DIY Paper Marbling

Your daily dose of prettiness.

Marbling is a printmaking technique that basically looks like capturing a galaxy on a page, except it requires neither subatomic particles nor superhuman skills. Nowadays you can find video tutorials showing you how to marble everything from silk scarves to fingernails, but I primarily make marbled paper, which you can use as backgrounds for collages or photos, to decorate journals and notebooks, or to wrap small gifts. If I weren’t such a DIY advocate, I would probably buy a marbling kit with step-by-step instructions (and no disrespect if you opt for that!), but I prefer to experiment, because the results are more unpredictable!

What you’ll need:

  • A set of oil paints
  • Turpentine
  • A few sheets of uncoated paper—regular printer paper will work, as long as it isn’t glossy.
  • A shallow rectangular container (like a baking tray) that is bigger than the size of your paper
  • Smaller containers for mixing paint (like jar lids)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Utensils for mixing and spreading paint. These can be brushes or straws, or you can make your own marbling comb with toothpicks, cardboard, and scotch tape (see below). Just make sure the length of the comb is smaller than the width of your tray, because you’re going to use it to drag the paint across the surface of the water.

Since you’ll be working with paint, you might want to wear old clothes, and cover your workspace with newspapers or a plastic tablecloth to prevent stains. You’ll need relatively easy access to a sink for clean-up, and if you can work near a window, the fresh air will help with the drying process.

Now on to the marbling:

1. Pour about an inch of water into the tray. Then choose the colors you want to use, and squeeze the paint into small, separate containers (I used the lids of the paint jars). Add some white paint if you want to get pastel shades.

2. Add some turpentine to the paint and mix. I suggest doing this in a well-ventilated space and wearing rubber gloves (even though I didn’t), because you don’t want to breathe in the fumes or irritate your skin. The proportion varies depending on how much paint you are using—I use about a teaspoon of turpentine for every ½ teaspoon of paint. You want the mixture to become liquid and smooth, but not too watery, like so:

3. Now comes the fun part. Create your design by pouring your paint into the water. You can just dump it all in, or selectively distribute the colors where you want them. You can add more turpentine if you want to thin the mixture out in places.

4. If you’re happy with the design, you can skip this step, but otherwise, you can redistribute your colors by swirling the mixture gently with a toothpick, blowing on the surface through a straw, or using your marbling comb.

5. Carefully lay a sheet of paper on the water. To avoid submerging it, start at one end and move slowly down the length of the paper—don’t just plop the whole thing down at once. (It’s OK if the face-up side gets a little wet, but keep it as dry as you can.) Get ready to pick it up right away, because step six comes RIGHT ON THE heels of five!

6. Remove the paper as soon as it’s flat! Starting at a corner, gently lift it out of the water. Again, you might want to use rubber gloves.

7. Lay the sheet out flat on a clean, protected surface. Once it’s been drying for a while, you can lay a heavy book on top of it to keep the edges from curling (slide a piece of paper in between to protect your book).

One tray of water is usually enough for three to five prints. Each one will be different from and lighter than the last, as the paint dissipates. It can take a few tries to get the desired effect, but every attempt will be mesmerizing. When it’s done, you’ll have a map of your own undiscovered galaxy—or some decorative gift wrap. It’s whatever you choose, so enjoy! ♦


  • DreamBoat January 18th, 2013 3:26 PM

    OMGOMGOMG. This is so cool and rad and reminds me of psychedelic ’60s album covers. Totes dyyyying to do this!!!

  • rosiesayrelax January 18th, 2013 3:28 PM

    THIS is amazaling.

  • Caitlin H. January 18th, 2013 3:38 PM

    love this!

  • Serena.K January 18th, 2013 3:47 PM

    just in time for the senior year mixtape my friends and i are making! i can’t wait to use this for the cover!

  • Mary the freak January 18th, 2013 4:01 PM

    OH MY, So amazing!!
    I will go to my room now and make buttons and type on my typewriter, but first of all I will do this DIY. Sounds like the best night ever.

  • jazzy January 18th, 2013 4:22 PM

    you can do this with spray paint too. Just spray paint a shallow pan of water and then set paper (or anything like jars, lampshades, etc) on it.

  • Cordelia96 January 18th, 2013 4:28 PM

    so pretty!

  • raggedyanarchy January 18th, 2013 4:32 PM

    Oh! I had to make cupcakes for some party or whatever, and I made them marbly! I used different cake mix flavors and colors and food dye and mixed them in just right right way. They looked really cool when you bit into them.

  • catpower44 January 18th, 2013 4:59 PM

    Ahh! This is so pretty! I love the marble effect! I totally have to try this!

  • RhiaSnape January 18th, 2013 5:12 PM

    this is so cool! must remember to try this one out

  • Pearl January 18th, 2013 5:25 PM

    This looks so cool! I’m gonna make these & use them as cards for my friend’s birthday!

  • Annie92 January 18th, 2013 5:28 PM

    This is so lush! I have some marbling inks but this method looks way more effective.


  • wolnosc January 18th, 2013 5:34 PM

    This is so awesome! Can you use water and watercolors/acrylics too?

