DIY Marbled Business Cards (Suminagashi Technique)

by Natalie Stopka

Liven up your business card design with the wild patterns created with suminagashi, the ancient Japanese art of marbling. The technique may be centuries-old, but the patterns it creates are refreshing and gorgeous. Besides, it is a surprisingly easy process and wonderfully meditative!

Suminagashi comes from the terms “sumi” meaning ink and “nagashi” meaning floating. The technique uses only ink and water and embraces serendipitous pattern formation, unlike Western traditions of paper marbling with many more ingredients and standardized patterns.

A word about inks: Traditionally, a sumi ink stick is hand ground with water in a suzuri (ink grinding stone). This ink contains the pine resin which allows it to float on water. Some pre-made inks sold by the bottle also contain resin, but it is difficult to be sure without testing them. I recommend purchasing photographic flow aid along with your ink. A few drops of Photo-flo will ensure that the inks you’ve chosen float.

These business cards are made from scratch by inkjet printing on a heavy rag paper. You can print the text of your cards either before or after marbling, but I suggest working on a large sheet of paper and cutting them down to size as the last step – this saves inky fingerprints on the edges. The example here is printed 10-up on an 8 1/2 x 11” sheet. –Natalie

The full how-to continues after the jump…


paper – heavyweight watercolor or printmaking paper (colored if you like) sumi ink
bamboo calligraphy brushes
palette or small ink containers
marbling tray or disposable roasting pan
sheet of plexiglass, at least as large as your paper test paper, newsprint & paper towels
optional – wooden skewer, paper fan, drinking straw

D_S sumi business card.1


Design and print your business cards, but do not cut down to size.

Prepare you workspace: Set out the marbling tray & palette over a protective layer of newsprint.

D_S sumi business card.2

Lean the piece of plexiglass next to this, along with a bucket of fresh water – this is where you will put the finished prints.

Fill the marbling tray with 1-2” room temperature tap water. Pour about 2 tablespoons of sumi ink into your palette, and add 2 drops of Photo-flo. In another well, pour 2 tablespoons of water and add 2 drops of Photo-flo. The water will act as the negative space between the ink lines.

Test the ink: Dip a calligraphy brush into the ink- it should be full but not dripping. Gently touch the tip of the brush to the surface of the water in the marbling tray. The ink should quickly spread into a circle, growing larger the longer the brush touches. If the ink sinks or does not spread, add another drop of Photo-flo and test again. Repeat the test with the water, touching the brush in the center of the ink circle to create a clear circle.

D_S sumi business card.3

When both ink and water form smooth rings without sinking, try some test prints on scrap paper.

Holding one calligraphy brush in each hand, alternate touching the surface with each to create rings of ink and water in a bulls-eye pattern.

Holding opposite corners of the paper in each hand, gently drape it across the surface of the water and release. Let it kiss the surface for a couple of seconds, then pick the paper up and lay it print-side up on the plexiglass. Rinse the print with a cupfull of clear water to remove excess ink, and move it onto newsprint to dry. Use a piece of newsprint to clear any ink still floating in the marbling tray.

Once you have the hang of creating a basic pattern and pulling a print, start experimenting and printing on your business cards. Create multiple bulls-eyes, gently shake the tray, blow on the pattern with a paper fan or drinking straw, or draw into the pattern with a skewer. You can also overprint on an earlier pattern once it is dry. This is the zen part of suminagashi – allowing the ink and other forces to express themselves serendipitously in the print.

When you have finished printing, drain the tray and rinse with water (soap will interfere with future marbling projects). When your sheets of business cards are nearly dry, stack them between blotters and under a heavy book to dry flat. Cut the business cards down to size, and enjoy the patterns you (and the fortuity of the universe) have made!

D_S sumi business card.5
D_S sumi business card.7


Dick Blick (here and here)

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  • These are so cool! I love to use seemingly alternative processes for my own branding pieces that are cheap yet make me stand out from the crowd. I’ve used wax seals, and metallic stamping (which you can see on my blog). I’ll definitely keep this in mind for next time

  • Amazing way to make every single business card unique. This is a very good way to impress the clients:)

  • What a good idea, I can see ways to apply this to much more than business cards though, it would work well as a websites background (that’s what I do) create and then scan high quality for a background. Then when the client hands out a card there’s more consistency than just the logo.

  • I have just used this technique with Red Ink to make some funky Christmas cards after reading your blog. Im going to experiment with other colours. Its also quite inspiring for other backgrounds for websites, brochures even logos and work work well on textured paper too.

  • Great technique, works well and I think it can be applied to more than just business cards. Love the way each design will be unique too.