Marbling with Oil and Color

Marbling with Oil and Food Coloring

Marbling with Oil and Food Coloring

Marbling with oil and food coloring is beautiful! It’s one of the easiest ways to marble paper with kids and uses materials you likely already have. We did this years ago when Maia was 3 and it was past time to give it another go.

It’s messy, but worth it.

We still LOVE marbling paper with shaving cream, but the effect is completely different with oil.

Marbling with Oil - Beautiful Marbled Paper

Here’s a video showing Marbling with Oil in action! And keep scrolling for more detailed instructions.

Marbling with Oil and Food Coloring

Since oil and water repel rather than mix, the oil marbling technique creates bubbles of color and white spots. Where there are oil bubbles, the water-based food coloring won’t stick to the paper.

Here’s how to use the oil marbling technique…

Marbling with Oil - Materials Needed
This post contains affiliate links.


*Baby oil or mineral oil may work just as well, but we used vegetable oil.

**Use the liquid food coloring rather than the gel kind. We tried both and the liquid kind definitely works better. If you have liquid watercolor paint, you can use it interchangeably with the food coloring as we did.

Marbling with Oil - Adding Food Coloring to Oil


  1. Mix Oil and Color

    Pour a small amount of vegetable oil into a dish and add food coloring.

    Marbling with Oil - Mixing the Oil and Food Coloring

    Stir vigorously with a fork so the big drops of color are dispersed throughout the oil as smaller droplets.

    Repeat with as many colors as you want to use.

  2. Add Oil + Color Mixture to Water

    Pour an inch of water, give or take, into a shallow pie pan or baking dish.

    Marbling with Oil - Pouring Water into Pan

    Use a dropper or spoon to transfer the oil + color mixture to the dish of water. Use one color or many.

    Marbling with Oil - Drop the Color Mixture Onto Water

  3. Marble Your Paper

    Lay your paper on top of the water…

    Marbling with Oil - Making the Print

    …then lift to reveal your marbled paper.

    Marbling with Oil - Lifting the Print

    Add more colors and repeat!

    Marbling with Oil - Adding More Colors

    After a couple of rounds, the water may be too muddy or saturated to get a pleasing effect. At that point, you can dump the water and start fresh with a new layer of clean water. (We kept a large pot in the studio for each person to dump their used water into.)

  4. Let your marbled paper dry

    Lay the newly marbled paper flat to dry.

    Marbling with Oil - Laying Flat to Dry

Finished Marbled Paper on the Drying Wall

And if have 5 people going to town with the oil marbling technique as we did, you may need to hang up some of the marbled paper after they are no longer at risk of dripping.

Marbling with Oil - Finished Marbled Paper

Note :: The paper is very oily at first, but as the artwork dries, the oil is absorbed into the paper and it no longer feels oily to the touch. Which means you can use it for notecards, DIY notebooks, buntings, and other crafts.

See this post for craft ideas and instructions –> 10 Crafts to Make from Kids Process Art

Marbling with Oil and Food Coloring - Beautiful Effect

What do you think? Are you ready to give marbling with oil a try with your kids?

Pin It for Later

Marbling with Oil and Food Coloring
Marbling with Oil and Food Coloring


  • Reply
    August 17, 2017 at 12:23 am

    Looks amazing and easy, I´m definitely gonna try this with my nieces!

  • Reply
    August 17, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Me TOO! ?

  • Reply
    August 18, 2017 at 5:02 am

    Oh .. very interesting. My daughter loves to draw or paint. I think marbling with oil and food coloring is worth to try. And I have an idea .. from this marbling, I can create a unique decoration for her birthday party. Yeah … this is a brilliant idea .. thank you for sharing this. If you want to find decorations or accessories I suggest to visit; their collections are quite interesting.

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    We found that our creations were mostly oil unless we 1) vigorously mixed the oil and paint (we used liquid watercolors) and 2) worked quickly so the paint didn’t sink, leaving mostly oil on the surface. Did we do something wrong?