    • Emma Dajska January 18th, 2013 7:53 PM

      yes! Acrylics work fine. The colors may appear a little bit dirtier and the effect is slightly different but I really recommend trying different kinds of paints and oils ( I once tried adding blobs of plain olive oil and it looks interesting too).

  • Cynthia January 18th, 2013 7:11 PM

    Omg, this is so awesome!! And I think I could do this right away because my dad’s an artist so we have like and endless supply of oil paints! (the funniest thing is that most people dislike the smell of oil paints, but because I grew up with it- it’s like a pleasant smell to me!) …but I live in Australia and my parents would make me go outside to do this and IT’S TOO HOT D: (well, I haven’t been outside yet- but if it isn’t already hot it will soon be TOO HOT!)

  • Jessa January 18th, 2013 7:32 PM

    Can`t wait to try this out!

  • HollinsCollins January 18th, 2013 7:42 PM

    Waow I want to do this. Thanks a million, Emma!!! <3

  • Tyknos93 January 18th, 2013 7:44 PM

    HOLY FLIP. Why are all of these cool DIY’s coming after I depleted my Christmas funds on stupid mall gifts? This is wickedly beautiful. Is there anyway this can be done for larger sized paper to wrap larger gifts?

  • Abby January 18th, 2013 9:13 PM


  • cole123 January 18th, 2013 10:03 PM

    Woah thats awesome! The only way I have ever marbled paper is with shaving cream but this looks even more vibrant! Defiantly going to try this!
    - Colette

  • lousybeatnik January 18th, 2013 10:36 PM

    Crazy good… Question: Have you ever marbled leather? I have some off-the-wall platform birkenstocks that I am itching to update!

  • laughinguacamole January 18th, 2013 10:40 PM

    Ugh, every time I’ve ever tried this it has FAILED. I’ll have to try this one. I don’t think I’ve actually used oil paints… and that makes no sense. I must have been doing it horribly wrong (obviously. What, did I try watercolor or something?) (just kidding, I’m not actually that ignorant)

    I need to try this.

  • pocketmouse January 19th, 2013 12:07 AM

    oh my gosh. I learned how to do this in some after school program when I was in elementary school where we were binding our own books and made marbled covers. But here’s the cool part, I still have mine & it has Samuel L Jackson’s autograph from when I got it while I was at some golf thing w/ my dad when I was like, 10. Best. day. ever.

  • Abby in the Sky with Diamonds January 19th, 2013 12:27 AM

    “…except it requires neither subatomic particles nor superhuman skills.” That was hilarious to me for some reason.

  • allyishere January 19th, 2013 1:53 AM

    do you use all of the same materials if you do it with silk scarves? or do you need special paint?

  • Cynthia January 19th, 2013 4:08 AM

    omgggggggg, I asked my dad for some sort of tray this morning (I did get up at, like, 12, to be fair. I’m on holidays; that is my excuse.) and then just recently at dinner my parents were like “nah, we don’t have anything, you should’ve said so this morning” …so I’m just gonna use a smaller tray thing and cut A4 paper up to fit! …I might attempt to make mini origami stuff out of it, if I’m patient enough…

  • asylum January 19th, 2013 7:54 AM

    Love the effect! So cool.

  • purpledaisies January 19th, 2013 10:45 AM

    This is really cool! I was wondering, do you know of a way to do replicate this sort of effect on canvas?

  • rayfashionfreak January 19th, 2013 10:48 AM

    Great DIY! Can’t wait to try this one, have always wanted to do paper marbling but thought it would be really hard.

  • KIA January 19th, 2013 10:54 AM

    the color is so……

  • Mintvirgin January 19th, 2013 11:08 AM

    WOW! so awesome!
    it is like the Universe and holes in space. I was so amazed about this diy.

  • AnaRuiz January 19th, 2013 12:03 PM

    Gosh all these diys and not enough time

  • mayaautumn January 19th, 2013 12:58 PM

    it’s so cool n_n

  • LeavesThatAreGreen January 19th, 2013 4:55 PM

    In kindergarten we used to do this with some sugar solution, dunno how.

  • Tulip January 19th, 2013 5:27 PM

    What a great DIY! Love the effect.

  • shutitoff January 19th, 2013 7:54 PM

    I’m so excited to try this!

  • artobsessed January 20th, 2013 12:55 AM

    YES. I wanted to do this for so long, but I thought I had to buy special paints.

  • Hannah January 20th, 2013 6:02 PM

    I love this idea! Only, one question! What’s turpentine? Where do I get it? What does it do?

  • Mikazuki42 January 21st, 2013 2:19 PM

    So cool! My mom marbles paper a lot.

  • yellowplaid January 21st, 2013 8:32 PM


  • seatearrom January 22nd, 2013 9:23 PM

    This can actually be accomplished in a much less complicated way with shaving cream and food coloring.

    Buy a can of plain ol’ shaving cream from the dollar store and spread it out into a pan. Drop your desired amount of food coloring onto the shaving cream. Swirl around with a toothpick. Press your paper down into the shaving cream. Wipe off with a cloth. Voila!

    Much more cost effective and a bit less messy. Plus, your paper will have a nice fragrance to it.

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica June 1st, 2013 12:56 PM

    This is so cool and pretty! I was about to chime in with a memory of doing this in third grade using a shaving cream technique, but seatearrom beat me to the punch in the comment above by about four months.