Eco printing on paper: A Beginners Guide

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Hi Creative Mamas! Are you ready to get started with eco printing on paper? It’s a fantastic technique to practice and you can print your own gift wrapping paper, your own gift tags and personal cards.

You can even print your own pages for scrapbooking, bullet journaling, you can make your own handmade eco print book… and so much more, the sky is the limit!

eco printing on paper using ferrous sulfate dip and alum mordant

In this post I will share the step by step process that will always deliver amazing results. The process of eco printing on paper is very simple but must be followed correctly if you want to create amazing and beautiful printed paper.

But before we get to the tutorial, let me share with you some info about the type of paper you need to use and the mordant that is required for this process 🙂

You will need a good quality watercolor paper as well as alum mordant for cellulose fibers.

eco printing on paper using different techniques to make gift cards

What kind of watercolor paper is best for eco printing?

The watercolor paper needs to be at least 250 grams. For this tutorial I am using 250 grams thickness as well as 300 grams.

The reason for needing this kind of paper is that it needs to be thick enough to be steamed and dipped in water without breaking apart.

Mordant for eco printing on paper

We are working with paper, which is a cellulose fiber. So, we are treating the paper the same way as we would normally treat cotton and linen in natural dying.

We will use Alum acetate which is the mordant that we will normally use for cotton fabric or yarn if you were to dye it using natural dyes.

We will also use ferrous sulfate for this tutorial as a mordant and as a dip. It will be used to change the color of the leaves, flowers and paper.

Leaves and flowers

We are going to use these leaves and flowers to print. Depending on the area where you are and the season of the year, you will be able to access different types of flowers and leaves to incorporate in your printing.

Here are some that I have personally use and that I love:

Printing with leaves

  • Eucalyptus leaves
  • Rose leaves
  • Maple leaves
  • Avocado leaves

Printing with flowers

  • Coreopsis
  • Rose
  • Goldenrod
  • Dyer’s chamomile
  • Geraniums

Note of caution: Always check to make sure that whatever plant you use it’s not toxic and it won’t create any allergies once you’re steaming them.

You can also play around with eco printing rusty nails or any other rusty objects as well as plants.

Eco printed paper tutorial

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link. Please see my disclosure for more details.

Materials and Equipment

The photo below shows my materials all ready to go. I also use a tablecloth to protect my sewing table. This is very important because the ferrous sulfate will stain anything that touches.

materials for eco printing on paper

Note: You can replace the ferrous sulfate with your own home made iron water recipe which will give you different but similar results 🙂

Step 1: Eco print bundles

We are going to be making little bundles. Each print will be made out of 2 layers of paper which are pressed together. Inside these papers there will be leaves and flowers. The plant dyes need pressure and heat in order to transfer their color onto the paper.

Eco print happens when there is:

  • pressure
  • heat

The first thing we need to do is to cut our papers to the right size.

watercolor paper for eco printing

My goal is to make gift cards so I have cut cards which measure six inches by seven inches.

cutting the watercolor paper for eco printing

Weight the papers so that you know exactly how much your batch of paper weighs. You will need this number to calculate the amount of mordant needed.

You also need to cut the cardboard pieces which will be the outside of the eco printing bundles. Make sure that the cardboard paper is a little bit bigger than your cards.

Step 2: Mordants for eco printing

We are going to prepare 2 pots with mordant liquid.

mordants for eco printing on paper

The first one will have alum acetate and will be used to mordant the paper.

Place two teaspoons of alum acetate in 4 cups of water.  The water needs to be hot enough so that the alum acetate dissolves well.

mordants for eco printing. I am using alum acetate and ferrous sulfate

The second pot will contain the ferrous sulfate and will be used as a dip for the flowers and leaves. The iron will change the color print of the leaves and flowers by darkening the print. It’s like magic!

Place 1% of the weight of the paper of Ferrous sulfate. So, my papers are 100 grams, therefore, my ferrous sulfate is only 1 gram. Dissolve well in hot water.

mordants for eco printing. I am using alum acetate and ferrous sulfate

Step 3: Dipping the paper in Alum

Place the paper cards inside the alum solution. Leave them inside the alum pot for at least one minute.

dipping the paper on mordant to print with flowers and leaves

You could leave it for more than a minute, but don’t leave it for longer than 1 hour otherwise the paper can dissolve.

