How to naturally stain, tint, dye or color plain white paper with tea bags, coffee, fruits and vegetables
Do you love to craft with paper? Are you a journal and notebook fanatic, like I am? Then you might be interested to know that it is possible to turn your stark white pages into a rainbow of color using simple, non toxic food items such as tea, berries and vegetables.
Staining paper with tea and other dyes made from food is actually super easy to do in your own kitchen. And, since you are working with produce and tea leaves, you don’t need any special equipment. This dye is completely safe to make and to use, even for kids.
- My paper dyeing experiment
- How do you make natural dyes from food?
- Prepare the papers
- Dyeing or staining the papers
- My tea and food staining results
- Can you use food coloring to dye paper?
- Can you write on tea stained paper?
- Is tea dyeing permanent?
- Staining Paper with Tea and other Natural Food Dyes
Paper can also be dyed with chemical dyes such as RIT or watercolor paints. Those methods work great if you want bright colored paper.
For a more subtle color or to give your paper an ‘aged’ look (like old parchment or papyrus), I like to use these homemade dyes.
My paper dyeing experiment
For this experiment, I wanted to see how different foods such as black and herbal tea, coffee, berries and vegetables stain or dye plain white paper.
Not just that, but I also wanted to find out if a mordant or binder affects how the paper takes up the dyes.
So, for each color food stain, I dyed three different pages: One piece treated with Alum powder, one piece treated with Soy Milk, and one piece not pre-treated with anything.
This is completely optional!! If you prefer to just dye untreated paper, by all means do that.
What is a mordant or binder?
Glad you asked!
Quite simply … a ‘Mordant’ helps the paper (or fabric) take up and hold onto the dye. A chemical process takes place between the material and the mordant.
For this tutorial, I used plain ‘Alum’ powder. (The same Alum that you use for pickling)
A ‘Binder’, on the other hand, is more like a sizing (or Gesso on a paint canvas). The binder bonds to the paper and the dye then bonds to the binder. In this case, I used ‘Soy Milk’ for my binder.
How do you make natural dyes from food?
Making a natural stain from teas, vegetables or berries is actually super simple as you can see in this step by step tutorial.
(In that post, I made dyes with Spinach, Blueberries, Red Cabbage, Beets, Avocado seeds and peels, Carrots, Turmeric and Paprika spice powders.)
Basically, all you have to do is cut up your produce and simmer it in some water for about an hour. Strain and your dye is ready to go.
- White Paper
- Black Tea and Herbal Tea
- Other Food Dyes (See how to make them)
- Alum Powder
- Soy Milk
- Glass Casserole Dishes (large enough to hold paper flat)
- Medium Saucepan
- Metal Ruler (optional)
- Old Towels
- Measuring Cups and Spoons
Prepare the papers
Tearing the paper to size (optional)
To make it easier to dip the papers in the saucepan, I decided to make my pages smaller. Instead of cutting them in half with scissors, I prefer a more ragged, natural edge.
To accomplish this, simply fold your paper in half and crease the fold with your fingers. Next, place one edge of the metal ruler on the fold, hold it firmly with one hand and carefully tear the paper with the other hand.
Mordant or pre-treat the paper (optional)
To mordant or pre-treat your papers, place two cups of very warm water in each of two casserole dishes.
Then, in the first dish, add 1/2 cup Soy Milk and in the second dish, add 1 Tablespoon Alum. Stir both to mix them in.
For each dye, place one piece of paper in the Alum and the Soy Milk mixtures, let them soak for a few seconds, then remove them to a towel covered table or counter.
To get a better saturation, let them dry and then repeat. Again … this step is completely optional.
Color coding the papers (optional)
I wanted to keep track of the different treatments and dyes, so I marked my papers very lightly in pencil.
I coded my papers with ‘0’ for no treatment, ‘A’ for Alum and ‘S’ for Soy Milk. Then I added a letter for each of the dyes: ‘A’ for Avocado, ‘Ca’ for Carrot and so on.
For example: Soy Milk treated paper dyed with Turmeric was coded ‘ST’
Dyeing or staining the papers
Alright, you’ve made the dyes, the papers are cut/torn and treated with a mordant or binder, now finally, the fun of actually dyeing your papers can begin.
Wait, we haven’t made the tea dye yet. No problem, simply place two or three tea bags in the saucepan, add about one cup of water and bring it to a boil and simmer this for about 15 minutes and then remove the teabags.
Now, just take a piece of paper and dip it in the tea dye. Try you submerge half of the sheet, turn it and submerge the other half.
Carefully, remove it from the dye and place it on the towels to dry. You can dip your papers multiple times to get a deeper tone or color, just beware that your paper may fall apart if handled too much.
To use the dye made from vegetables, simply place it in the saucepan and heat to a light simmer. Then, repeat the above step of dipping your paper. Lay the paper flat to dry. Again, you can dip the paper multiple times, if you like.
My tea and food staining results
Some of these colors totally surprised me! The herb tea stained papers, for instance… I used three bags of the Red Raspberry Tea.
The dye I extracted was bright red (sorry, I did not get a photo) but the papers came out various shades of gray and green.
Unfortunately, the photos did not pick up some of the subtle color shifts between the Alum and Soy Milk treated stained papers. There is more variation than you guys can see.
The biggest differences came from the papers mordanted with the Alum powder. For the most part, the Soymilk papers look very similar to the untreated papers.
As I said above, the next time I try staining paper with tea or other natural foods, I will use something heavier such as watercolor paper. That type of paper can hold up to being dipped into the dye bath repeatedly.
I hope you enjoy this paper dyeing tutorial. If you give it a go, please let me know how your experiments turn out!
This article has great information about mordants and fixatives in natural dyeing.
Can you use food coloring to dye paper?
Yes, absolutely! Food coloring makes a great dye for papers. Keep in mind that the results will be quite a bit brighter and bolder than using dyes that you make from tea, coffee or vegetables at home.
Can you write on tea stained paper?
You sure can. As long as the paper holds up during the staining or dye process, there is no reason you can’t use it to write on such as in a journal.
If you plan on handling your paper a lot (writing or embellishing), I suggest choosing a heavier cardstock or watercolor paper.
Is tea dyeing permanent?
In general, items stained with tea are not colorfast. They will eventually fade although probably not to their original color. It also depends a lot on how these things are stored.
Tea dyed fabrics and papers will keep their color much longer if stored away from light.
If your item does fade, you can simply put whatever it is in another tea dye bath.