Home Articles Summer craft: The art and science of paper marbling

Summer craft: The art and science of paper marbling

Paper marbling has been an art form for more than 1,000 years, with variations on the “floating ink” technique dating back to ancient Japan and Turkey. This activity provides the perfect blend of art and science. As the colors are attracted and repelled by the water and soap molecules, and the artist swirls the colors with a pick, true beauty is revealed. Try this at home with just a few simple ingredients.


Shaving foam (not gel)
Food coloring
Cardstock or heavy paper
Craft stick
Paper towels
Baking sheet (or a broad, shallow tray or plate)


1. Fill baking sheet with shaving foam. Some people like to smooth out the foam, but I think you get better patterns by leaving it lumpy!
2. Add food coloring. Drop several drops of food coloring all over on the foam using whatever colors you like.
3. Swirl and press. Use toothpicks to swirl the colors into interesting patterns. Hold the corners of the cardstock and press the face of the cardstock into the foam with the food coloring, then lift off.
4. Scrape and blot. Scrape the shaving foam off the paper with the craft stick and blot with a paper towel. Set paper aside to dry flat.
5. Enjoy. When dry, hang your custom print in a picture frame, turn it into a greeting card, cut it into an ornament or enjoy it any way you wish!

What’s happening?

Shaving foam is made of mostly soap and gas — the gas is what makes it fluffy. Soap is a surfactant (that’s “science speak” for something that’s good at removing grease) because its molecules are hydrophobic (repel water) at one end and hydrophilic (attract water) at the other. The food coloring you’re using is made of water and dye, so it can only interact with the hydrophilic (water attracting) ends of soap molecules. This means the dye mostly just sits on top of the soap and doesn’t mix in.

Paper is made of cellulose, which is also hydrophilic (water attracting), so when you press the paper on the dye, it soaks right into the paper through capillary action, or the ability of water to flow against gravity in a narrow space. When you wipe away the shaving cream, all you’ll see is your beautiful design!

Experiment further: What happens if you try this with waxed paper? Do different colors behave the same way? How many different designs can you make?

Explore the intersection of art and science at Create at Arizona Science Center. Create workshops are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday and from 5:30-7:30 p.m. during First Fridays in the 6,500 square-foot makerspace.




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