• Ebru master marbling on his tray
  • Marbling paint of rainbow colors
  • Masters teach marbling to their apprentices
  • “ Ebru is the traditional Turkish art of creating colourful patterns by sprinkling and brushing colour pigments onto a pan of oily water and then transferring the patterns to paper.

    Known as marbling, the designs and effects include flowers, foliage, ornamentation, latticework, mosques and moons, and are used for decoration in the traditional art of bookbinding.

    The practitioner uses natural methods to extract colours from natural pigments, which are then mixed with a few drops of ox-gall, a kind of natural acid, before sprinkling and brushing the colours onto a preparation of condensed liquid, where they float and form swirling patterns.

    Ebru artists, apprentices and practitioners consider their art to be an integral part of their traditional culture, identity and lifestyle. Their knowledge and skills, as well as the philosophy behind this art, are transmitted orally and through informal practical training within master-apprentice relationships. Achieving basic skills in Ebru takes at least two years. The tradition is practised without barrier of age, gender or ethnicity, and plays a significant role in the empowerment of women and the improvement of community relationships. The collective art of Ebru encourages dialogue through friendly conversation, reinforces social ties and strengthens relations between individuals and communities.”


    Marbled endpaper from a book bound in France ca. 1735

    Marbled endpaper from a book
    bound in France ca. 1735 (wikipedia)

    The origins of the word 'Ebru' is as mysterious as the art form itself, and there are many possible answers, each with a unique identity. One version makes claim that Ebru comes from the Arabic 'ab-ru', meaning 'water for the face.' Another trace back to the Chagatai word 'ebre' meaning 'undulating'. The most seemingly plausible explanation comes from 15th century Persian «ebri», which from Farsi means “cloud.”

    Ebru is one of the oldest forms of Turkic art, but exactly where or when it started remains unknown. Ebru is an art from the realms of history, presenting us with a complex story hidden in mystery. Those who have traced the history claim Ebru was born in Turkistan in Central Asia. Turkistan was a cultural cross road with influences from as far east as China and India, and there is great speculation that Ebru has further roots to these regions. Ebru became known as Turkish Paper in Europe from the 1600s. The unique art of Ebru was also practical, as it was first used as the background to important official state papers, treaties and important documents as a means to prevent the alteration of the document, much like the complex designs of currency today.

    Silver, Gold, Color, and ink on suminagashi paper

    Silver, Gold, Color, and ink on suminagashi paper (wikipedia)

    As Ebru traveled its journey through Europe, each country and individual adapted and adjusted their techniques, and changed the materials and recipes according to their local materials. Very little information on these practices was ever recorded, and was instead passed from artist to apprentice in secrecy. Even today, many practitioners are reticent to share their processes, materials or secret techniques. There is great reason as to why so many centuries of this craft are evident only in the traces they have left on contemporary efforts.

    In the mid-1800s, there was a general revival. Ebru works began to be used by bookbinders, replacing prints, paste papers, Dutch gilt, and drip marbled papers. It was during this time that several comprehensive books on the marbling process were printed in English that documented what history was known and techniques of Ebru.

    Marblers at work, from l'Encyclopedie of Diderot and d'Alembert

    Marblers at work, from l'Encyclopedie of Diderot and d'Alembert (wikipedia)

    An edge marbler and paper finisher with related equipment, from l'Encyclopedie

    An edge marbler and paper finisher with related equipment, from l'Encyclopedie (wikipedia)

    As Ebru traveled through Spain and Italy, it began to develop into its present form. The form took root in Italy, and especially in Venice and Florence. To this day, the Venetians and the Florentines are famous the world over for their marbling. From the warmer climates, Ebru spread into France, Holland and England and the migration continues to this day.

    The basic technique involves paints that are made to float on the surface of water where they are manipulated into designs and then transferred to a chosen surface. The challenge of Ebru art is to learn control, timing and the behavior of the paint. In the moment the paint meets the surface of the water, the artist is immediately and entirely engaged with the process. The art can be described as a dance as the artist coaxes, pulls, and manipulates the paints on the surface of the water.

    Marbling technique has developed into body marbling.

    Marbling technique has developed into body marbling.

    Contemporary artists and designers have rediscovered this versatile design motif, and Ebru works can now be seen in many new environments from lamp shades to wine labels. Marbling technique has been adapted to body painting and body marbling is the new trend for events such as festivals. UV-reactive and neon colours are used. This type of paint is water-based and non-toxic.

