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A Guide to Making Art with Used Coffee Grounds

Meet Brittonie

Brittonie Fletcher is an artist, educator, plant enthusiast and cycle-lover, based in Scotland. She’s created this online guide to share her wisdom in making art with used coffee grounds – scroll through and get inspired! Inside this guide you can find:

  • How to make raw dye and natural ink
  • How to make screen printing ink
  • How to tone cyanotypes or silver gelatine prints
Brittonie Fletcher (photo by Sam Dole)
Brittonie Fletcher (photo by Sam Dole)

Brittonie’s work is inspired by Material Culture, Politics and DIY, with over 20 years of research and practice rooted in historical, alternative and experimental photographic and printmaking practices. She offers various courses, workshops and mentoring at Stills Centre for Photography, Penumbra Foundation (Center for Alternative Photography) and has been the media instructor at the Royal College of Art.

Popular courses include her ECO DARKROOM session, available online and in-person, covering many plant-based kitchen chemistry and upcycling processes, as well as courses in Foraging for Developers and an Introduction to Caffenol (Film and Paper Developers from Coffee).

Fletcher’s work has been featured in many books, several in the Focul series on Contemporary Practices in Alternative Process Photography, including Cyanotype Toning Using Botanicals to Tone Blueprints Naturally, and IOP Publishing Photography: Physics and Art in Focus. She also makes and sells alternative and historic process kits. 

You can find her at:


Making Raw Ink and Natural Dye

By simply soaking your used coffee grounds (or many other food scraps and garden waste) in warm or hot water, you can extract some of the leftover chemicals in used coffee grounds to make a raw ink or natural dye. By soaking natural fibre like cotton, silk or wool clothing in the coffee dye, you can achieve some nice warm cream to brown colours for your fabrics.

You will need:

  • Used coffee grounds
  • Heatsafe pot or bowl
  • Spoon
  • Hot water
  • Strainer or coffee filter
  • A container
  • Cloves or clove oil for preservation
  • Optional modifiers/mordants (a substance that enables your dye to bind to fabric)


Steps – Making your Ink

  1. Mix hot or cold water with your used coffee grounds. The more coffee you add to the water, the stronger the colour. You can cold brew your coffee grounds and leave them in a jar in the sun for days to extract the colour or add hot water to pull it out faster.
  2. Strain off the coloured liquid. If it seems thin and watery, you can repeat the process by adding more grounds to this mixture or gently simmering or evaporating the liquid to condense the colour.
  3. Try your ink out. You can treat this like watercolour paint, dip a pen, or use it as a natural dye.


Steps – Dying your Fabric

  1. Prewash your fibres or fabric, soak in some soda ash, and rinse well.
  2. You can add vinegar to the dye bath to help the colour be more permanent or other mordants and modifiers such as rusty nail water or alum. Time or heat can speed up how dark your fabric goes.
  3. Stirring helps ensure the colour is even, but maybe you’re trying to tie dye!
  4. Note: Be sure not to add modifiers or mordants to bowls or pots you use for food.
  5. Save and reuse the dye bath.

Making Screen Printing Ink

Lo-fi screen
Lo-fi screen

You will need: 

  • Used coffee grounds, 250g + 
  • Heatsafe pot or bowl  
  • Spoon  
  • Hot water - or time to cold-brew the grounds in 1.2 ltr of cold water  
  • A container for storage and straining-glass is helpful here.  
  • Vinegar 
  • Wheat, rice or corn starch 
  • A coffee filter 
  • A funnel 
  • An embroidery hoop 
  • Scissors 
  • Paper
  • Old nylons 


Steps – Making your Ink 

  • Mix your used coffee grounds into a vat of water and simmer.  
  • Pour in a cup of white vinegar. Keep simmering. Note: this will smell bad!  
  • Strain your coffee and vinegar solution and return to a simmering pot 
  • Continue to simmer your now strained coffee and vinegar water. Reduce this solution until it is very dark and beginning to take on a thicker consistency, like screen printing ink.  
  • Once this ink is reduced, thicken it more by mixing in 30g to 200 ml of rice or cornstarch. 


Steps – Making an Upcycled Lo-fi Screen for Printing 

  • Wrap an old pair of nylons/tights destined for the bin around the embroidery hoop inside. Stretch it tight and close the outside around it. Use scissors to cut off one side of the nylon so there is only one layer of stretched nylon.  
  • Cut stencils from paper. Wet this and stick to the flat side of the ‘screen.’  
  • Place a piece of paper or fabric underneath your screen. 
  • Use an old card or spatula to dollop a line of homemade coffee-ink at the bottom of the screen below the image. Hold your screen flat to the print surface and smooth the ink across your screen and image. You may need to tweak this to get the correct thickness of your ink or wish to do more than one pass to build density. Some people block out their screens with glue or use a genuine silkscreen. 

Toning Cyanotypes or Silver Gelatine Prints

One of Brittonie’s coffee toned prints
One of Brittonie’s coffee toned prints

Ever made an antique piece of paper for a treasure map as a kid? Similarly, we can use coffee grounds to alter a print (or fabric, or many other things).

Cyanotype (blueprints) are particularly good for this. Cyanotypes are made with iron salts. Iron acts like a mordant, so the coffee tannins bind to the image better than the paper. Coffee will stain the paper of your cyanotype a little in addition to toning – it will turn the prints from a Prussian blue to a used blue jean or brown.  This method can highlight some details in a slightly underexposed print by darkening the print overall.

Note: you can also use other kitchen wastes such as teas, vegetable peels, juices that have gone off, and spices like turmeric, paprika or chilli can also be fun to see what colours you can get from them.

Be as experimental or methodical as you like. But avoid falling in love with a print before it’s dried for a few days (up to a month). As a print dries and oxidises, it will likely get darker.


You will need:

  • Used coffee grounds
  • Heatsafe pot or bowl
  • Spoon
  • Hot water - or time to cold-brew the grounds
  • A container
  • Optional: bleaching elements



  1. Soak, simmer or boil your used coffee grounds in water until you have a rich raw ink or dye – or in this case, a toner! (see 1. Making Raw Ink and Natural Dye)
  2. Weaker, cooler toning solutions with slower times can give you more control and sometimes save your highlights or ‘paper white’ from bigger staining.
  3. Optional: If you have some leftover bay leaves or other alkaline herbs in your garden (mint, thyme, rosemary, oak bark and willow bark), you can reuse these to lighten an overexposed print and strip some of the blues. This isn’t necessary, but it can be fun and gives you more options!
  4. Rinse your print after toning and leave it to dry.