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How to Dye Paper With Natural Dye, Food Coloring, and Ink

There are many ways to dye paper and while most of them work quite well there are a couple of differences between the quality and longevity of the dyed paper. This is why I decided to take a look at all the different ways to dye paper, show you exactly how each of these methods work, and share my results with you so that you can decide for yourself which of these methods is best for you.

As a whole, you can use natural dye made from natural ingredients, food coloring, ink, fabric dye, regular dye to dye paper. By far the most work is using natural dye as that dye has to be made first. The best results with the richest color will be achieved by using fabric dye or ink.

The general approach to dye paper is always the same:

  1. Mix the dye of your choice with some water
  2. Fill the dye and water mix in a shallow tray
  3. Dip the paper in the dye
  4. Put the dyed wet paper between two paper towels to dry it
  5. Let the paper dry on a plastic sheet or some aluminum foil
  6. Dye the paper again if you want a deeper coloration

But there are some slight variations depending on the type of dye that you are using. But don´t worry I will explain exactly how each of these dying methods work and how good the result looks.

The Best Paper for Dying

Before start with dying our paper it is actually very important to use the right kind of paper or else the result will be more than underwhelming.

As a general rule, for dying paper, you need a paper that is absorbent, porous, uncoated, and strong enough to survive direct contact with water multiple times. The ideal kind of paper to use for dying is either watercolor paper or cotton paper. Regular printing paper is not recommended.

I personally used watercolor paper for all of my experiments as it is porous, it takes the color very well, and it will survive direct contact with water without any issues.

Plus you can get the watercolor paper in a wide variety of textures and in different strengths.

You can get any watercolor paper you like at your local crafts store. I personally used watercolor textured paper from Canson. You can buy it here on Amazon.

How to Dye Paper Using Natural Dye

This is the most interesting but also the most time-consuming way to dye paper. I personally tried to make natural dye out of avocado skin, avocado pits, and birch tree leaves but you can make natural dye out of bark, leaves, acorns, flowers, and so on.

1. Make the Natural Dye

The natural dye is made by putting the plant material of your choosing, in my case avocado peel, in a pot and simmering it for an hour.

It is very important that the water is not boiling!

After an hour you will see that the water has started to change color. You can keep on simmering it if you want a more saturated color but I personally stopped it there and it ended up working just fine.

Let the dye cool down until it is still warm but no longer hot. Then fish all the leftover avocado skin out of the pot and run the dye through a sieve to get rid of any leftover avocado parts.

And you are done. You have made your very own paper dye.

I made three dyes. One made out of avocado pits, one made out of avocado skin, and one made out of birch leaves. And all of them worked quite well.

So feel free to experiment around and try different things. You can use acorns, leaves, flowers, and so on to make your own natural dyes.

2. Dye the Paper

The next step is pretty straightforward. Simply fill the dye in a shallow tray and submerge your paper in it for a few seconds.

I only dipped the paper in a glass for demonstration but you should submerge your paper fully if you want to dye it completely.

You should also wear gloves when you work with dye, just to be sure, even if it is just natural dye.

Then take the paper out and remove the excess dye by putting it between two sheets of paper towel. Then place on a separate paper towel and let it dry.

3. Let the Paper Dry

Let the paper dry until it is dry to the touch.

If your paper tends to bend or deform then submerge it in the dye again, remove the excess paint, and then put it between two clean sheets of paper towel and place a book on top of it while it dries to ensure that it stays flat.

4. Repeat Until Statisfied

The paper will probably not be dyed to your satisfaction after the first pass so you probably have to repeat the whole process a few times.

I dyed the paper with the natural dyes at least 10 times before I was satisfied with the outcome.

As I tried the natural dyes I made I found that they would color the paper but it would usually take multiple passes until the paper was sufficiently dyed. So while it is the most interesting and the most fun method to dye paper it is also the least efficient. You could, however, simmer the dye longer to make it more potent.

How to Dye Paper Using Ink

As I mentioned above, the process is pretty much the same for each of these methods with only slight variations. This method is no exception.

1. Prepare the Dye With Your Ink

Mix a few drops of your ink with some water. Depending on the type and the brand of your ink you will need anywhere between 4 drops if it is a high-quality ink, and 12 drops.

I personally used calligraphy ink for this because I had some lying around but you can use any type of water-dilutable ink that you like.

