Gyotaku Fish Printing Made Easy

Have you ever heard of gyotaku?

I hadn’t until I sat in on the filming of Jane Dávila’s online course Printing on Fabric with Natural Materials. In one of the lessons, Jane breaks out her stash of rubber replica fish and teaches us everything we need to know about this fish printing technique along with troubleshooting tips.

Here is some background information along with a brief tutorial from Jane so you can add gyotaku to your surface design repertoire:

As a former printmaker, I enjoy experimenting with printmaking techniques on fabric. One technique is gyotaku (translation: fish rubbing), a traditional Japanese printing method generally done on paper using fresh fish. I use rubber replica fish, and both the fish and I are much happier.


  • Rubber replica fish
  • Acrylic or fabric paint
  • Foam brayer and inking surface
  • Fine paintbrush
  • Pre-washed fabric for printing


1. Using a soft foam brayer, roll out a small amount of acrylic paint on a tray, an acrylic plate, or a sheet of freezer paper. Two or more colors can be blended together by shifting the brayer slightly from side to side.

2. Roll the inked brayer over the fish, carefully covering all areas. Using a paper towel, wipe the ink off the eye (this gets painted in by hand later).

3. Move the inked fish to a clean surface. Lay a piece of pre-washed fabric over the fish and, using your fingers, rub the fabric into all of the fish’s contours, smoothly and evenly. Ohm, feel the fish…be one with the fish. Slowly lift up the fabric and set it aside to dry. You will need to re-ink the fish before printing it again.

4. When the fabric/print is dry, use a fine paintbrush and acrylic paint to fill in the eye. Start with a circle of color for the iris. When that’s dry add a smaller black circle within the first circle. Add a white “gleam” for dimension and to show in which direction he’s looking. -JD

The history buff in me fell in love with this traditional technique. I was so enamored with this process I had to try it myself! Luckily, we had a little extra time in between lessons so I could give it a shot. This is one of many fabric painting techniques I’d like to play with some more.

Want to round out your skills for printing on fabric?

Check out Jane’s course! She demonstrates everything from using fruit and vegetables as stamps to harnessing the power of the sun to create intriguing fiber art. This online course is so much fun; it’s like summer camp for adults! Register for your seat in Printing on Fabric with Natural Materials to get started exploring today.

Happy printing!

Learn more from Jane Dávila!

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