Mike Zeis Tea Bag Printing

Printing on Stained Tea Bags with Mike Zeis

When I stopped by the Open Sky Community Art Gallery last Saturday to pick up my ”Doll Heads” contribution to the 2022 Macabre Art Show Pop-up, Lisa said that quite a few people at the reception wondered how I made the photo. I gave her a brief explanation and showed her some of the steps I had taken. She asked me to share my process, so here are some photos and commentary about the basic steps.

The photo was printed on tea-bag paper, salvaged after I made sun tea last summer. Somewhere I had heard about using tea-bag paper for printing and art projects, and in the summer of 2021, I checked out a few how-to videos on YouTube. Of course there were a variety of techniques and applications, and, while all of the artists/crafters produced fine-looking results, I did not see an immediate application.

Nonetheless, I started salvaging tea bags. Tea bags are really a folded paper tube with a crimped seal along the length of the tube, and a single staple at the top holding the whole thing together.

I removed the staple, but one can cut just below the staple and save some steps. At first, I worried that flecks of tea would attach themselves to the paper, so while the tea bags were still damp, I removed the tea and rinsed the remaining leaves off of the paper. The result was a very thin but sturdy fine-grained sheet, with an evenly-distributed hint of tea stain.

Mike Zeis Tea Bag Printing

With the next batch, I left the tea bags intact until they dried completely. When I unfolded the dried tea bags and removed the tea, I saw areas of deep stain, broad areas of light stain, and a few unstained areas. I felt these would be more appropriate for what I had in mind.

Mike Zeis Tea Bag Printing

When the call went out for pieces for the BVAA Macabre 2022 pop-up display, I figured I would give tea bags a try. I knew my printer would not feed this lightweight paper, so I had to attach the unfolded and flattened-out tea bag to a carrier sheet with masking tape, as I did a few years ago when I was printing on rice paper. The assembly fed through the printer without a problem. When I removed the tape to free the paper, I saw that the paper is so thin that ink had sprayed through the fibers onto the carrier sheet. “Sharing” the ink with the carrier sheet diminished the density of the image on the tea bag sheet itself.

Mike Zeis Tea Bag Printing

So for my photo, I needed to attach the tea-bag paper to the carrier sheet permanently with spray adhesive (I used 3M 77). Also, it’s more manageable to print the entire image in a single pass instead of on separate sheets that then would need to be matched up. Teabag paper measures 3 ¼” by 6″, so I needed glue four sheets down to reproduce the photo. If you know they’re there, you can spot the seams in the finished print.

The photo was taken at a vendor’s booth at the Oddities Flea Market in Brooklyn NY in December 2019. The vendor said that they are molds for doll heads that she found on a visit to Germany. If I remember right, she wanted $60 each. I left her collection intact. An event space isn’t ideal for taking pictures, mainly because of poor lighting. So most of the Photoshop work on this photo was to straighten the lines and adjust brightness and contrast. My non-tea bag image is in color (link below), but I converted the photo to black and white for the tea-bag print so the color would not distract from the grunginess of the tea stains.

One of many YouTube videos about printing on or with tea bags: https://youtu.be/j0_BrpC95BA
Link to the “standard” version of the Doll Head photo: https://flic.kr/p/2mkHk9w
Info about the Oddities Flea Market: https://theodditiesfleamarket.com/events

Ask with any questions!

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