The Celestial Journalers

Marbling #1 – Suminagashi


Since I have begun learning about paper marbling, I wanted to share some methods and materials, especially with an eye towards keeping things as simple and inexpensive as possible. You don’t have to have the finest inks and papers to marble, and there is no need to buy many special supplies to get started.

A very simple and inexpensive way to marble uses just:
– water
– surfactant or “gall”: dish soap mixed with water (try 1 part dish soap to 20 parts water)
– black ink
– three styluses: can be a small brush, thin wooden dowel (or chopstick), unbent paper clip, a cat whisker, etc.
– paper
– a pan, tray, etc.
– cups for ink and for soap+water liquid

This method is based on Japanese marbling, or suminagashi.

Fill the tray with water, and put a little ink in one cup and a little surfactant in the other – a few spoonfuls of each.


Dip a stylus in the ink, and very gently touch it to the water. You are looking for the ink to spread out in a circle; if it falls down through the water, add a few drops of the surfactant to the ink, mix, and try again.

Once you have some ink floating on the water, dip a second stylus in the surfactant, and touch it very carefully to the middle of the ink – it should push the ink away, making an empty space inside the ink.

You can make patterns by continuing to drop ink and surfactant into the water, and by carefully pulling your third stylus along the water surface, you can draw patterns with the ink floating there.

Here is a short video showing suminagashi:

Suminagashi troubleshooting – how to solve common problems:

Suminagashi how-tos and other info:

These minimal ingredients – ordinary ink and paper – may make for ghostly prints as the ink may not float perfectly and the paper may not hold the ink too well.  You can see some variation in these examples, which use a few different kinds of black ink.

To make it easier for ink to float, you can use a carageenan-and-water mixture for the liquid in the pan. To get ink to adhere better, you can sponge an alum-and-water mixture onto the paper you want to marble on first.

You can try different kinds of ink, and different kinds of paper, and see what works best. Traditionally, suminagashi used ordinary water, but carageenan can be used too.

If you use carageenan and alum, you can try Turkish/ebru marbling, the kind famously used for endpapers in books, or on book covers.