Paint Pulse: Digital Water Marbling

Paint Pulse is a project which seeks to build upon the water marbling crafts of Ebru and Suminagashi with digital behavioral additions. The idea is to design intricate, flowing patterns of paint directly on the surface of water which you can capture on the surface of paper. Expert crafters can hold an intricate mastery over the art and produce incredible results.  Our goal was to add additional digital elements to the craft which would afford new means of expression without fundamentally altering the interaction. Thus experts would be able to retain their mastery while exploring new possibilities for the art.
Digital Water Marbling

This was made as part of the digital craft research we do in our project studio as part of the Digital World and Image Group by Colton Spross, Andrew Quitmeyer, and Adam Rafinski. In our lab we explore modes of digital intervention in performance, space, and craft in order to create novel interactions between people and their environments.

This thorough instructable will give you the knowledge necessary to make your own digital ebru art-studio, and will as well teach you many different skills for rapid prototyping and physical computing.
Things you will get to learn in this instructable include:

  • Make cheap, powerful electromagnets
  • How to make magnetic, floating paint
  • How to salvage a thin, gorgeous backlight
  • How to vacuum-form your own paint-resistant tray
  • Programming Arduinos connected to H-Bridges (Build your own motor controllers for the electromagnets)
  • Hack ethernet jacks and cables for routing numerous signals over long, hard-wired distances

Step 1: Materials


  • Suminagashi – After a whole bunch of experimentation, the easiest to use colors that we have discovered are: Japanese Suminagashi marbling inks
    • You can use just regular water, and regular paper and the inks float and absorb readily and easily!
  • Other Inks
    • Ebru – formulated after the traditional Ebru style of painting, need the inks to float in the special Methocel solution instead of just water. These are much trickier to get working!
    • Food coloring –  floats well, but when you dip it in the water, it doesn’t bond to the paper, and just runs off! Annoying!


  • FerroTec EFH1 is the best I have found, it’s is a special mixture that if put in a correct substrate, you can get really good display that doesn’t adhere to the glass (like in these cells)
  • You can also find other ferrofluid online for a little cheaper, but note that they all behave differently!

Painting Tray

  • Pyrex Baking Tray $16
    • Since you are working with Ferrofluid, you need a container that is preferabbly clear (so it can be backlit), and won’t let the ferrofluid stain it dark. You can just use a large pyrex baking container, but not ordinary plastic trays because the Ferrofluid will permanently stain it.
  • PET-G Vacuum Formed into a tray 24″X24″ $16
    • It was really hard to find a large tray made of glass, (the only ones we could find were for auto-claving biochemical stuff and cost around 400 dollars). So instead we built our custom tray from a special type of plastic called PET-G

Dipping Buttons

Sensing and Actuation

  • Arduino Uno (or whatever you are comfortable with, the Uno has just BARELY enough ports to do this project)
  • Breadboard
  • Wires

Digital Water Marbling

Electromagnetic Stylus and Rake

  • Nails (Colton – what are the dimensions)
  • LED’s
  • 10k Resistors
  • Electromagnetic Wire 
  • Electrical Tape
  • Stuffing (foam or cotton, non-combustible/flamable)
  • H-Bridge Chips TI SN754410 $2
  • Ethernet Jacks x4 (snap open a home depot coupler to get 2 jacks for 2 dollars instead of 1 jack for ~7 dollars at radioshack)
  • Ethernet Cable (14″)


  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Soldering Iron
  • Solder
  • Laser Cutter (Optional)
  • Vacuum Former (optional)
  • LDF (for tray, optional)
  • Table Saw (for tray, optional)
  • 3D Printer (optional)
  • Ceiling with rails to hang the connections, or something else that can hang over the paint area to hold the cables


  • Water color paper works nice
  • Some Ebru techniques need paper that’s been treated with alum, these Suminagashi inks that we found shouldn’t need any treatment for the paper
  • Computer paper has been working fine for us (though the colors seem less brilliant on some paper stocks than others)


For more detail: Paint Pulse: Digital Water Marbling

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