In this simple step-by-step tutorial, learn how to use nail polish for DIY marbling on any material. Use these luxe textures to add character to your design work.
Marble textures mimic the look of swirled and marbled surfaces usually seen in geodes and rocks. They are usually colorful and eye-catching, creating a dramatic pattern that can elevate print and digital designs. These tactile effects are one of the major 2018 design trends, aptly named Natural Luxury. Providing a handmade touch to branding elements, website backgrounds, stationery, product packaging, and more, the trend is noticeably modern. Check out how some designers have incorporated marbled effects into packaging, book design, or brand identity.
Image via Antonova Katya.
These luxe marbling effects might be a rising design trend, but they originated centuries ago from various cultures. Paper marbling can be done with different materials and procedures, such as with ink in the Japanese art of suminagashi marbling. Today, there are various ways to replicate a marbled paper effect with inexpensive materials like nail polish, shaving cream, acrylic paint, and more.
In this step-by-step tutorial, I’ll show you how to create your own marble paper textures with various shades of nail polish.
DIY Marbling Supplies
To begin your marble texture journey, you’ll need a few supplies. Most of these are common household items or ones that can be purchased at a low price from your local hardware and craft stores.
- Nail polish in at least three colors. I suggest highly pigmented or even metallic shades over lighter nail polish colors.
- Tray or container at least one inch deep and large enough to fit a sheet of watercolor paper or object of your choice. The bigger your object, the deeper the container needs to be.
- Watercolor paper to absorb the water and nail polish pigments. You can also work with any household object, like a vase or bowl, but you’ll have to adapt the size of the tray.
- Utensils, such as a fork, knife, or skewer to swirl the polish and clean up leftover varnish. I used a plastic fork.
- Rubber gloves to keep your hands free of nail polish.
- Paper towels to clean up any mess.
- Dust or gas mask to protect yourself from nail polish fumes, especially if you’re working indoors.
- Rotating fan to keep the area well-ventilated if you’re working indoors. Open some windows, too.
Step 1: Fill Tray with Water
Find a tray or container that’s at least one inch deep and can fit the dimensions of the paper or object you’re marbling. Fill your container with one half inch of room temperature water if you’re using watercolor paper. Add more water if you’re marbling a more 3D item to ensure that it’s fully submerged.
Using room temperature water is critical; I found that using ice cold or hot water disrupts the marbling process by shortening the window of time.
Step 2: Drizzle Nail Polish on Top of Water
When you’re choosing nail polish for DIY marbling, I recommend going for brighter, highly saturated colors over lighter varnishes. Think neon yellows, bright purples, or hot pinks. Typically, the more vivid the color, the better it will translate across objects and papers.
Stick to three colors at most to marble your surfaces; this gives you ample time to swirl and dip your objects in that short period before the varnish dries. Experiment with colors that you might not think of together, like a bright yellow, cool teal, and a hot pink. Sometimes, the most unexpected color combinations turn out better than more coordinated combinations.
Begin with the lightest shade of your three polishes and start drizzling across the top surface of the water. Then follow with the medium tone, and then the darkest. Keep your colors afloat by pouring them directly above the surface, instead of pouring from several inches above the water. Pour quickly – you have about 10 seconds to get all of the colors on the water.
Immediately take your swirling device, like a fork, and gently run it across the polish to create swirls and other interesting elements. If the polish starts drying before this process, the colors will crinkle and form together, leaving you with a clump of polish. If this happens, don’t fret! Use the flat edge of your fork or knife and drag it across the surface to collect the dried polish so it doesn’t transfer to the object you’re dipping. Place the leftover dried polish in a cup off to the side.
Step 3: Transfer Polish to Paper or Object
Before drizzling your nail polish, make sure your marbling object is within reach so you can immediately place or submerge your item in the water before the polish dries.
You’ll need to use rubber gloves for this step if you want to avoid specks of nail polish on your hands. Quickly set your paper on the surface, but don’t submerge it. If you’re marbling an object, like a cup, you actually will submerge it in the water. Leave your paper or object in the water for around three seconds.
Step 4: Let Paper Air Dry
Gently peel the paper away from the water by pulling up the corner with your gloved hand and slowly turning it right side up. If you’re marbling an object, lift it slowly out of the water. Let the water run off the paper or object so you don’t have any bubbles later on. Set your paper down flat on newspaper or a drying rack, or set your marbled object on a paper towel or rag. Let your object air dry for at least 24 hours in a well-ventilated area. Then it’s ready to be displayed or used in a project!
The best part about this project is that no two textures look alike, giving you unique artwork every time. If you’re not getting the look you wanted, try different techniques of pouring and swirling the colors together. It may take a few tries, but you’ll get the hang of it.
Ta-da! You’ve just made your very own marble texture. Experiment with different household objects or frame your marbled paper to display on your walls. You can even use the textures in digital designs after scanning them.
Interested in more tips, guides, and free stuff to supplement your design work? Check out these articles: