Marbling Troubleshooting

Posted by Lucy McGrath on

Marbling is endlessly exciting and satisfying when it goes right – however, it can also be incredibly frustrating. There’s so many facets that can go wrong, from the consistency of your marbling liquid (known as ‘size’) to the strength of your paints to even the temperature of your room or the paper you’re using!

I’ve put together a guide of the most common marbling issues to help new marblers get over the first hurdles. If you can’t see the problem you’re experiencing, do get in touch and I’ll do my best to help!


What is this pale line going across my paper and how do I stop it?

  • Hesitation lines occur when there is a pause (or hesitation, unsurprisingly!) when the paper is being lowered onto the size. Make sure that you are using supple paper (it can help to mist it with alum solution to keep it flexible if you’re doing a long run and your paper is stiff) and that you place it on the surface in one smooth, fluid motion. Practise makes perfect with this!

I have strange round holes in my pattern – how do I prevent them?

  • These are most likely air bubbles that occur where air gets caught between the paper and size as you lower it onto the surface. This can happen when mordanted paper has not been flattened and warps as it dries, so make sure to flatten your papers directly after you mordant them.
  • Don't drop your papers onto the size from a height, or rush when you lay down the paper. I like to hold opposite corners all the way through the laying-down process.

My (acrylic) colours are coming out really pale, how can I make them brighter?

  • Often the simple reason is that you may not be putting enough paint on your marbling bath! The more you put on, the more squeezed the patches of previously-applied colour become, making them more saturated and brighter.
  • Some brands of acrylic paint have a high amount of chemical dispersant mixed in at the factory, and this makes them expand like crazy on the marbling bath. You may find that certain paints just don’t want to be ‘squeezed’ by subsequent colours, or indeed cause the next colours to sink. You can try ‘boosting’ the non-spreading colours with a dispersant (such as dish soap) - but these are often difficult to combat and I suggest trying out a different paint brand or colour.

All my paint washes off my paper – help!!

  • Are you mordanting your paper before you start marbling? You must prepare your paper by covering it with a solution of ‘alum’ (Aluminium Potassium Sulphate) and water, otherwise some paints won’t ‘stick’ to the surface of the paper and wash off heart-breakingly as you rinse your paper.
  • If you are mordanting your paper, make sure you have marked the back of the paper so you’re not marbling on the wrong side (sounds obvious but easily done!)
  • Make sure you are using paper that has not been coated with anything in the manufacturing process. The shinier the paper, the worse it takes the paint.

I get patches where the paint washes off the paper – how can I stop this?

  • There are multiple possible causes to check. The first is that you are not applying enough mordant, or not evenly enough. Try putting more alum solution on, or using a higher water:alum concentration.
  • Sometimes, when you have put too much paint on the bath, it refuses to ‘take’ to the paper and sits in gobs on the surface. When you rinse the paper, these gobs rinse away. Try using less paint or thinning it using a dispersant.

My paper is taking forever to dry! How can I make it quicker?

  • Make sure to rinse your papers down to get rid of all the carrageenan residue that may be on them. Whilst it won’t damage the pattern, it will make the paper take a LOT longer to dry, and also makes it warp more as it dries.
  • Make sure you are marbling in a well-ventilated room with good airflow or open windows. This helps to speed up the process!


My carrageenan is super-thick and sticks to the paper – how to prevent this?

  • It is possible you are using the wrong grade of carrageenan. Make sure you use ‘lambda’ grade for paper marbling, as ‘kappa’ and ‘iota’ carrageen are used to form gels.
  • If you do have the right kind of carrageenan, try lowering the ratio of carrageenan to water. It should be roughly the texture of wallpaper paste.

My size loses its viscosity and causes eddies rather than clear lines when I draw through it.. help!

  • This can happen when your size is too warm. If you’re marbling on a particularly hot day, make sure to open your windows to get some cool airflow in. It can also help to keep your size in the fridge prior to marbling if it’s very hot.

Weird ‘shards’ and shapes are forming in my paint layer and the paint won’t spread out evenly – what’s the deal?

  • I have found this is a problem with the water you are using. Particularly hard-water areas such as London and the South, tend to have high levels of minerals such as calcium in the water that mess with the behaviour of the size. You can use a tablespoon of water softener (such as borax alternatives) when you mix your size to try to combat this. Alternatively, consider using water filterers or distilled water.


My paper keeps tearing when I go to pick it up from the bath or after rinsing

  • You are using paper that is too thin. I recommend using 80gsm (standard printer paper) as a minimum.

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