Suminagashi is the ancient Japanese art of paper marbling. It looks striking, but it’s not difficult to do once you have the right equipment and know-how. The paper you make can be used as a background for paintings or illustrations—or even as art in its own right. 

Here’s how to do suminagashi, including essential suminagashi supplies and other expert tips.

What Is Suminagashi?

marbled paper.
Suminagshi is Japanese marbled paper.

Suminagashi is a Japanese paper marbling technique. Literally, the word means “ink floating.” Swirling patterns, like those found in natural marble stone, can be created by dropping ink on the surface of water and then placing paper on top to lift the ink. 

Japanese suminagashi is believed to have originated in the 12th century, after being picked up by Japanese monks in China. Suminagashi paper has traditionally been used in Japan for documents and book making as well as decorative paper for homes and buildings.

marbled artwork
Student work by Anne Delphine for Beyond Beautiful 2.0: Suminagashi Technique.

What Is Suminagashi Ink?

sumi ink
Wondering what ink to use for suminagashi marbling? Start with sumi ink.

Wondering what ink to use for suminagashi? Traditional suminagashi inks are somewhat oily, which allow them to sit on top of the water and not immediately sink or mix in. 

At their simplest and most traditional, suminagashi inks are black, but these days, many artists like to make suminagashi with colored acrylic inks. You can use a range of different colors together for rainbow-like marbling effects. Just make sure that the inks are suitable for marbling (not just for calligraphy or drawing) as the consistency will be different.

Some beginners wonder if India ink can be used for suminagashi. It can, but the consistency might be different from traditional sumi ink. Play around to get a consistency you like working with and that creates the best effects.

blue and yellow marble
Student work by Jess Sweeney for Beyond Beautiful 2.0: Suminagashi Technique.

How to Paper Marble

Step 1: Gather Your Suminagashi Supplies

calligraphy brushes
Some of the supplies you’ll need to make suminagashi marble paper.

To make suminagashi marble paper, you’ll need the following:

  • Two calligraphy brushes (like those in the picture)
  • Two cups (preferably not cups that you use for drinking)
  • Sumi ink (available at some art stores and online)
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Thick paper (traditionally, suminagashi paper was rice paper)
  • Tap water
  • A tray, such as an aluminum baking tray

Step 2: Prepare Your Workstation

dishwashing liquid in a cup
Put dishwashing liquid into one of the cups.

Fill the tray with about an inch of water. Pour half an inch of the sumi ink into one cup. Put a few drops of dishwashing liquid into the other cup, then top it with regular tap water until it’s about half full. 

Step 3: Add the Ink to the Water

ink in water in pan
Drop ink into the water.

Dip one brush into the cup with ink, and the other into the cup with the dishwashing liquid and water solution. Hold one brush in each hand and alternately drop each solution onto the surface of the water in the tray. You barely need to touch the surface of the water to see patterns and effects. 

Keep going until you’re happy with the result that forms on the surface of the water. There’s no need to hurry as the ink will sit on the surface of the water for a long time if it’s left undisturbed.

Different ink dropping techniques produce different marbling effects, and Skillshare instructor Hazirah Kadir introduces several of these in her course on suminagashi marbling.

Step 4: Place the Suminagashi Paper on the Water’s Surface

Place the suminagashi paper on the surface of the water.

Place the paper on the surface of the water so that the ink pattern transfers onto the surface. It’s fine to submerge the paper slightly, though this is why the paper needs to be thick and high-quality, as you don’t want it to fall apart and rip. In traditional Japanese suminagashi, rice paper was used.

ink on paper
The ink pattern transfers to the paper.

Step 5: Dip a Second Piece of Paper into the Same Tray

second paper
Remove any lasting residue with a second piece of paper.

After the first printing, some ink is likely to have remained on the surface of the water. Pick this up on a second piece of paper. You’ll get a much more subtle effect this time around, but the result is still beautiful.

Learn How to Do Suminagashi Paper Marbling

Beyond Beautiful 2.0: Suminagashi Technique

Written by:

Elen Turner