Step 4: Dipping the flower and leaves in water

At this stage you need to dip the leaves and flowers in water to prepare them for printing. Immerse them in a pot with water for a few minutes (up to 1 hour) and they will be ready to use.

Note: Leaves have two sides, the underside and the top side. The top side is called the sun side on the bottom side is called the moon side because is facing the earth.

dipping the paper on mordant to print with flowers and leaves

The moon side has little veins. This is where the color is. So, the paper that is touching this side of the leave is going to get a more vibrant print.

Step 5: Printing on paper

I will make 2 different prints:

  • PRINT 1: I am using coreopsis flowers and avocado leaves. In this print I want to get the true dye that comes from using these dyes.
  • PRINT 2: On the second print I am using the exact same dyes but I will modify them with iron (ferrous sulfate).

For the first print place the alum mordanted paper on top of your working surface. Place the wet leaves and flowers on the paper. Press firmly.

making an eco print bundle of paper
making an eco print bundle of paper

Grab another alum mordanted piece of paper and place it on top. The plants will be sandwiched in between the two layers of paper. Press firmly again.

making an eco print bundle of paper and covering it with a plastic sheet
making an eco print bundle of paper and covering it with a plastic sheet

This is your first print bundle. You need to cover it with a plastic sheet or a piece of metal or perspex. The idea is to use something to act as a barrier so that you can place another little bundle on top of this one.

If you don’t use a barrier the dye from the leaves will transfer onto the next paper bundle.

making an eco print bundle of paper tutorial

Wrap the bundle with the plastic and you are ready to create your second print bundle.

making an eco print bundle of paper tutorial

For the second print simply place the alum mordanted paper on your working table. This time you will dip the leaves and flowers in the ferrous sulfate solution.

Repeat the same process as with the first print. Cover with plastic and place all bundles in between 2 cardboard pieces.

Step 6: Steaming the eco prints

Press the little package firmly by using strong paper clips. You can also use string to secure the prints in place.

Another option is to sandwich the package in between 2 tiles. This is a good option but it will get quite heavy.

eco printing bundle

Grab a bamboo steamer (or a stainless steel one). Place on top of a pot of water.

steamer to use in eco printed paper

Place the bundles inside the steamer. Cover with the lid making sure that the steam is trapped and that water is not touching the paper bundles.

Steam for exactly 60 minutes.

placing the eco print paper bundles inside the bamboo steamer

Eco printed gift cards

After 1 hour of steaming you can remove the steamer from the stove. Allow for the bundles to cool and if you can be super patient its best to leave the bundles to dry overnight.

Once the paper is mostly dry you can open the eco printed bundles and … MAGIC. I love this step!

Let’s have a loom at the results. This is the first print we did by using only alum mordanted paper and the coreopsis and the avocado leaves.

As you can see the plants have produced quite strong dye without any help from dips or assists.

This is a great indication that these plants will work beautifully in naturally dyeing fabric and yarn. Always make sure that you follow the correct process when using natural dyes on fabric and yarn.

Avocado leaves and coreopsis flowers would work wonderfully as natural dyes to be used with fabric printing techniques and bundle dyeing. They would also be fantastic plants to use with flower pounding or hapazome techniques which is a great activity to involve the kids in.

eco printing on paper using coreopsis flower and avocado leaves

As you can see in the photo above the moon side of the leaf has produced a great strong print.

eco printing on paper using coreopsis flower and avocado leaves

In the photo below you can see that the sun side of the leaf hasn’t produced the same result 🙂

eco printing on paper using coreopsis flower and avocado leaves

This is the second print which we did by dipping the plants in the ferrous sulfate dip. As you can see in the photo below it has created a darker print both in the flowers and in the leaves.

NOTE: By dipping the plants in ferrous sulfate for a longer period you can enhance the darkness of the print.

eco printing on paper using coreopsis flower and avocado leaves with ferrous sulfate

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial. Please reach out with any questions that you may have!

If you enjoy playing with flowers and leaves to create beautiful prints and color you will enjoy these natural dyeing tutorials:

If you are interested in Natural dyeing on fabric and yarn download your FREE Mini Natural Dyeing guide!

Save this tutorial to your favorite Pinterest board

eco printing on paper using coreopsis flower and avocado leaves

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