How to Dye Paper and Why You Want To
Let’s face it. As an artist, we love color; all colors and all shades of color. So why wouldn’t we want to infuse as much color as we can into our paper crafts? Sometimes what is lacking in a paper craft project isn’t another piece of bling. It’s color. The simple solution is to dye your craft paper.
The most common ways to dye paper and card stock are water baths, inks and sprays. These methods give you subtle hues or vibrant shades of your favorite colors. Some of the materials used in the paper dyeing process may be new to you, but rest assured that the processes are all very easy. Did I mention these methods are also cost-effective? You will spend less money buying colored paper, which leaves more money in your pocket.
Coffee and Tea Paper Dyes
Brewed coffee and tea give a rich, antique look to white paper. Coffee produces a dark brown dye, while tea gives a more subtle hue. The result is paper that has a vintage look. This is very attractive in a junk journal, an old-fashioned tag or greeting card.
The production of coffee or tea dyed paper is very easy and well worth the effort. You control the coloring by how strong you make the coffee or tea and how long you soak the paper. I generally soak my paper for about 5 minutes. Card stock soaks about 6 or 7 minutes so the dye penetrates the thicker paper fibers.
Fruit and Vegetable Paper Dyes
Certain fruits and vegetables are known for their ability to stain anything they come in contact with, including the paper in which they are wrapped. These colors are absolutely beautiful on paper. So hooray for blueberries, purple grapes and red beets! Don’t forget to pay homage to avocados, onion skins and red cabbage.
These same fruits and vegetables were what our ancestors used to dye garments and thread. I use them to dye paper for my crafts. I love the wide array of colors I get when I boil these edibles on my paper-dyeing days.
Quick Color Guide:
- onion skins – yellow, red, orange, brown or varying shades of each
- avocado skins and pits – Victorian pink
- red cabbage – purple
- blueberries – blue gray
- purple grapes – light purple
- red beets – red to red brown (canned beets produce a brighter red)
Kid’s powdered drink mixes and bottled juices add spectacular color when used for paper dyeing. Grape juice or red raspberry juice, as well as cranberry juice produce amazing colors for paper crafts. These items give you bright, vibrant colors.
For subtle shades of paper, a box of food coloring is the answer. The tubes of liquid food coloring mix well with each other to make a wide variety of colors to dye paper for your craft projects. Of course, all of these need diluted with water for paper-dyeing.
It is possible to dye paper with a couple of different types of ink. Dye-based or pigment inks known as printer ink refill kits come in four colors; magenta, cyan, yellow and black. Mixing just a few drops of these inks with water or alcohol results in dynamic colors to dye paper. The colors of dye-based inks are more crisp and vibrant, while the pigment ink is more subdued. However, both work great for paper-dyeing.
Creating the Dyes
Each of the dyeing materials mentioned above have one thing in common. You must add them to water or alcohol to produce the dyes used in your paper-dyeing process. For a coffee dye, I simply brew a pot of coffee. For tea dye, I put six tea bags into a 2-quart pot of water and boil like I am making a pitcher of brewed tea.
When I use the drink mix packs, I add one pack to one quart of hot water. When I use juices for dying, I simply heat the juice in a pan until it is warm. For the food coloring, I add the amount of coloring I want to achieve the desired color.
The food items, such as the avocado or onion skin, I put in a 2-quart pan and fill it with water. I allow the items to simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes until the water turns the shade I like. Then I remove the food items and allow the water to cool.
When I use inks, I always add them to 3 to 4 ounces of 91% alcohol in a spray bottle. This paper dye dries quickly and produces intense colors.
The Paper Dyeing Process
No matter which colorant you use to dye paper, there are only three ways to add color to your paper; water bath, inks, and sprays. In other words, you dip the paper into water dyed with colorant, you splatter ink directly on the paper, or you spray the paper with your chosen dye. I prefer water baths and sprays. I like the ability to control where the color goes on the paper with the sprays. The water bath method lets me dye card stock, paper and tags in a uniform color for the journals I make.
Water Bath Paper Dyeing Method
This is probably the easiest method of dyeing paper for your paper crafts. The steps are very simple and there is a small supply list.
- 1 Gallon colored water
- Large plastic tub
- 20 Sheets of Paper or card stock
- Waxed paper or parchment paper
- Cover a table or counter top with waxed paper or parchment paper.
- Pour ½ gallon of colored water into the plastic tub.
- Add one sheet of paper at a time into the tub, submerging the entire sheet before adding another one.
- Repeat with the desired sheets of paper until the water no longer covers the papers.
- Pour the remaining colored water over the papers.
- Allow the papers to remain in the water bath for at least 5 minutes.
- Flip the papers over so the first paper you put in is on top.
- Remove each paper separately and lay it onto a flat surface covered with parchment paper or waxed paper.
- Allow to dry, flipping the papers occasionally until fully dry.
- Gather the papers and place them together under a heavy book to help flatten them.
Spray Paper-dyeing Method
This method of paper dyeing lets you add more than one color to your paper. You can also use stencils with this method, so there is even more interest to the paper or card stock. It is almost as easy as the water bath method of dyeing and gives you more control of the outcome.
- Colored water
- Spray bottle
- Paper or card stock
- Waxed paper or parchment paper
- Insert the funnel in the top of the bottle
- Pour the colored water into the bottle until the bottle is full
- Replace nozzle tightly
- Cover table or counter with waxed paper or parchment paper
- Lay the paper or card stock on the table or counter
- Spray the paper or card stock to reach the desired effect
- Spray with various colors to create a mottled or marbled effect
- Allow the papers to dry, flipping them occasionally until fully dry
- Gather the papers together and place them under a heavy book to help flatten them
As you can see, there are a myriad of ways to add color to your paper craft projects when you use these methods for paper-dyeing. Do not be afraid to experiment with spices, fresh or dried flowers, leaves, tree bark and anything else you think might produce color. That is half the fun of crafting, discovering new things to add interest to our paper craft projects. Be sure to share your paper dye project in the comments below.