    • Reply
      August 20, 2017 at 6:48 am

      Found that most of the colour just sunk to bottom of container, resulting in an oily
      piece of paper.

      • Reply
        Jean Van't Hul
        August 25, 2017 at 7:17 am

        How much water did you have in your container? We found it worked best with a thin layer of water — about an inch. And that it was best to work fast after each new addition of oil + color. Also, we pressed our paper down into the water a bit rather than just setting it on the top of the water.

      • Reply
        April 17, 2018 at 6:15 pm

        Same thing happened to me!

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      August 25, 2017 at 7:18 am

      We definitely mixed the oil & paint vigorously and also worked quickly, Mona. Also we pressed our paper down into the water a bit (where more of the color was).

  • Reply
    Anna Riling
    August 23, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    Fail! I don’t know what I did wrong, but it looks less like marble than a pale stain! I’ll blame the 2.5 year old.

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      August 25, 2017 at 7:16 am

      Perhaps use more food coloring / liquid watercolors? Or more of the oil + color mixture, period?

  • Reply
    September 28, 2017 at 4:39 am

    I look forward to trying this at my upcoming workshop on process art. Thank you so much for sharing with detailed instructions.

  • Reply
    April 17, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    I can’t figure out how the water based colors maintain their separate colors. Is this something you do in layers like one color at a time and then you put in next colors and dip separately for it?

  • Reply
    May 2, 2018 at 10:50 am

    This looked lovely, but sadly, despite following the instructions exactly, it was a flop !
    The colours did not stick to the paper much at all.
    Eventually we just poured the left-over coloured oils directly onto the papers and that worked better.
    What did we do wrong ? Maybe we put too much water in the trays ?

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      May 3, 2018 at 9:11 am

      Hmm. I’m not sure, Marilyn. Perhaps you need to use more food coloring?

      What kind of paper did you use? If it were coated at all, it might not absorb the color.

  • Reply
    May 10, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    I too met failure! Tried a number of times , had used water colors . In my case too the paper was oily with faint blotches of color . Kindly instruct about 1-how much is the oil color proportion ?( may be my oil was too much more than the color)
    2- should the amount of color mixtures added to the water cover the surface of water completely ?

  • Reply
    May 15, 2018 at 3:00 am

    We used cloth after trying different types of paper. We didn’t have waterpaint paper at the time.

    • Reply
      October 14, 2020 at 11:27 am

      And…. what was the result? Thinking in that direction too. Thx!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    I used canola oil which I thought would be comparable to vegetable but the oil would not mix with the food coloring at all. Didn’t work. Thoughts? Yours look so lovely. I really want to know how to do it.

  • Reply
    Debby Godfrey-Brown
    February 4, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    Just dont this with afterschool club (5-9yr olds) they loved it, some were better than others, we found a thin layer of water 1/2 inch and mix oil to paint (rather than putting paint in oil) worked well, we experimented with lemon juice and washing liquid too for pattens, we all enjoyed it.

  • Reply
    March 23, 2020 at 11:58 pm

    Did this today with my 2.5 year old. She was thrilled and was able to focus for probably two hours. Yes, the oil and food coloring didn’t really mix but my daughter didn’t care. We played around w the ratio and dropped the food coloring directly into the water sometimes. A fun process, even if there were some initial challenges…my daughter didn’t care, she loved the whole experience.

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      March 25, 2020 at 5:51 am

      Yay! I’m so glad that your kiddo enjoyed this art activity! :)

  • Reply
    March 24, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    I don’t have food coloring or liquid watercolor. What should I do?

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      March 25, 2020 at 5:50 am

      Well, this art activity really needs a water-based color or paint. So my suggestion is to wait on this one until you have one of those. In the meantime, how about trying a different art activity?

  • Reply
    Vanessa Leggett
    May 27, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    Can this be done on panel canvases?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.