Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

The Naturalist's Apprentice: Making Leaf Prints

Notes for teachers and parents

* Using forceps or tweezers may be helpful when picking up and moving the leaf.

* When selecting rubber stamp pads, be sure to purchase the nontoxic ones. Have a variety of colors of ink pads available. More than one color of ink can be used on a leaf. The multicolored ink pads give beautiful results.

* Leaf prints can also be made using watercolor paint with a wide brush. Students could make art prints to hang on the wall or nature notecards.

* Many rubber-stamping products are available in craft stores for producing special effects. For example, you can stamp with a pigment-based pad and emboss the image with embossing powder.

* Students could make a leaf print collection, identifying several trees from an area such as the school yard.

* After some practice, students (or adults!) could make their own nature print T-shirts by using fabric paint instead of ink.

How It's Done

It is traditional to collect leaves in the fall and press them between pages of a book until they have dried. Although they can last a long time, the leaves quickly turn brown and become brittle. Instead of saving the leaves, try "collecting" colorful images of them by making leaf prints.


Collect leaves from a woods, field, or yard. You can use any kind. Leaves from flowers, herbs, or even weeds work just as well as tree leaves! It is helpful to press the leaves temporarily in a book or plant press as you collect them so they don't become damaged before you get them back to the work area.


Before you begin to make the leaf prints, be sure to protect the work area with paper. Select a rubber stamp pad and place the leaf on the inked surface, with the top side up. Place a piece of paper over the leaf and rub gently across it, pressing the leaf against the ink. If the leaf is larger than the stamp pad, you will have to pick it up and shift it over. Repeat the procedure until the entire surface is inked. Then pick the leaf up by the petiole (leaf stem) and place it inked-side-down on the piece of paper you want to imprint. Place a second piece of paper over the leaf and rub gently across it with your fingers. Be careful not to let the leaf slide or the image will smear. Carefully lift the top piece of paper and then the leaf. The bottom sheet of paper should have a colorful image of the leaf.


Print some leaves by inking the top of the leaf instead ofthe bottom, and compare them. The veins of most plants tend to show up better if you use the bottom of the leaf.


Crab apple leaf with top and bottom inked.


Identify the plant that the leaf came from and write its name on the sheet of paper with the print. You can use prints to make your own field guide to the plants of the area where you collected the leaves.


Use leaf prints in a nature journal. With some practice you may be able to make leaf imprints without removing the leaf from the plant. Take a rubber stamp pad outside with you, place it under the leaf, press the leaf into the ink, and then onto the journal paper.

Carolyn Nixon, INHS Office of the Chief

Charlie Warwick, editor

Illinois Natural History Survey

1816 South Oak Street, MC 652
Champaign, IL 61820

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