using the press to make a leaf print

Leaf print on the press

Making leaf prints is always inspiring as the form and texture of leaves are a wonderful source  for printmakers; there are thousands of varieties and wherever you live you will be able to find a selection of different shapes and sizes without going far.

Hunting for leaves adds another dimension to walking in city streets or along country paths, bringing your attention to the changing seasons and growing plant life all around us.

There are lots of ways to make leaf prints but this is absolutely the best method I have found

You may already have tried to print directly from leaves; Did you get blobby ink? Leaves sticking to the roller? Not as much detail of the lovely vein pattern as you’d hoped? Leaves falling apart or crumbling in bits?
You are not alone – these are common problems, but the ‘sandwich’ method will overcome these disappointments and you will find you are producing delicate and detailed prints almost immediately.

Which leaves work best?

inked up leaf on the acetate plate

clematis leaf on acetate after going through the press

I use fresh leaves, just make sure they are not actually wet. Dried pressed leaves can work but they are rather fragile and tend to crumble, some skeleton leaves also work but fresh is usually best.

Avoid leaves with thick stems which are hard or juicy, and leaves with spikes may be a bit painful. If the leaves have lots of small parts all bunched together thin them out so the shapes show more clearly.

Collect a variety of shapes, sizes and textures so you can experiment and discover which ones work best for you.

mono print from clematis leaf

mono print from clematis leaf

removing leaf from printing plate

carefully removing the leaf from the inky plate


You will need two pieces of stiff acetate or plastic of the same size, two rubber rollers and a surface to roll ink on. I use Hawthorn inks which are based on linseed oil, but feel free to try anything you have at hand – let us know how it works.

For best results use a printing press, otherwise rub the back of the paper to get the impression form the plate.

Lets print!

drawing explaining leaf prints

drawing explaining leaf prints

  1. Roll 2 colours of ink on your slab and then roll a thin layer of one colour on to one acetate, and a thin layer of the other colour onto the second acetate. Always handle the inked up acetates along the edges to avoid getting finger prints on the inky surface.
  2. Lay your fresh leaves on to one acetate (inky side up) and sandwich the other (inky side down) on top.
  3. Run the sandwich through the press (not too much pressure or the leaf will squish.)
  4. Carefully separate the two sheets of acetate.
  5. Gently lift the leaf off, it will have a different colour ink on each side. You can turn it over and lay it back down on the acetate.
  6. Print this onto damp paper, print the other sheet of acetate as well.
  7. Do more! Use different colours, swap the leaves around, just have fun!

Don’t stop!

mono print of leaf

green leaf left on the plate and printed

Once you get the hang of it you will find it hard to stop. This is a simple technique with lots of variations that you will start to discover when you get going.

Don’t try and plan what your print will look like, do one at a time and let each one suggest what you can do next.

From time to time spread all your prints out, stand back and let yourself absorb what you have produced. Spot the ones you think are the most successful – ask your self why. Which aspects could you develop further?

Here are a few suggestions;

colourful fern mono print

multi coloured print from a fern

Rolling the ink on more thickly it will make suction patterns around the edges of the leaf – this can look great.

Mixing extender (or transparent ink) to the inks you are using they will become more translucent and the colours will start to mix in interesting ways.

If your leaves are strong enough you can use them several times with different colours, some of the previous colour will show through producing subtle colour mixes.

Taking a second print off the acetate will produce a paler image – great for over printing

And for more inspiration…..

mono print of leaf

a print from the acetate plate with the leaf removed

The images here are of prints made by students on the ‘mono printing from nature’ course I ran in the studio.

If you would like to join a course on mono printing from nature please have a look at the courses page for more information.