Photography is something that recurs often in my life, sometimes out of necessity (for the pictures on my website), but mostly photography is something I do with my family.

Here in Worcester we have a fantastic camera club and last Thursday we spent the evening experimenting with table top photography - everything from frozen leaves and flowers, to oil on water, to polarising filters on celophane... Feeling inspired, there was one thing that I felt the need to investigate further, so today, I spent a very enjoyable morning playing with milk marbling. I thought I'd share my investigations in case you'd like to have a go yourself.

You will need: some milk, some watercolour inks*, washing up liquid and soft paintbrushes.


Step 1: Fill a baking tray or large open bowl with a layer of milk.

I found that it worked better when the milk was a couple of centimeters deep - there was less contamination from any dye that bled through from the bottom of the container and it felt like the surface tension was more stable.

Step 2: Now you will need some dilute washing up liquid - 3 to 4 drops mixed in a cup of water.

Too much washing up liquid pushes the colour away too quickly so try different concentrations until you get the effect you like.

Step 3: Pour a little colour into a small container.

Best results, from the supplies I had to hand at home, were from watercolour ink and some food dyes, particularly ones that are more concentrated.

The water based ink and food dye does give a particular characteristic to the marbling. It's very soft and will mix with the milk over time. In fact the effect is so soft that when you're taking a photograph you might need to focus manually as the camera may have problems finding something definite to focus on. 


  • The initial idea was to try this with food colouring, but we found a huge variation in results, even between different colours of the same brand. (Some do work, so try them in a small pot first).
  • I thought this would work with an oil based colour so that the colour would float on the surface, but actually the best results were water based. This seems a bit counter intuitive, but as long as you don't break the surface tension when applying the colour it will float on the top.
  • What I found with alcohol based ink and some of the food colouring was that it made a film when it hit the surface which didn't flow smoothly and that wasn't the effect I was looking for.


Step 4: Load one brush with the colour, one with the soapy water.

Touch the surface of the milk with the colour, without breaking through the surface of the milk. Then touch the soapy brush in the middle of the colour. Soft brushes work best.

Remember... if you don't break the surface tension when applying the colour it will float on the top. 

The pattern you make with the dye is up to you. My idea was inspired by this video on YouTube. This particular technique is called 'suminagashi' - touch with the colour in roughly the same place as the soapy water, then repeat, making a pattern of concentric circles. 

Step 5: Take your Photograph

Take your photograph now if you want to see a more defined pattern, but leave it to stand and watch how it softens and keep taking pictures.

Variations to try

  • add a second circle next to the first.
  • drag a pin through the circle, slowly or quickly or in several directions.
  • gently blow across the surface to swirl the dye around the dish.

Here are some of my results:

I hope you enjoy experimenting as much as I do.



Please do take a look at this video - Suminagashi Paper Marbling. The marbling is done on water and uses specialist inks so that you can print the results on to paper instead of photographing them. However, the techniques are very similar and I found it useful to watch before having a go myself.