Learn how easy it is to make unique, ecoprint papers with this natural leaf printing technique.
Have you heard of Eco Printing or Eco Dyeing on paper? It is a fairly new printmaking technique that also works on wool, cotton, leather and even ceramics.
Here, I am going to show you how to ecoprint beautiful papers and cards using leaves and flowers eco printed on watercolor paper.
The basic steps of Eco Printing on Paper:
- Mordant the paper
- Soak the plant materials
- Place the leaves and flowers on paper and cover.
- Compress the papers to insure good contact and secure
- Steam or simmer the paper bundle
Last year, I started my venture into natural dyeing with plants, leaves, stems and flowers gathered in my garden which I then printed onto silk chiffon and cotton fabrics.
Those prints turned out to be so amazing that I even eco printed some t-shirts for friends.
Check out my top 9 eco printing tips and tricks for success.
This time, I experimented with eco printing on paper. I used bright white cardstock paper which I soaked in Alum to mordant.
I also used iron and copper (modifiers) to shift or ‘sadden’ the color. Both worked really well to strengthen and bring out the color of the leaves and flowers.
(Note: You can use this Iron Powder as a modifier or you can make your own liquid iron which takes about 2 weeks to make.
Check out how to Make a DIY Journal with Eco Papers!
What is Eco Printing?
EcoPrint, Eco Printing, Leaf Printing, Eco Dyeing … it goes by many different names …. is a form of natural dyeing created by Artist and Author India Flint where the natural dye colors from leaves, flowers and other plant material are transferred to paper or fabric via steaming or boiling.
Is it spelled Ecoprint or Eco Print? Since I have seen it spelled with a space and without, I figure both ways are correct. Ms. India Flint spells it Ecoprint.
Here is how my Printed Cotton Fabric turned out. This is a great natural dyeing method for T shirts and tank tops. DIY Gift Idea!
Also, see my articles on Eco Print with Flowers on Paper and Prints with Eucalyptus
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– Heavy Cardstock Paper
– Various Leaves and Flowers
– Iron Powder and/or Copper Solution (or make your own)
– Alum Powder
– Large Roaster Pan with rack (for dyeing purposes only)
– Large Cookie Sheet for soaking paper
– Clothes Pins
– Stove or Hot Plate (for outside use)
– Table Cover
– Old Plastic Containers (no longer food safe)
This Eco Printing Kit contains Silk Fabric, Alum, Craft Thread, Collection of plants materials, Pdf of Instructions with pictures
Safety First! Honestly, I don’t know if this natural printing process is hazardous to your health or not. Coming from many years of yarn dyeing, however, I tend to err on the side of caution.
That said, if you are going to use alum mordants or iron and copper modifiers, please protect your skin with gloves.
If you are using the Iron Powder, you will need to use a dust mask. Also, it’s probably best to steam or boil these prints outside, if possible.
And, keep in mind that any cookware or other supplies you use for eco printing will no longer be safe for food preparation.
Iron and Copper Modifiers or Mordants
These two substances are not required to successfully create ecoprint papers, however, they tend to darken and strengthen some prints. Here is a super easy recipe for making your own copper or iron modifier aka rust water.
Mordant the Paper and Soak the Plant Materials
The night before you want to ecoprint, soak your sheets of paper in an alum/water solution. (Some dyers use them right away)
How much alum you use depends on how much paper you wish to mordant. I soaked 10 – 8 1/2″ x 11″ pieces of paper in water mixed with 1 Tablespoon of Alum.
That is probably more than the recommended amount but I didn’t feel like weighing each sheet of paper lol.
First, dissolve the alum powder in some very hot water and then mix that with enough water to almost fill the cookie sheet.
Next, you will place the paper in the water, one sheet at a time, making sure the paper is covered with water on both sides.
Some eco printers use their papers right away but I prefer to let mine soak for a few hours.
Note: I folded my paper after soaking but you can also fold it when dry.
Soak the Plant Material
If you are using fresh leaves and flowers, you will want to soak them in water right away to keep them from drying out.
Also, if you are going to ecoprint with dried leaves and flowers, you will need to reconstitute them by soaking in water.
Note: some eco printing tutorials call for presoaking their paper and plant materials in vinegar. Personally, I have not tried this so I can’t speak to its effectiveness.
Lay out the Leaves and Flowers
First thing you want to do is cover your table, if necessary. If using, pour the iron solution in one container and the copper solution in another. Now, remove one sheet of paper from the alum water and fold it in half (optional).
Next, you want to place the leaves and flowers on your paper, dipping them in one of the modifying solutions first, if you’d like.
I dipped half of leaves in copper and the other half in the iron modifier. Fold the paper to close it or place another sheet on top of the first.
Continue laying out the plant material on each of your sheets of paper.
When you have placed all of your plant material, you will take your stack of folded papers and press down firmly to get good contact between the paper and the leaves or flowers. Secure the bundle with clothes pins.
Steam the papers
To steam your eco papers, place a rack inside the roaster pan and lay your bundle of papers on top. Add some water to the roaster and set it on your stove or hotplate.
Turn the temp to ‘high’. Once the water begins to boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer your prints for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Now, turn off the heat and let your papers cool but don’t allow them to dry out. If you can, leave it to set overnight. The longer it sits, the better your prints.
Reveal your Eco Prints
Here’s the fun part! Opening up your printed cards. I like to take photos of them before removing the leaves so that I have a reference. You would be surprised how many times I can’t accurately identify a print.
Pay close attention to your leaves as you remove them. Did they print better on the front side or the back? Do you notice any negative prints?
The bottom part of my stack of cards – the iron dipped part – partially slipped into the water so they are much more saturated with color. Overall, though, I’m pretty happy with the result of both the iron and the copper prints.
What can you do with your printed papers?
These unique, handmade papers are a wonderful way to make some stunning and unique pieces of art.
Why not pop a piece of eco dyed paper in a frame and hang it in your foyer? You can also make wonderful diy bookmarks and greeting cards.
Or how about using them for special handmade Christmas gifts or Birthday presents such as beautiful, printed journals or gift wrap?
And don’t forget to check out my Eco Printing on Fabric tutorial. Handmade Silk Scarves also make fabulous DIY gift ideas. I hope you will give this amazing process a try.
What kind of paper do I need?
As a general rule, you will want a somewhat sturdy paper which does not easy fall apart after soaking in water and steaming.
Therefore, my preferred eco printing paper is generally a heavier water color or cardstock paper.
How do you prepare paper for ecoprints?
In order for the paper to accept and hold the natural dyes of the leaves and flowers, you will need to apply a mordant. For this experiment, I used Alum powder.
All you need to do is dissolve some Alum in warm water and then soak your papers in the mixture.
Note: Soy Milk may also be a suitable mordant, but I have personally not experimented with it on paper.
How long do you steam your prints?
There are different methods, depending on who you ask! I like to steam my paper bundles for a minimum of 1 to 1 1/2 hours in order to extract as much color as possible.
After steaming, I turn off the heat sources and let my papers sit to cool off completely, usually overnight. After that time, I unbundle and check my printing process.
India Flint, the originator of the EcoPrint process also teaches eco printing and fiber art workshops around the world.
Related Natural Dyeing Tutorials
- Eco Printing Tips and Hints for Success
- How to make dyes from Food Scraps
- Ecoprint with Flowers on Paper
- Eco Printing with Eucalyptus Leaves
- Natural Dyeing with Black Beans
- Natural Dye from Plants: Dandelions
- Eco Printing on Fabric
- Easy Iron Mordant Recipe
- Natural Dyeing with Black Walnuts
- Making a Fabric Dye with Acorns