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What to Do with Your Food Coloring Dregs (That's Not Food)

November 23, 2016

Ombre might be so 2015 to many, but not to me. I saw this image of subtle ombre place cards via Wildfield Paper Co., and thought the idea would be swoon-worthy in a winter palette for the holidays.

My guess is you may already have most of what you need at home to make these. Food coloring in the pantry? Perfect. That's the secret to this ombre effect—used to make two dye baths in varying colors—and it won't leave a permanent mess everywhere (food safe, to boot!).

Photo by James Ransom

Dip-dye the place cards to your heart's desire. Rest them at each place setting on your Thanksgiving table, and I'll bet your guests will want to run off with theirs. And they can!

Here's what you'll need:

  • Paper: For a quality look, choose a paper with a good amount of texture. I like heavyweight printmaking paper from Rives, but if you're planning to use a printer to write names on the cards—rather than stamping, hand-writing, etc.—opt for printable paper: These packs from Paper Presentation are pretty perfect for this project.
  • A craft knife or paper trimmer
  • Assorted food coloring
  • Water
  • 2 shallow baking dishes or bowls (it's food coloring, so food-safe and fine to use on anything you have in the kitchen!)
  • A ruler, if making by hand
  • A pencil, if making by hand
Photo by James Ransom

And how to make them:

1. Prep the cards with names.

If using a printer...

  • Here's a printable file that you can use to format the document. Open it in a word processor, type names of your guests into the file, and print it on the fancy, printer-friendly. I like the following fancier fonts for this project, which can be downloaded for free: Master of Break, Sadhira, Mattona (that's the very pretty, scripty font we used here).
  • Use a ruler, pencil, and craft knife to the printed paper into 2 1/2-inch x 3 1/2-inch cards.

If stamping or hand-writing names...

  • Use a ruler, pencil, and craft knife to trim a large sheet of thick paper into 2 1/2-inch x 3 1/2-inch cards.
  • Write or stamp each guest's name at the top third of the card, allowing for room to create an ombre effect below using this dip-dyed technique.

2. Dip-dye them.

  • Set up two dye baths: one that's half the darkness of the other (you can use two shades of the same color here (light green and dark green) or two varying colors (purple and blue; yellow and orange). Place eight drops of coloring in about 3 cups of water for the lighter bath, and twenty drops in another 3 cups of water for your darker shade. Pie pans and baking dishes work well for this.
Photo by James Ransom
  • Dip: Hold the top of one card and slowly dip about 1 inch into the first dye bath, making sure you are not covering the name now printed on the card. For a more organic look, tilt the paper slightly as it submerges into the bath to make the line not-so straight across. Hold for about 15 seconds in the dye bath.
  • Take the already dipped card and submerge it in the darker bath (this time for about 30 seconds), making sure you only dip halfway up the first dyed section to help you achieve the ombre effect. Again, this can happen at any angle. Repeat until all place cards have been dip-dyed. If you allow enough space on each card, you can even go crazy and add a third (darker) layer of dye at the bottom.


  • Line a flat surface with paper towels and let dry, about 1 hour.
  • Depending on the weight of the paper you end up using, you may need to flatten the cards if the edges begin to curl while they dry. Go the old-fashioned route here by placing a heavy book on stacked and dried cards.

Now, set the tables with these beauties! Happy Thanksgiving.

Photo by James Ransom
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1 Comment

Miachel P. November 2, 2018
Cool craft! Equally fun when dying with food scraps (and pretty apropos, haha). Black beans = blue, avocado pits = pink, turmeric = gold.