    No matter the level or the intent of the artist, Ebru is a deeply personal journey involving the artist, the materials, movement, and time. Ebru is more than just an art form. It is the collected knowledge, history and mysticism of a deep artistic and cultural journey.

    As evidence of its incredible cultural importance, Ebru is officially listed by UNESCO in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

    Materials and Tools

    Pigment powder is futher rendered down for marbling with a marble tool.

    Pigment powder is futher rendered down for marbling with a marble tool.


    Natural colors are used in making Ebru for centuries, which are obtained from colored rocks and earth that contains oxidized metals or organic pigment colors that do not dissolve in water. Oil colors and aniline paint is not used in traditional marbling. Because such colors dissolve in water and the paper is not receptive for those. In short, the colors must not dissolve in water, nor contain oil.

    First phase of preparing the colors is to crush them using water and marble blocks. First, we mix the colors, which are made into a powder, with water to have a consistency like a cream. Then, with the help of the marble tool called “desteseng” (hand stone), we crush the color on a marble block. The hand stone and the marble block must be of equal hardness. Friction of marbles of different consistency cause corrosion and marble dust may mix in to the colors. The procedure takes about 2-4 hours depending on the nature of the material we are working with. How long a color should be crushed, a marbler learns it with experience. Whether a color is ready for use or not, we can only judge when we use it for the first time. During the procedure we keep adding water to the mix to keep the cream-like consistency. Today, marblers use automated machines to refine color pigments and turn it into marbling paint.

    Pigment marbling paint can be mixed to create shades of colors.

    Pigment marbling paint can be mixed to create shades of colors.

    To finish preparing the paint we put it to rest and it is crucial for traditional marbling. After we are done crushing the color, we put it in a jar and add a mixture of water and ox gull. The paint must rest for a month or two, during which time it has to be mixed and shaken periodically and the water-ox gull mixture has to be renewed. If the colors are not rendered well and rested long enough, they will not hold on to the paper, they will be pale or cause other problems, such as bleeding. Using an alum solution to make the paper receptive of the colors is not a technique of traditional marbling. But in European marbling, alum is a must when using acrylic based colors or professional water color marbling.

    Today you can buy powder pigment, half-ready professional paints and ready to use paint.

    Ready to use colors are easy transferable to paper, textile, wood, ceramics and many other surfaces without additional material preparation.

    Insoluble pigments are used for making marbling paint.

    Insoluble pigments are used for making marbling paint.


    Yellow: Arsenic Sulfide found in nature
    Blue: Lahore Indigo (bluing). An organic pigment color found in Lahore area of Pakistan
    Green: Mixture of yellow and blue. If paint has a lot of arsenic, the color is closer to pistachio, if has a lot of bluing color is closer to the emerald
    Ultramarine: A pigment color, also called Badakhshi ultramarine.
    Black: Obtained from chimney soot, that collected manually. For a long time furnace carbon black is used for ink preparation. It is the hardest color to prepare as it is very poorly absorbs water due to soot, which constantly rises to the surface of the water. Therefore it needs to be for a very long time to mix. To facilitate this process, pine needles are added to the solution.
    White: Cerussite - natural form of lead carbonate.
    Red: Iron oxide pigment obtained from soil reach with iron and from leaves of red cabbage

    Carrageenan or tragacanth is used as thickeners to make the marbling liquid.

    Carrageenan or tragacanth is used as thickeners to make the marbling liquid.

    Marbling Size/Liquid

    It is possible to use 45-50 different kind of material to obtain a concentrated and adhesive liquid for marbling. Most commonly used are the Carrageenan and the Tragacanth.

    Tragacanth is a type of natural gum resin with weak adhesive property, found on the trunks of various Astragalus species of Anatolia. It is used in medicine, cosmetics, and textile sectors. Carrageenan, on the other hand, is a type of seaweed, found mainly in northern European seas. Its spores are used for the size we use.

    Preparation of Tragacanth is rather difficult and time-consuming compared to Carrageenan. Depending on the quality and the type of material, a Tragacanth solution needs about 5-7 days of mixing and resting. Carrageenan gives good results after only one day`s rest. It can be ready for use even in a few hours. In that case, the solution must be cleaned off of any bubbles and foam. Both solutions must be filtered before use and the consistency of the liquid must be set by adding water if necessary.

