Troubleshooting pale paper eco-print results

Is there anything more frustrating than spending hours carefully gathering leaves and flowers, arranging them on paper, stacking them, tying them up, cooking them … only to finally unwrap them, and get pale or no results!

Ok, there are probably some more frustrating things in life 😅 But when it comes to eco-printing, it doesn’t get much worse than that.

If you’re new to eco-printing on paper, click here to get my free mini guide. It includes 3 projects, and photos of the process and results. 

If you already have the guide, or you have been doing your own eco-print experiments and are getting pale results, read on for some tips and suggestions.

Troubleshooting pale paper eco-print results

If you are getting pale results, it is probably a problem with the leaves or paper or both. (If you are wrapping too loosely, that can also cause pale prints, but let’s assume you are wrapping your bundles tightly).

A simple way to work out which variable might be the issue, is to include a big piece of onion skin in your next bundle (the orange or purple dry outer skin of the onion, just to be clear!). Put it on the paper just as you would a leaf or flower. Onion skin is abundant in natural dyes, so if it doesn’t print, you’ll know that the paper is the culprit. If it prints well, you’ll know that the paper is fine and that you need to try some different plants.

🌿 Leaves

  • If the leaves you tried didn’t give good results, just keep trying things! This is the exact process I used when I was writing my Plant Poetry eco-printing on paper ebook. Every single leaf and flower I could get my hands on, I would test. You can also research dye plants or plants high in tannins, to give you a head start. But I love trying everything, because sometimes you get unexpectedly good results from a wild card.
  • The seasons affect the amount of dye in deciduous leaves. If you are currently in autumn, enjoy this special time of year. Deciduous leaves print best in late summer and autumn when tannins are highest. If you are currently in spring, it might be better to use evergreen leaves such as eucalyptus or pine, and wait til later in the season to try deciduous leaves.

📖 Pape

      • If you aren’t using watercolour paper, it is worth investing in some. It takes up the colour much more easily than most other paper. That said, there is huge variance in brands so if the watercolour paper you are trying isn’t giving good results, try a different brand.

      • If you want to use a different kind of paper, it is worth preparing it with some kind of mordant or binder. Try soaking it in soy milk, dissolved gelatin, or homemade iron mordant (rusty iron covered in vinegar and left for a few weeks). Dry the paper after soaking, and then it is ready to use.

    🌟 A few tricks for getting extra colour:

    • Sprinkle onion skin all over the paper before you roll or fold it up;
    • use a very rusty can if you are doing the rolled bundle;
    • and/or cook the bundles in a dye bath. Some simple dyestuff to use in your dye bath are onion skins, eucalyptus leaves or bark, acorns, marigold flowers, Hass avocado seeds or skin.

    If you like taking a rigorous approach, you can do a range of bundles with different plants and different types of paper, taking notes of the variables and over time working out which gives you the best results. But some people prefer working more intuitively, and you’ll slowly learn from that approach too.

    Want to go deeper?

    There’s absolutely enough information in the mini book and this post for you to get started. But if you’d like a more in-depth guide, then you’ll love my longer eco-printing on paper ebook, Plant Poetry. It goes deeper into every variable in the process, with many photos of samples on different dyes of paper and using different dyestuff. Here’s a sample page, from the section on herbaceous plants:

    Even if you’re not interested in the ebook, this sample page can give you some ideas of new plants to try.

    Ok, that’s plenty of ideas for you to be getting on with! If you are still having trouble please leave a comment and let’s work it out together.

    Troubleshooting pale paper eco-print results

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