Learn all about Eco Printing on Paper in this step by step tutorial
Have you heard of Eco Printing or Eco Dyeing? It is a fairly new printmaking technique that works on some fabrics, leather and even ceramics. Now, I am going to show you how to print beautiful papers and cards using leaves and flowers with this step by step Eco Printing Tutorial
Last year, I started my venture into eco printing with 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.
In This Article
- What is Eco Printing?
- Best Plants for Eco Printing
- Supplies for Eco Printing on Paper
- Eco Printing Safety
- Iron and Copper Mordant/Modifiers
- Mordant the Paper and Soak the Leaves
- Lay Out the Leaves and Flowers
- Steam the Eco Print Papers
- Reveal Your Eco Printed Papers
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.
What is Eco Printing?
EcoPrint, Eco Printing or Eco Dyeing is a form of natural dyeing created by Artist and Author India Flint where the natural dye colors from plant material are transferred to paper or fabric via steaming or boiling.
Is it spelled Ecoprint or Eco Print? Since I’ve seen it spelled with a space and without, I figure both ways are correct. Ms. India Flint spells it Ecoprint.
Here’s how my Eco Printing on Cotton Fabric turned out. This is a great natural dyeing method for T shirts and tank tops. DIY Gift Idea!
Best Plants for Eco Printing
From my research, it seems some of the best plants for eco printing on paper or fabric are the ones that contain natural tannin. That would include Black Walnut, Oak, Chestnut, Maple, Alder, Gum Tree and Sumac. Other great plants for eco printing are Eucalyptus, Blackberry, Strawberry, Choke, Marigold, Geranium (perennial) and Oak Leaf Hydrangea.
Personally, I’ve had the best luck with Black Walnut, Maple, Dogwood, Blackberry, Strawberry, Nasturtium (leaves and flowers), Marigold (flower) and Four O’Clocks (leaves, stem and flower).
The eucalyptus leaves I used for the ecoprint paper didn’t print very well. They were at least two years old so that probably had something to do with it.
Make sure to use fresh leaves. It’s late October here but we still have plenty of green, juicy leaves left on the trees.
Autumn leaves that have changed color probably won’t work very well for eco printing.
I have actually discovered that this is not true. Autumn leaves do not have as much pigment in them as fresh Spring leaves, that part is true. However, you can still get great eco prints from them when you dip them into an iron modifier.)
Supplies for Eco Printing on Paper
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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)
Eco Printing Safety!
Safety First! Honestly, I don’t know if this 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.
If you’re going to use iron and copper modifiers, please use 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
These two substances are not required to successfully create ecoprinted papers, however, they tend to darken and strengthen some prints. Here is a super easy recipe for making your own iron or copper modifier or mordant.
Mordant the Paper and Soak the Plant Materials
Mordant the Paper
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’s 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
Soak all of your leaves and other plant materials in water to keep them from drying out.
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 Ecoprint Papers
To steam your 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.
Eco Printing on paper or fabric is a wonderful way to make some stunning and unique pieces of art. Pop a piece of eco print paper in a frame and hang it in your foyer or give it as a Christmas gift! They also make wonderful homemade Journals.
And don’t forget to check out my Eco Printing on Fabric tutorial. Eco Printed Silk Scarves make fabulous DIY gift ideas. I hope you will give this amazing process a try.
India Flint, the originator of the EcoPrint process also teaches eco printing and fiber art workshops around the world.