    After marbling became widespread throughout Europe, Carrageenan was prefered over Tragacanth in Turkey as well. Other materials of choice may be flaxseed, saleb (orchid extract), quince seed, Fenugreek seeds, starch etc. The results of each differ in the quality.

    Ox gall is a key ingredient of marbling.

    Ox gall is a key ingredient of marbling.

    Ox Gall or Ox Bile

    In order to have ebru colors to spread on the surface of the liquid and to prevent them from sinking, we use ox gall, which is a surface active substance, breaking and regulating the surface tension. It also prevents colors from blending. Gall is a secretion of the liver, involved in the digestion of lipids.

    The type of gall used for ebru is obtained from cows and prepared using a bain-marie for prolonged usage. Sheep gall and Turbot gall are also used. Turbot gall gives good results for Kumlu (Sandy) Ebru. Şebek Efendi, in Tertib-i Risale-i Ebri (1608), reports that in older times tobacco leave extract was used instead of ox gall as a dispersant.

    Balancing the amount of gall we put in the colors is the most important and the hardest part of marbling. While first colors spread easily, since there is little surface tension, we need to add more ox gall in the following colors as the tension builds up with more colors. Unbalanced colors may sink, may be fragmented or even smudge when we take it on paper.

    Neft (Turpentine)

    Turpentine with chemicals or with oil derivatives shall not be used for marbling. Natural turpentine must be used. It gives a three dimentional, spherical effect to the colors. It is used to make ebru with sprinkles or in Battal type of ebru.

    After adding turpentine to Ebru colors, drops sprinkled to vessel scatter if there are small air bubbles inside. The usage of turpentine hides mistakes resulted from dust as it makes effects like dust hole dropping to vessel. It’s necessary to try by adding it in one drop step and be patient to find right proportion. You need to squeeze brush as much as possible before you sprinkle onto the surface, because turpentine produces bigger circled shapes and changes surface image. It looks aesthetic to make small sprinkles on vessel.

    Brushes made of horse hair and rose branches are used for marbling.

    Brushes made of horse hair and rose branches are used for marbling.


    The main task of Ebru brushes is to take more paint and easily give it away in a form of many small drops. Mostly brushes made of horse hair or hog bristles and dried stem of rose.

    Horse hairs or hog bristles are preferred, because it is thick and straight, so that you can splatter paint in a desired way. It also prevents bacteria and mold from multiplying and growing.

    Rose twigs are flexible and durable. With every strike we make to splatter paint, it bends allowing the paint drop on the surface in a proper way. However, according to one of legends, reason for the widespread usage of rose twigs stems from the fact that the Ebru master Necmeddin Okyay was a master gardener of roses.

    Brushes are bound by fishing line, and without using any kind of adhesive or tapes. With time, the strings of the brushes, which are kept in water, bend and that gives them a nice curve and it becomes easy to control the direction of the drops.

    Also in Ebru fan brushes are used very often.

    Marbling Tray

    Specialized marbling trays are a custom solution for painting with Ebru technique. The trays are well proportioned to ensure that you have a good angle for removing paper combined with sufficiently high sides to hold enough water without spilling. Usual tray sizes: A4, 25x35, A3, 35x50, 50x70, 70x100

    Various sized combs are used to create combed patterns in marbling.

    Various sized combs are used to create combed patterns in marbling.


    To obtain a Flake pattern artists use combs, length of which usually corresponds to the length or width of the tray. Needles of combs are made of stainless metal, have the different distance between needles. Also sometimes small combs used, starting from 5 cm in width. The Combs are perfect for a space-filling pattern and to create the background.


    Awls are made of nails, strings and needles of various size and thickness. They are used for dropping and shaping ebru colors afloat on the surface. It is important that they are made of stainless steel. Some are using regular or knitting needles, as well bamboo skewers.

    Burnishing Tool

    After marbled paper is dried, we use this tool to manually flatten the paper and polish it. We press it against the paper and rub it all over the surface. This process is called burnishing. The design is preserved by the thin layer of ebru size which remained on the paper. It prevents smudging. Nowadays, this tool is very rare, so in its place we use a glass weight or natural stone with smooth edges and apply wax on the marbled paper.