DIYdiy projects

DIY Marbled Office Supplies

by Natalie Stopka


You can easily transform your office space by printing beautiful marbled patterns onto anything from file folders to drawer fronts. Building on the suminagashi skills covered in today’s DIY business cards tutorial, a little extra prep will let you personalize standard office goods with patterns that are at once both ancient and very modern. The organizers we’ve chosen to marble are just a few examples of the possibilities – the only requirement is that the objects you choose fit in your marbling tray. Check out the previous tutorial for instructions on marbling paper, and the same steps apply for natural fiber fabrics. For hard or glossy surfaces, read on.

A quick recap: 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. –Natalie

The full how-to continues after the jump…


desk organization & office goods
low-tack painter’s tape
absorbent ground
acrylic paintbrush
sumi ink
bamboo calligraphy brushes
palette or small ink containers
marbling tray or disposable roasting pan
test paper, newsprint & paper towels
optional – scissor clamp, wooden skewer, paper fan, drinking straw for high gloss surfaces – fine sand paper & glossy spray fixative

D_S sumi office 1


Prepare your office goods: Mask off the edges of one side with painter’s tape. Remove or mask any hardware. Just one face or opposite faces of the object will be marbled to avoid messy edges.

For matte, canvas, or wood pieces, apply a coat of absorbent ground to the masked surface, allow to dry fully. Apply a second coat of absorbent ground. Leave the painter’s tape in place.

For high gloss surfaces, lightly sand the masked surface before applying 3-4 coats of absorbent ground, allowing it to dry between coats. When the final coat is fully dry, lightly sand again to even out the brushstrokes.

D_S sumi office.2
D_S sumi office.3

To marble the edges of a stack of notecards or pad of paper, cut two pieces of cardboard to the same size as the paper. Sandwich the stack of paper between these and clamp firmly.

D_S sumi office.4
D_S sumi office.5
D_S sumi office.6

Prepare you workspace: Set out the marbling tray & palette over a protective layer of newsprint. Lay several sheets of newsprint next to this, along with paper towels.

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.

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 test 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 newsprint. 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. 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.

To print on your office goods, gently lower at a slight angle and press the prepared surface flat against the water for a couple of seconds (the rocking motion will help prevent air bubbles). Lift the piece up and lay it print-side up on the newsprint. Quickly but gently blot the surface with a paper towel to remove excess ink.

When you have finished printing, drain the tray and rinse with water (soap will interfere with future marbling projects). When your office goods are completely dry, you can fix the prints with an acrylic spray fixative if you like. For high gloss items, use a glossy fixative to protect the print and give it a matching lustre. Remove the masking tape, and enjoy the little bit of Zen you’ve brought to the office.


Container Store ()
Dick Blick (here, here, here and here)
B&H (here and here)

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