The choice of paper stock is essential to the success of a marbled print, but information on just which paper characteristics and brands to seek out is scarce. Today I’ve assembled twelve different papers to test in the marbling tray and shed a light on this topic! Some of these papers are my studio standards, some I know are favored by other marblers, and some I’ve chosen simply hoping they’ll perform well. While by no means an exhaustive trial, my aim is to find a few reasonably priced medium and heavy weight papers suitable for marbling with both watercolor and acrylic paints, and provide examples of what to look for in selecting and testing paper stock.
What paper characteristics to seek out
When you’re looking for a paper to marble, it should generally be an absorbent, lightly sized, uncoated stock. This may be a drawing, printmaking, or sketch paper. I’ve found that alpha cellulose, cotton, and recycled fibers tend to work well because they are absorbent but have decent wet strength. I like to print on a medium or heavy weight paper less prone to wrinkling at each stage of the process, but the thickness should be governed by the end use of the marbled sheet.
When judging a marbled sheet, look for even absorption of the pattern, crisp edges to the lines and forms, and good retention of dark colors. Any areas of negative space where the paper shows should rinse clear and bright.
The examples above have been pre-mordanted with 2 teaspoons alum/pint of water, then marbled with watercolor paints.
A Super blurry, grainy, and the thin paper has wrinkled badly. This test is on Texoprint, which I know some marblers love, but obviously I haven’t figured out the trick to printing on it
B Somewhat blurry and wrinkled, even after pressing
C Slightly soft with a vintage look
D Lovely sharp edges, strong color retention, and crisp veins showing the clean white of the paper
The majority of the papers I chose to test marbled very nicely with watercolor paints in a medium value range. To really separate the wheat from the chaff, I chose to pattern my acrylic samples with a high contrast pattern. Printing dark or saturated colors next to bright white can be very tricky, and demands a more particular paper stock.
A Super blurry, grainy, and a fair amount of paint has rinsed off
B Somewhat streaky
C A bit of residual paint in white areas
D Sharp edges, high contrast, and crisp veins showing the clean white of the paper
Based on these examples, the following heavy weight papers are suitable for marbling in a moderate value range:
Theses papers are the best choices I’ve found for printing all patterns, including high contrast or extremely saturated designs:
I was impressed by the multiple size and weight options for this second group of papers, all at a very reasonable price point, as well as the option to choose post-consumer recycled fibers. Do note that to make a very saturated print, the paper may need to be left on the size longer than usual, about 30-60 seconds.
Most of the papers I chose to test are lightly textured and bright white. Of course there are many lovely toned and textured papers that also marble beautifully, with the base color or texture underlaying and unifying the pattern.
This is certainly not an exhaustive trial, and the availability of the recommended papers may be limited. There are many wonderful papers yet to try, and a perfect paper for every application. Please use the guidelines above to assist you in choosing your own papers for marbling, and feel free to comment here with your results!