Eco-printing on paper tutorial

Eco-printing on paper is a fast, easy and satisfying way to get started with this wonderful craft process. You don’t need much in the way of special tools or equipment and you can experiment with the plants growing around you.

This tutorial shares a particularly simple yet effective method for eco-printing on paper, using a tin can and whatever paper you already have. It’s my favourite method for paper, because it is so easy to get interesting results. The effects you get will depend on your local flora, the paper you use and many other variables. Have fun experimenting!

Materials for eco-printing on paper

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

Method of eco-printing on paper

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. Even basic paper like printer paper can give stunning results.

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 mordanted my paper using a similar technique as that described in my eco-printing on paper 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. But if you are using a rusty tin can, you can 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. Most were gathered fresh, though some had been soaking in water for a few weeks. When choosing plants to use, look for interesting outlines, and leaves or flowers 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!

More techniques for eco-printing on paper

If you are interested in learning more techniques for getting good eco-prints on paper, check out my ebook Plant Poetry. It’s a comprehensive guide which includes many examples of specific plants to use, comparisons of results on different types of paper, and special effects such as soy mordants, dye blankets, iron blankets and discharge printing. Check it out by clicking here and take your paper eco-prints to the next level.

I also have some more free tutorials for eco-printing on paper:

Have fun creating!

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

28 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!

    1. I guess it would work pretty much the same, just be more expensive. You can even make the mordant with water, it just takes longer for the metal to start breaking down.

  4. This sounds like a good tutorial with clear instructions. I’m giving it a try! Thanks for the information. 🌸🙂

  5. Just ran across your article as I searching for advice on eco printing. We are both newbies, but my friend had experimented a bit prior to today. We did wash the paper with the alum/water solution. Made our bundles. Bathed them in 3 different brews. 1- avicado peal & pits
    2- rose hips
    3- a mix of 1 & 2
    I should add that each bath had a bundle wrapped around copper pipe as that too changes the coloring.
    They are now soaking over night. So we haven’t seen the results.
    However we forgot to add the vinegar to the brew baths. What part does the vinegar play in eco printing?

    1. Hi, that sounds like a good method. Vinegar is not necessary for eco-printing, despite it’s reputation. It will change the pH which can affect the colour of the dyebath, but it is not a mordant or binder. Hope you get some lovely results!

        1. Please post your results here! I’m dyeing (hehe) to see the results especially of the avocado due bath as it’s something I’m wanting to try myself on paper but have yet to do 🙂

  6. Thanks…. I am doing a piece of artwork using cottom watercolour paper w and will be working on your instructions for can dying tomorrow !

  7. I have not tried using a rusty can yet. My last batch I pressed between 2 ceramic tiles and processed in the microwave. Results were just ok as far as seeing distinctive leaves but the colors were pretty. Onion skins really add a lot of color.

    1. Yes, onion skins are really special. The type of paper you use can make a big difference in how distinct your results are, and of course so can the leaf choice and the time of year you pick them.

  8. Olá, muito bom tutorial. Parabéns.
    Não entendi sobre o uso ou não do vinagre. Você fala que ele não é necessário para impressão ecológica.
    Todos os cursos que fiz recomendam seu uso. Gostei muito de saber que não preciso usar. Obrigada.
    Jane

  9. Great post.. I plan to make cards etc but would like to know if there any preferred ways to store your eco printed paper? Does it have a “fade rate”, ie. does the paper fade quickly? Thanks for any info as haven’t been able to find anything on storage! Love your work!

    1. Hi Lynne, if you keep your paper away from direct sunlight you shouldn’t have much fading. I have lots of eco-printed paper that are years old and still look like they originally did, because I have stored them in a box. If they are on display in a home, they may start to fade eventually but it will take time.

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