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Here's How You Can Make Your Own Solar Print

Want to see the sun do a little magic? Then this solar printing craft is perfect for sun in the sun with the kids.

Margo Gothelf and Sarah Burns

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The best part about this craft is how it comes out different each and every time. Try it with kids, and see what tricks the sun has up its sleeve!

Something tells me that your average craft store isn’t going to have all the supplies needed to make a solar print. Sure, they’ll have paper and scissors — but they won’t have the sun in stock! For this craft, head to nature’s craft store and harness the power of the sun. 

So, what exactly is a solar print? It’s a one-of-a-kind picture made using different objects in nature — think leaves, flowers, or sticks. The natural material gets placed on color-changing paper or construction paper, and with the help of the sun, makes the artwork appear out of nowhere, leaving silhouettes of your chosen materials. 

If you’re looking for a more scientific explanation, basically the UV lights from the sun break down the paper, causing discoloration in the material. The items you pick to put on your paper block the sun from reaching the paper, allowing it to stay the same color. 

No matter which way you understand it, your kids are bound to have fun creating solar prints of their own.

Supplies Needed

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1. Sun paper or construction paper 

2. Sticks, leaves, flowers, rocks 

3. Clear frame, laminate sheets, or rocks to hold down paper

4. Tub of water if using sun paper

Gather Your Supplies

Once you’ve got everything sorted from the list above, take a family nature walk or have the kids stroll around in the backyard and look for interesting materials to add to their solar print. They'll want to look out for different shaped stickers, weird-sized rocks, and flowers with lots of petals. No need to worry about picking out items that are colorful, as the color won’t show up on the paper. They should look for items that stand out when they are placed on a flat surface.

Constructing a Masterpiece

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When they have their items ready to go, give them the paper and have the kids place their materials on top. They can lay them out flat, put them in an exciting pattern, or spell out their name in sticks to see what happens. Use a few different sheets of paper to make multiple solar prints. 

When they’ve arranged everything on the paper, grab the glass frame, laminate sheet, or rocks. These items will keep everything in place and still let the sun do its color-changing thing. If it’s particularly windy out, use the glass frame or laminate sheet to keep everything set in place. Just put the frame on top of the paper or slip everything into the sheet. If it’s a calm day, have the kids find some extra rocks to hold down the edges of the paper.

The Big Reveal

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If your kids are are using sun paper, wait a few minutes for the paper to change color. It will start to turn very light, so they should be able to see the sun at work right before their eyes. Then put the paper into a tub of water for about one minute to set the image. After about a minute, take out the paper to dry. 

If they are using construction paper, they’ll have to have a little more patience with these prints. This paper takes a little longer to change color, so they’ll have to wait a couple of hours. While they’re waiting, see what other craft projects you can do in your backyard!

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After a few hours — or when you start to see a distinct change of color on the paper — lift up your objects for the big reveal. You’ll know if it worked right away when you see what the prints left behind. 

Want to keep the prints in prime condition? Place them in a large book and let it sit overnight so it becomes extra flat. You can even place it in a frame for an extra special touch. 

Looking to take your solar prints to the next level? Let the kids give it a try on fabric and create a unique design that they can actually wear. Check out some examples on Tinker Lab — before you know it, they’ll have a solar print fashion collection of their very own.

Updated June 2022.