Eco-printing on paper tutorial

This tutorial shares a simple method of eco-printing on paper. The effects you get will depend on your local flora, the paper you use and many other variables. Have fun experimenting!


  • Paper
  • Mordant- iron soaked in vinegar
  • Plastic gloves
  • Leaves and flowers
  • Onion skins
  • Tin cans (rusty if possible)
  • String
  • Dye pot

Step one

Select and prepare your paper. I like to use cotton-rag watercolour paper that I buy at art stores. It has a beautiful texture and doesn’t tear easily when wet. But you will get some sort of result on any paper. Cut your paper to the desired size. For this tutorial I cut narrow strips that can be wrapped around the tin can. You could also make small cards.

I pre-mordanted my paper using a similar technique as that described in my ebook – giving the paper a short soak in water with a dash of iron-vinegar. Wear gloves to protect your hands from the mordant. You can let the paper dry after mordanting, or continue with the process. If you are using a rusty tin can, you can also omit the mordanting process and just let the rust work it’s magic.

Step two

Gather plant matter. For my paper prints, I’ve been exploring a range of both native Australian and introduced flowers and leaves. I use some fresh, while others I soak for weeks or months in advance. Look for interesting outlines, and plants that will press fairly flat. And please avoid any toxic plants as you will be touching them and breathing in their fumes!

Eco-printing on paper

Step three

Arrange the leaves on the paper. Leave some gaps and spaces so that the outlines have more chance of being visible. You can also try experimenting with layering materials for a different effect. Try sprinkling crushed onion skins over the paper, to add extra colour.

Ecoprinting on paper tutorial for beginners

Step four

Roll the paper around the tin can. If you are using a rusty can, the paper in contact with the rust will print darker than other sections. When you have rolled all the paper around the can, tie it with string or fabric strips to hold it in place.

Using a rusty tin can to eco-print paper

Step five

Place your paper bundle in a dye pot (a cooking pot dedicated to dyeing only, to avoid food contamination) and cover with boiling water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 1 hour. If possible, do this step outside or open doors and windows to ensure good ventilation.

Step six

After the bundle has cooled down, it can be left overnight, or for a few days, to allow the natural colours to continue to develop. Or you may choose to open it immediately. Unwrap slowly and carefully to avoid ripping the paper. If some of the leaves seem stuck, don’t pull them off. Instead, submerge the paper in some water and rub them gently.

Eco-printing on paper using rusty tin cans and native flora

Step 7

Allow your eco-printed paper to dry, noticing how some colours shift or fade in this process. Then enjoy your beautiful paper- use it for cards or scrapbooking, or display it as an art piece. And if you didn’t get the results you were after, keep trying!

If you are interested in learning more techniques for getting good eco-prints on paper, check out my ebook Plant Poetry.

Learn how to eco-print on paper using flowers and leaves

8 thoughts on “Eco-printing on paper tutorial”

  1. thank you for this very informative article. I am having great success printing watercolour paper with iron/vinegar in the water bath and a pre mordant of alum on the paper. I would like to achieve the lovely soft colours as you have done!

  2. I’ve been experimenting with this the last couple of months, but I’ve just had to throw out the couple of cans I’ve been using because they are so rusted-black the water goes immediately black and the papers turn dark grey or black. Do you put anything between the can and the paper? I’ve been wrapping a strip of cloth around first.

    1. Hi Jill. I don’t use anything between the can and the paper but it sounds like your cans are more rusted than mine. It’s definitely a good idea to begin again with some different cans and see if you prefer those results.

    1. Oops, sorry that wasn’t clear. It is pieces of rusty iron soaked in vinegar until the vinegar changes colour, to create a simple iron mordant.

  3. I had trouble with dark water too. I thought it was the dark rocks i used to weigh down the papers, or the metal. One batch, mid boil, I drained the water and redid with new water and results were great. Some plants work better than others. It’s fun. Not sure what to Use all these papers for though. They seem to rough to write on.

    1. I often use mine as cards, or covers for small homemade notebooks. Some I draw over. I do have a big pile of unused papers though!

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