DIY Food

How to Marble Paper for Place Cards

February  2, 2015

We're all in favor of recreating our favorite flavors in the kitchen, and the same goes for home goods: There's no better feeling than making something yourself instead of buying it from a store.

Today: Illustrator and calligrapher Stephanie Fishwick demonstrates a refined version of our favorite childhood craft. Read on for her tutorial on making glamorous marbled paper place cards at home.

Marbled Place Setting by Stephanie Fishwick

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There's no doubt you've encountered marbled paper at some point, whether in a childhood crafting class or as a piece of artwork. Marbleizing, or marbling, goes back to Suminagashi paper in 12th-century Japan. Since then, marbling has gone in and out of fashion for centuries and spanned the globe, its high point being in the late-19th century during the Art Nouveau movement. I love marbling because each piece is a monotype, always one-of-a-kind.

Marbling is a method of decorating paper using “floating colors” or aqueous surface patterning. The colors are not applied directly to the paper as with a painting, but rather colors are added to a liquid called the marbleizing "size.” The patterns created on the surface of the size are removed by laying a piece of paper on top.

Classic marbling (what you are likely the most familiar with) is done with water-based colors mixed with ox gall in a viscous solution. What I've done with these place cards is much easier (read: good for instant-gratification types), less time-intensive, and requires fewer materials (no ox gall!).

Stephanie Fishwick Marbled Paper Place Cards by Joey Kennedy  Stephanie Fishwick Marbled Paper Place Cards by Joey Kennedy

To achieve this oil-color marbling look, the methods are similar. I like oil marbling because the preparation is super simple. The only downside is that the control over the patterning is pretty limited: You will almost always see a similar galaxy-type design. It's very abstract and subject to the ebb and flow of the water and oils. 

To create the colors you see on these pieces, I diluted oil paints with turpentine and added them to a size of pure tap water. Test your oils by applying drops to the size -- if the color sinks, add a bit more turpentine to the paint bottle. If it spreads too thin and way out towards the edges, add more paint. The floating colors will look very transparent on the size, but once you lay your paper down, they almost magically adhere to the paper and stay put.

What You'll Need:

Oil paints
Small jars or bottles
Shallow tray (larger than your paper)
Stain droppers, paint brushes, or straws
Chopstick, paintbrush, or marbling comb
Paper (cardstock or thicker, to prevent curling)

Materials for Paper Marbling by Stephanie Fishwick  Mixing colors for marbled paper DIY by Stephanie Fishwick

How to Marble Your Paper:

1. With the help of a funnel, mix oil paints with turpentine in small jars or bottles, using a different containter for every color. Aim for 1 part oil paint for every 3 parts turpentine. Stir or shake well to combine.

2. Prepare your size: Fill a shallow tray or pan with tap water on an even surface.

Prepare a size for marbling paper by Stephanie Fishwick

3. Drop the paint on the surface of the water using small bottles (if yours has a dropper on it), stain droppers, paint brushes, or tubes (such as straws).

Drop paint onto surface of the size for marbling paper Stephanie Fishwick

4. Next, manipulate the surface (meaning move the water and paint droplets around) to create patterns you like. A variety of tools will work for this; I used a chopstick, a paintbrush, and a marbling comb. Beware: Oil paint can stain, so just don't use anything too precious and make sure to wash it well after the project.

Drop paint onto surface of size, by Stephanie Fishwick  Manipulate surface of size by Stephanie Fishwick

5. Lay a piece of paper on top of the surface for a few seconds; just enough time for the paint to adhere. Lift up the paper quickly and lay flat to dry. Practice patience: Oil paints take 24 to 48 hours to fully dry.

Lay paper down on surface of size, by Stephanie Fishwick  Let paint adhere and then lift, by Stephanie Fishwick

6. Once dry, write your guests' names on them to use as place cards, or just leave blank to use as stationery!

Do you have ideas for clever place settings? Or for crafts you'd like to see here? Tell us in the comments and tag your favorites on instagram with #F52home. 

Final photos by Joey Kennedy; all process photos by Eric Kelley; flowers and styling by Mallory Joyce

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Elba Molina
    Elba Molina
  • RJMB
  • Wyndham Traxler Carter
    Wyndham Traxler Carter
  • rmandell
  • Amanda Sims
    Amanda Sims
Artist, calligrapher & designer


Elba M. April 3, 2015
I am glad to see this DYI, Congratulations! Can we see monotypes with the new Jelly plate?
RJMB February 20, 2015
You should wear protective gloves for this process. Boxes of 100 nitrile exam gloves come in S, M, L, and XL, they are around $10. They have loads of other uses. Get the good ones at pharmacies. (The "dollar store" ones can irritate you skin and tear easily.)
Wyndham T. February 4, 2015
Take the word of an old art teacher, you can make a size out of wallpaper paste or cooked corn starch and use craft acrylics that have been thinned with water about one-third. The marbling is permanent, the cleanup is all with soap and water. Much safer easier and cheaper.
rmandell February 3, 2015
For an easier (non toxic) version of this, fill a tray with shaving cream. Use any paint (kids tempura paint works well) and squirt a line of each color you are using. Use a popsicle stick or plastic knife or your finger to swirl the paint around. Place card stock or other heavy paper on top and press down slightly. Wait 10 seconds. Lift card stock off and let sit for five minutes. Use a squeegee or a offset spatula to scrape shaving cream off. Voila, marble effect. Let dry completely.
Amanda S. February 2, 2015
So gorgeous and inspiring!
stilllifewithwhisk February 2, 2015
Suminagashi is really fun to do with children. My daughter and I use this kit: