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The Definitive Guide to Marbling Paper

Fancy reliving your childhood by learning how to marble? Read on for a definitive guide!
Photo of three different papers that have been marbled using a variety of different colours

This post is divided into two parts; part one is all the equipment you need and part two is the process from start to finish!

Part One: Everything you need to start marbling

There are many different techniques you can use to marble paper but I personally use Pebeo’s Marbling Inks so that's what I'll cover in this post. Most of the stuff you need can be found on Amazon. A wide tray or shallow storage box
Find a tray that’s at least 4cm deep and is wider than the paper you are planning to use. I marble A3 paper so I use the Really Useful Storage Box 20 Litre box as I couldn’t find a big enough tray!

Pebeo Marbling Inks
These are high quality, easily mixable and straightforward to use. The colours available are White, Lemon Yellow, Sienna, Vermillion, Ultramarine Blue, Cyan, Emerald Green, Black and Bengal Pink. They are highly saturated inks designed to be mixed so I tend to use 1-2 drops before combining with white; buy at least two bottles of white so you can create several different colours and tones. They are all available through Jackson’s Art Supplies.

Pebeo Marbling Bath
For marbling to work, you have to create a solution where the ink floats on the surface of the water so the paper can absorb it. If the ink sinks to the bottom, then you'll get clear marbling solution on your paper instead of a lovely colourful pattern! This is also available through Jackson’s Art Supplies.

Uncoated paper
The best paper to use for marbling tends to be uncoated cartridge, sketching or drawing paper between 100-160gsm. Avoid any shiny or coated papers as the marbling ink won’t be able to stick to the surface. My favourite papers to use are Canson Mi-Teintes, which has a lovely textured surface, and Fabriano Accademia Drawing Paper both at 160gsm. You can also try marbling maps, paper from old magazines, or coloured paper!Alum
Alum is a powdered pre-soak used to treat fabric or for marbling. Preparing your paper with alum will ensure that your marbling designs transfer to clearly to the paper with no blurring or bleeding. This process of preparing your paper is also known as mordanting.

These will make it easy for you to pick up ink from your palette and disperse it evenly across the marbling solution.

Paint Palette
Buy a couple of paint palettes with deep wells so you can mix up lots of lovely colours to use across several sheets of paper.

Bamboo/Cocktail Sticks
These are perfect for creating swirls and patterns once you have dropped the inks onto the marbling solution.Cheap mixed comb set
These are great for making waves in your marbling! Look for a set that includes a variety of combs. Wide tooth combs tend to work the best!

Digital kitchen scales
These will help you accurately weigh out the marbling bath powder and the alum. I had many failed attempts prior to using digital scales so weighing exact amounts is the key to marbling successfully!

Electrical whisk
I have tried many times to mix the Pebeo Marbling Bath with water by hand but it tends to go lumpy quite easily so I now always use an electrical whisk so the solution is smooth.

Small plastic bucket (5L)
Use this to mix your Pebeo Marbling Bath with water before pouring it into the tray or storage box.
Spray bottle & sponge
The spray bottle is the best way to disperse the alum solution onto the paper and the sponge helps to spread it evenly.

String and mini wooden pegs
Create a makeshift washing line to hang your marbled paper to drip dry. Gravity will help the paper dry mostly straight. 

A measuring jug and a perspex acrylic sheet/wide tray.
You always need to rinse your marbled paper to get rid of any excess ink. I found that laying the marbled paper flat on a piece of Perspex sheeting and gently rinsing it with a jug of water helps keep the design intact. I used to rinse paper directly under the tap but running water is too pressurised and washes away a lot of the ink. You could also use the underside of a tray if it is larger than the paper you’re using!

Okay, so that's everything you need to start marbling. Now onto part two!

Part Two: Preparation and Marbling

2 days before marbling: Preparing your paper with alum solution.

This stage is crucial to ensuring your lovely patterns stick to the paper and don’t bleed or blur.

1. Measure 500ml of cold water and mix in 5g of alum. Stir rapidly until dissolved and pour into the spray bottle. Be aware that alum solution degrades over a few days so mix it up on the day you plan to use it and discard any remaining solution as it will not keep. This amount will be plenty for around 30 sheets of A3 paper.

2. Determine the front and the back of your paper; the front will be the side that you are planning to marble. Sometimes there is no difference if you’re using a plain paper but if you are using a paper with a textured surface, it will be obvious which is the front and the back. With a pencil, lightly mark the back of each piece of paper; this makes it easier to identify the front and the back once the solution has dried. You don’t want to lay down paper that hasn’t been prepared!

3. Spray the front of each paper a couple of times and with the smooth side of the sponge, spread the solution gently across the paper.

4. Using your mini pegs, hang on a makeshift washing line and leave to dry. Once dry, flatten out any lumps by stacking some heavy books on top of the papers.

Marbling day!

Preparing the marbling bath

You need to allow two hours for the solution to stand before you start to marble. Do not move or disturb it once you have poured it into the tray. Bear in mind that you will need to rinse your paper once it has been marbled so make sure you set yourself up near a sink.

1. The best way to determine how much water you need is to fill up the tray or storage box in 1 litre increments and make sure you have at least 3cm of water. 

2. Once you’ve figured out how many litres you need, fill up the bucket with water and weigh out the exact amount of Pebeo Marbling Bath using the digital kitchen scales. The solution is 10g of Pebeo Marbling Bath to 1 litre of water. For the storage box I use, I fill it up with 3.5 litres of water using 35g of Pebeo Marbling Bath.

3. Start the electric whisk and very gradually sprinkle in the Pebeo Marbling Bath. If you add it in too quickly, lumps will form in the water which are hard to get rid of. Slowly is best.

4. Once it’s all mixed, pour the solution into your tray or storage box and leave it to stand for two hours. The solution will last for 24 hours so I would advise preparing the bath early in the morning so you can use it for the full day.

Marbling – The fun part!

1. Mix up a variety of colours in your paint palette and use a separate pipette for each colour.

2. Drop the colours onto the water and use a bamboo stick or a comb to create a pattern that you like.

3. Hold the paper by the short edges and lower it gently onto the surface of the water. Dropping it from a height or laying it down left to right will disturb the pattern or create air bubbles.

4. Leave it 10-15 seconds before gentling peeling back the paper from the surface of the water.

5. Lay the paper on the Perspex sheet, holding it at an angle in the sink and gently pour water from your jug to rinse off excess ink. I tend to pour the water onto the Perspex and let it run down the paper, rather than directly onto the paper to avoid ruining the delicate design. Rinse until the water runs clear and the excess ink has gone.

6. Hang on your makeshift washing line and leave to drip dry! Make sure you place newspaper underneath to catch all the drips.

7. When all your marbled paper is dry, stack heavy books on top to flatten out any curves or lumps.

And there you have it! Now you know how to create your own gorgeous marbled paper. I would love to see any creations you make so please tag me on Instagram @bygladysholliday