Preserving Leaves with Glycerin for Printing

This is a mini tutorial showing how I now treat some of my favorite leaves to preserve them for sunprinting or leaf printing. I had been just pressing my leaves in layers of newspaper, but some leaves will cause troubles for me while sunprinting with them. The newspaper pressed leaves also lose some of the definition of the veins which you really want for leaf prints.

Curling Ginkgo

Curling Ginkgo

This is what the first Ginkgo leaves began doing… the edges curled up. They don’t print or keep as well if they get too dry and curl. Maples also like to curl while on wet fabric in the sun, causing them to be caught and carried away by slight breezes.

What you need:

Glycerin-  available in pharmacies in small bottles.
Hot water
Low container with lid
Pressed or partially dried, pressed leaves… Maple, Ginkgo, Oak, Linden, Grape, and even ferns can be done.

Mix the solution with one part glycerin to two parts very hot water and mix well.
Pour some of the solution into your container. I used a low plastic container with a tight fitting lid.

Layering Leaves in Glycerin

Begin layering the leaves in the container, making sure you have both sides of each leaf covered with the glycerin solution. Keep adding more leaves and solution until you have all your leaves submerged. Place a lid from a smaller container with a weight on top of the stack of leaves to keep them submerged.

Weight on Leaves

For my container, I used a plastic lid with a glass coaster to keep the leaves under the glycerin. Place the lid on the container, and let sit for 24 hours or more. I found that no more than  2 days gave the best results with my fairly dry leaves. The solution will turn darker in color.

Treated Leaves

Above here is my first container of leaves.  Remove the leaves carefully and place on layers of paper towels to dry them. After blotting the solution off, I Press the leaves with a dry iron between paper towels, then press them with waxed paper to give them some additional protection. The pressing flattens out most of the waves in the leaves, but some may still remain. The leaves are now ready for sunprinting or leaf printing. Note that the veins on the backs of the leaves are nice and plump. This is even after the leaves were stored for a couple years before treating with the glycerin. It seemed to rejuvenate them nicely.

Treated Ginkgo

Treated Ginkgo

Here is a treated Ginkgo leaf being removed from a dry sunprinted fabric. The untreated ones would have broken if I had tried to bend them like this. Treating the leaves like this has made sunprinting with many types of leaves much easier. Maple leaves no longer curl and blow off the fabric much less. Now I will be able to reuse more of my leaves with better results. The ferns I treated didn’t break as I pulled them off the dry fabric. Definitely a plus!

Leaves in Newspaper

Leaves in Newspaper

So far I have been storing my treated leaves in the newspapers as I always have. I know others store them in the freezer. UPDATE: I have found that freezing is not needed…. Four years later, they are fine stored in the newspapers. Now that Fall is in the air, I will probably be collecting more leaves, and preserve them this way, too.


I am a former textile artist and new pattern designer with a degree in horticulture, wishing to share my love of nature, flowers and gardens with everyone through my photos, sunprinted fabrics, and now pattern designs. Chronic Lyme Disease has caused major changes to the direction my life. I have to limit the amount of time spent digging in my gardens, and quilting has become more difficult. I discovered pattern design as a way to get art back into my life. I now use my gardens and photos to inspire designs that can be used on fabrics and print on demand items.

One comment on “Preserving Leaves with Glycerin for Printing
  1. Louise says:

    Hi Sue,
    I have looked at your creations on and off since I love flowers and beautiful leaves too. I’m on the Quiltart list too, albeit quiet.
    I liked your explanation on how to dry and preserve leaves so I have done it as well but now I have two questions. First, you say that you pressed them with waxed paper. Could I use freezer paper? I know that it isn’t wax but plastic but I’m not sure what else I can find.
    Also, I saved the glycerin/water-mix but there is some mildew on it now. Do you think I should toss the mix or just boil it or can I keep it and use it as it is?
    Best regards

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