There are many way to marble paper, but the easiest inexpensive method uses shaving cream, food coloring or paint, and paper. Not only does the marbled paper look beautiful, but it also picks up the scent of the shaving cream. Of course, you can use unscented cream, but mint or woodsy shaving cream makes the paper perfect for wrapping holiday gifts! It’s a fun science craft project that’s perfect for kids.
Marbled Paper Materials
You can use any paper for this project, including ordinary printer paper. Any shaving cream or shaving gel works. I used inexpensive peppermint-scented shaving cream that smelled like candy canes.
- Shaving cream
- Food coloring, acrylic paint, tempera paint, or watercolors
- Shallow pan large enough for the paper
- Squeegee or paper towels
Any water-based dye or paint works. Food coloring tinted the blue/red/green paper in the graphic, while tempera poster paints made the pink/orange/blue paper.
How to Marble Paper
- Spread a thin layer of shaving cream into the bottom of the pan. Use your fingers, a spoon, or a spatula to make the surface flat.
- Dot the shaving cream surface with food coloring, pigment, or paint.
- Pattern the colors. I used a fork to mix the colors to make a wavy pattern, but you can use any tool you like. For example, use a paintbrush if you’re using water colors. Another method is to blow on the colors using a straw. Don’t go crazy mixing the colors or else they will run together to make just one color.
- Set the paper on top of the colored layer. Smooth it out over the surface to pick up the marbled colors.
- Remove the paper and use a squeegee or dry paper to wipe off the shaving cream. A single wipe across the paper removes the cream without disturbing the colors.
- Let the paper air-dry or iron it using low heat.
When you’re done, you’ll have smooth, slightly glossed marbled paper that won’t transfer color when you touch it. However, you can spray the paper with a fixative if you like.
More Easy Ways to Marble Paper
While the shaving cream method is fool-proof, there are other easy ways to marble paper.
- Drip oil-based colorings or a mix of food coloring and oil onto water. Set paper on the liquid to pick up the color. Alternatively, pick up a suminagashi kit at a craft store or online for about $10.
- Drip food coloring, water color, acrylic paint, or pigment onto whole milk. The fat in the milk keeps the colors from mixing.
- Drip acrylic paint over a thin layer of liquid starch. You may need to thin the acrylic with a bit of water before applying it. Swirl it with a paintbrush or chop stick before applying the paper.
- Drip nail polish onto water. Use this method to marble plastic ornaments and other objects, in addition to paper. You’ll also need some nail polish remover for clean-up.
- Apply spray paint on top of water. Spray paint is oil-based, so it floats.
- Thin oil paint using turpentine and drip it onto water. Lay the paper on top of the swirled colors, but don’t let it sink before removing it.
How Paper Marbling Works
The art and science of paper marbling traces its origins to the 10th century Japanese practice of suminagashi or “floating ink.” Suminagashi involves floating oil-based ink on top of water. Oil and water are immiscible, so the color transfers onto the paper but doesn’t mix in the water. The shaving cream method works on the same principle, but the ink is water-based, while the shaving cream is oil-based.
Another method, used in central Asia and Turkey, uses a thick cornstarch mixture called “size.” The water-based colorings are mixed with a surfactant to prevent them from mixing with the corn starch.
Ways to Use Marbled Paper
There are many uses for marbled paper:
- Wrapping paper
- Gift tags
- Die cuts
Fun Paper Science Projects
Marbling paper isn’t the only fun paper science project. Here are others to try:
- Iridescent Rainbow Paper: Make rainbow paper by dipping paper into water with a bit of clear nail polish floating on top. The result is a shimmering coating that looks like a soap bubble or oil slick.
- Bleeding Goldenrod Paper: Goldenrod paper is treated with a pH indicator that changes from yellow to red. Writing using a swab dipped in ammonia or baking soda solution or dip your hand in the liquid to leave a “bloody” print.
- Boil Water in a Paper Bag: The high heat capacity of water protects paper from burning, even if you heat a bag full of water over an open flame.