the correct temperature for the marbling process. 

step 4- create a splatter brush

A splatter brush helps you create fine, even droplets of paint on the water’s surface, essential for achieving certain marbling patterns. Here’s how you can make one:

Cut the bristles off from a straw sweeping broom. Bundle a handful of the straw that is about 1 inch around and 8 inches long with floral wire. Bind the straw in 2 places so the brush stays intact. Trim the end of the straw so it’s even. 

If you’d rather not make your own, you can buy a Splatter Brush.

One thing I didn’t know before I started was how many splatter brushes I’d need. I found out it’s nice to have one for each color or for similar colors. If you’re marbling near a sink, they can be washed out so you only need one. Since I’m far from a sink, it’s nice to have more. I ended up making 5 and that was the perfect number for me.

step 5- mix the paint colors

When ready to begin, cover the work table a drop cloth or plastic sheeting. Marbling starts with flicking paint, so it’s good to be prepared since this is a very messy project. Also, make sure to wear an apron and have a rag ready for cleaning your hands.

And now, pour acrylic paint in Glass Jars. (Note- any small containers or pots that are approximately 2″ wide by 3″ deep will do. Having something with a lid is nice since it’s easier to store if marbling over multiple days).

The acrylic paint is too thick to float on the top of the bath, so it needs to have water added to it.

Add a small amount of water to the paint. Mix the paint with water until it is the consistency of milk. Use one Paint Brush per jar to mix the paint. This brush can also be used to add the paint to the bath.

Next, add the Ox Gall to the paint. This is the product that will make the paint spread across the size bath. Use an Eye Dropper to add 2-5 drops to the jar of paint.

Repeat for each paint color.

step 6- prep the bath

Shake the the size mixture from the milk jug in step 2.  Pour it into the container. Test the thickness by running your hands or a whisk through it to make sure it is nice and thick- similar to wallpaper paste. It needs to be thick so the paint will float on the surface. It should hold an impression and be thick enough to almost grab some of it.

If it’s not thick enough, it’s ok! Just add some more of the methocel to the water. Mix with a whisk. It takes about 1 hour for it to dissolve if mixed every 10 minutes. Cover the tray when not mixing.

Next, skim the bath. Use a piece of newspaper that is cut to be 3″ deep and fits the width of your bath container. Pull the newspaper strip across the surface of the bath, skimming it. Throw the newspaper away. This removes a skin that might have formed at the top that can prevent colors from spreading. 

Note, when not in use, the bath should always be kept covered. This will keep dust off the surface of the bath.

step 7- test the paint in the bath

Immediately after skimming the bath, start by testing the colors in the dye bath. This is when you see if the sizing in the bath is the correct consistency and if the paint will spread out. Use a paint brush from the mixing of the paint and hit it against the Lead Pipe or Palette Knife to add paint to the water.

The paint should float on top of the water and spread 2-3 inches out from the original drip. If it doesn’t spread, add a few more drops of Ox Gall. If the paint sinks, it’s too thick and the paint needs more water added to it.

Note, this is also a good way to test how thick the water is. If the paint won’t float no matter how much watering down is done, add more methocel to the bath.

Once all the colors are floating and spreading, it’s time to start marbling. Skim the surface with newspaper again to start with a fresh dye bath.

step 8- marble the paper

Now, start adding colors to the dye bath. To do this, dip the Splatter Brush in some paint. Then, hit it against the Lead Pipe. Continue across the dye bath surface, adding drips of paint in the same color.

For each paint color that will be used for marbling, repeat this process. When the paint stops spreading, it’s time to stop adding paint. Or it’ll just sink. This is usually after 5 or 6 paint colors. 

Use a wood skewer or the tip of a paint brush to create a pattern in the sizing.

Next, it’s time to lay the paper into the bath. Make sure to check for the front and back so the side treated with Alum powder touches the paint. Hold both ends of the paper diagonally. Lay the paper down on top of the bath as smoothly as possible.

Allow the paper to make full contact with the paint. Use a skewer or palette knife to press the paper against the bath to eliminate air bubbles. Let the paper sit on the paint for a moment.

Then, pick up the corners of the paper and slide it against the edge to remove as much size as possible. Lay it paint side up in a cookie sheet. Use a watering can to pour water on and wash off the bath sizing.

This is when you see how the marbling turned out! Which is super exciting!

Take the paper and hang it, colored size up, on a drying rack. Be careful to not touch the newly marbled paper with another sheet- the paint will transfer. Make sure there’s a drop cloth or plastic sheet under the drying rack. The paper needs to drip dry for at least an hour.

Before marbling another sheet, use a piece of newspaper to clean the surface of the water, removing any remaining paint.

marbling variations-

Some options to create patterns in the paint for a marbled look-

Floral pattern–  Apply the paint drops with a paint brush against an iron bar. Use 2-3 colors. Then, use a stylus to create large swirls across the surface. Put the paper in the solution. 

Fantasy pattern– Float on the paint colors by hitting the splatter brush against a lead bard. After layering on paint, use a stylus. Pull the stylus through the paint to create a pattern. 

Comb pattern– Use a comb to pull through the paint that’s been splattered on. This can be pulled straight through the paint. 

Snail pattern– Splatter on paint and then use the comb to pull the paint. Then use the 1″ comb to create spirals. Repeat across the whole tray.

Peacock pattern– Splatter on paint and then use the stylus to draw through the colors at parallel lines. Then use a fine-tooth comb to pull the paint. Last, use the peacock comb with a zigzag movement sliding the comb back and forth slowly while moving across the tray. 

step 8- drying and clean up

Once the papers are completely dry, leave them overnight between books. 

Either dispose of the bath or cover the bath until it’s time to marble again.

My papers are wrinkly so I’m using an iron to get them to lay nice and flat.

tips for marbling with kids

If you want to try this with kids, be prepared for a mess. Make sure you’re working over a large drop cloth, have a rag to wipe any paint that might get on something or to clean hands up with. And have your child wear an apron or clothes they don’t mind getting paint on.

I found that kids really take to this project! It can be done in a million ways and they all look pretty cool. So I definitely suggest letting your child help! 

I had my 9 year old choose the colors and splatter them on. Then I gave him a stylus and he made his own pattern. It was easy and fun!

after

I had so much fun with this project! I’ve learned that marbling has a high learning curve- getting the size bath and paint mixed correctly is a little tricky. But once that’s down, it’s very fun to throw the paint and try out patterns!

For most of my marbled papers, I added some gold metallic acrylic paint. The dried papers have some iridescence that’s really pretty! I recommend it!

This feels like such a fun way to make art to me. There’s guidelines on how to make the patterns, but with choosing your own colors and luck with how they turn out, you don’t know how it’ll turn out. And it’s exciting seeing what you pull out!

I had a lot of fun using all my papers. From my experience, I found that each page took about 5 minutes to add paint, create a pattern, and dip the paper in. I’m already brainstorming my next marbling project. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

price breakdown

I thought I’d share how much I paid in supplies to create my marbled papers.

Total- $66. Which seams like a lot when you think that I got 20 sheets of marbled paper out of it.  But I also have enough materials to marble paper a bunch more times. So I think that it’ll be worth it!

In conclusion, I loved this project! I will do it again and absolutely recommend. It was fun to do with my son and see what he did. These pages will be really fun to add into a hard back book! Would you try this? Which pattern is your favorite? Do you like the look of marbled paper?

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