Mix the water and ink soution thoroughly before filling it in a shallow tray. Again, I only used a glass and I only dipped the paper in the dye for demonstration. If you want to dye the whole paper then you need to fully submerge it.

2. Dye the Paper

When dying you should wear gloves to avoid dying your fingers together with the paper.

Carefully submerge the paper in the dye, leave it there for a few seconds, and then carefully take it out again.

3. Dry the Paper

Remove excess dye by putting the paper between two sheets of paper towel before laying it on a clean paper towel for drying.

Let the paper dry for half an hour before you move on with the next step.

4. Repeat Until Statisfied

If the color of the paper isn´t saturated enough for your liking then simply repeat the process until you are satisfied.

Ink diluted with water makes a very potent dye so I rarely needed more than two passes until the paper was dyed sufficiently. I personally prefer this method over the others because it is quick, easy, and the outcome is very good-looking. If you never dyed any paper before then this method is the one I would recommend using.

How to Dye Paper With Food Coloring

This one actually surprised me. A lot of people were wondering if it is possible to dye paper using food coloring and I couldn’t really give an answer to that because I never tried it. But I heard this question so much now that I finally decided to simply try it out and see if it is possible to dye paper using food coloring and how well it works.

As a whole, food coloring can be used to dye paper. It actually works rather well. The only downside is that food coloring is only available in very few colors. To dye paper with food coloring simply mix the food color with some water and submerge the paper in it for a few seconds.

Again, the steps to dye paper with food coloring are largely the same as dying paper with ink. The only difference is, that you mix the food color with the water instead of the ink.

I mixed about 10 drops of food coloring with water to create a potent enough dye for the paper I used. The food coloring dye actually worked surprisingly well.

I only needed two passes until the paper was colored and the color was very saturated and even. So if you want to use food coloring to dye your paper then go for it. It really works quite well.

How to Dye Paper Using Fabric Dye

Fabric dye is the go-to method for dying paper. It works really well, fast, and it is reliable. Pretty much any Fabric dye works for dying paper so just go for it!

To use fabric dye simply mix it with water according to the package description and the rest is pretty much the same as dying paper using ink.

Just submerge the paper in the dye for a few seconds, then remove excess paint by putting the paper in between two paper towels, and then let the paper dry on a separate paper towel.

Fabric dye is very potent and will dye your paper in pretty much one go. So you rarely have to do another pass for a well-saturated outcome.

How to Dye Paper With Coffe or Tea to Give it an Aged Parchment Effect

Back in the old days using coffee or tea to dye paper was often used to give regular paper a parchment-like look. This was done by crumbling up the paper before submerging it in tea. The tea would dye the paper in different hues.

Along the folds, the paper would be dyed more saturated which would give the paper an aged look.

You can also simply use coffee or tea to dye your paper without crumbling it first.

So to dye paper with tea simply make yourself a small cup of tea. Let the teabag in the cup until the water has reached room temperature. Now simply remove the teabag and fill the concentrated tea in a shallow tray.

Now submerge your paper in the tea dye, let it soak for a few seconds, and then put it aside for drying.

And that´s pretty much it. My girlfriend used this method to make a harry potter style parchment scroll for me last year for Christmas. It turned out really good. She drew the image first, then crumbled the paper up and then dyed it with some black tea.

You can do the same thing using coffee as well with pretty much the same outcome. Just make a very strong cup of coffee, let it cool down, and then use it to dye your paper just like before.

Using Rit Dye to Dye Paper

I often get asked if it is possible to dye paper using rit dye. Rit dye is a fabric dye that is very popular in America, so I understand why so many people are asking me about it.

As a whole, Rit dye can be used to dye paper. Simply mix it with some water and then submerge the paper in the dye. Then remove excess dye by putting the paper in between two paper sheets. Finally, put the paper on a separate sheet and let it dry.

Rit dye is just fabric dye so it will work fine for dying paper. It works really well so you will mostly only need one pass to dye the paper.

Using Paints to Dye Paper

Another very common question is if you can make a dye out of paint.

As a whole, it is possible to dye paper using paints. The best type of paint for dying paper is watercolor or acrylic paint. Simply mix the paint with some water and then submerge your paper in the dye. Leave it in there for a few seconds and then let the paper dry on a piece of paper towel.

Unsurprisingly, using paint to dye paper is possible and it works really well. I used to dye paper using acrylic paint and the outcome was always really nice.

You will rarely need more than one pass to dye the paper properly and acrylic paint is actually quite a bit cheaper than fabric dye.

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