Paper marbling

From Academic Kids

Paper marbling is a technique for producing colorful patterns on paper (or, rarely, on other surfaces) by swirls of paint, traditionally oil-based paint, floating on water. The resulting marbled paper is a popular decorative material, especially as endpapers in book binding and stationery. Part of its appeal is that each print is unique.


The basic process needs only blank paper, a shallow tray filled with water, and some free flowing oil-based paint. The paper must be strong enough to withstand being immersed in water without tearing.

First a few drops of paint are placed on the water, just enough to create a thin layer. The paint is slowly and carefully stirred with a thin rod to create the desired pattern. Then a sheet of paper is carefully placed over the water's surface, so that the paint adheres to it. The sheet is then pulled out and laid on a flat surface to dry.

Often paints of two or more colors are used; however, by playing with the thickness of the paint layer, one can obtain good results even with a single color.

Another method, the one used in Turkish marbling, is to take a tray of viscous liquid called the size, sprinkle pigments mixed with a surfactant such as oxgall, on to the size, one color after another until there is a dense pattern in many colors. Each successive layer of pigment spreads less than the last and may need more surfactant to stay on top of the size. Once the base pattern, known as stones, is laid down, a stick or tools including rakes or combs are drawn through the base pattern to make a new pattern. Paper or cloth that has been coated with alum and allowed to dry is placed on the surface gently to capture the pattern. The excess pigment and size are rinsed off of the paper and it is allowed to dry. Without the alum, the desired pattern would wash away with the excess. After the print is made, the surface of the size is cleared of any remaining pigments to make it ready for a new pattern.

Traditional marbling uses carrageenan mixed with water for the size, real broomstraw to sprinkle the paint, ox gall for the surfactant, and oil base paint for the pigment. Modern marblers use a variety of new materials, often in combination with traditional materials. Other sizes including mixtures of water and laundry starch, water and methylcellulose, and plain water can be used. Acrylic paints, watercolors, or ink can replace the traditional oil paints. Plastic broom straws can be used as well as bamboo sticks and eyedroppers to place the pigment on the surface of the size. Ox gall is still a superior surfactant, but other commercially available products may be used. Inkjet papers may not need an alum coating.


The art originated in China over 2000 years ago. It became popular in Japan in the 12th century under the name of suminagashi ("ink-floating"), first as a divination tool of Shinto priests, later as a decorative art. In the 15th century a similar art, called ebru (Turkish for "two-toned marbling") and now known as "Turkish marbling", developed in Turkey and Persia, but using a rather different technique. In Europe, marbled paper became popular in the 17th century, especially for book endpapers. At first a secret art exploited by few professional makers, it became a popular handicraft in the 19th century after the English maker Charles Woolnough published his The Art of Marbling.

Marbled paper is still produced in large quantities in Venice.

External links

tr:ebru nl:Marmeren


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