Marbled Christmas Gift Wrap

    Kids, it's really easy to make your own gift wrap which can then be a part of your holiday gifts! You can even add a holiday scent to the paper for an extra special touch.

    MATERIALS. You'll need paper (regular printer paper is fine), shaving cream, food coloring or water-soluble paints, silverware, a shallow pan that's large enough for your paper, and a squeegee or paper towels.

    Please note:  All chemicals and experiments can entail an element of risk, and no experiments should be performed without proper adult supervision.

    PROCEDURE. Spread a thin layer of shaving cream in the bottom of the pan. You can use a spoon, knife or spatula, or even your fingers. All you need is a shallow coating. Dot the surface of the shaving cream with food coloring or paint or pigment. Use your imagination to pattern the colors. One option is to use the tines of a fork through the colors in a wavy fashion. But don't get too enthusiastic swirling your colors or else they will just run together. Lay your paper on top of the colored layer in the pan, and smooth the paper out over the shaving cream. Remove the paper and either squeegee off the shaving cream (wiping between passes) or wipe the shaving cream off with a dry paper towel. If you do this carefully then your colors won't run or distort.

    Let your paper dry. If it starts to curl first, you can put a book or pan on top to flatten it out before it dries. The marbled paper will be smooth and slightly glossy. Neither the food coloring nor tempera paints should transfer off of the paper once it's dry.

    HOW IT WORKS. The shaving cream has both soap and some water, among other ingredients. Use food coloring, paints, or other pigments that will dissolve in water. The soap (or surfactant molecules) will not penetrate the paper and can be wiped off, leaving the water-based color molecules behind in the paper, and also leaving a clean sheen on the surface.

    NOTES. You can use any paper for this project and will get slightly different effects depending on your selection. You can use any shaving cream, too. If you use peppermint-scented shaving cream then you can make paper that smells like candy canes. And you can use any pigment you like, so be creative!


    Kathleen Carrado Gregar, PhD, Argonne National Labs 
    [email protected]
    December 2013


    References:  Anne Marie Helmenstine at Chemistry: