Gelli Plate Printing is Where it’s at. Yo.
We’re going to go deep with Gelli plates here today. These flabby, gelatinous slabs of amazingness have stolen my heart, and the hearts of many other artists and creative folks I know.
I think the fact that they are so versatile and beg for experimentation is what draws us to them. On top of that, you can get some really cool, unexpected results from just switching up the tools and techniques you try with the gelli plates, and pretty soon 3 hours have flown by and you have 1000 prints drying all over your home.
Let’s start with the basics:
What is a Gelli plate?
A gelli plate is a clear gelatinous slab that you roll acrylic paint onto and use to pull prints from. You can use a handmade gelli plate or a commercial plate. You can use any brand acrylic paints, fluid or thick, for different results. You can incorporate different tools and techniques to get even more variations.
The paint glides easily across the surface of the gelli plate when it is rolled (or brushed) on, and then transfers easily to the surface of whatever paper you are printing onto.
Pre-made gelli plates come in a variety of sizes, and the homemade ones are limited to the sizes of whatever clean metal or glass baking pans you happen to have.
How do you use a Gelli plate?
The simplest way to use a gelli plate is to roll acrylic paint across the surface of the plate with a brayer. You can keep rolling back and forth to get an even layer, or let some of the brayer lines show on the plate. You then employ all sorts of techniques to get the results you want.
Some gelli printing techniques include:
- wiping or dabbing away areas of paint
- laying paper or other objects over parts of the paint to act as ‘resists’
- rolling paint over a stencil laid on the gelli plate
- Painterly prints- use the Gelli plate as your canvas, paint all over it, then make a print of your painting
- Pouring or dripping paint onto the gelli plate
- line monoprints- where you draw into the rolled paint with a blunt tool, then make a print of that
Aaaaaand about a million more techniques, including some gelli plate ideas I wrote about previously
Tools for gelli plate printing
I use and recommend Speedball brayers to roll paint across the surface of the gelli plates. Make sure you have plenty of paper towels and baby wipes (or a cloth and spray bottle of water) on hand to clean up the plates at the end of printing.
Use any heavy weight papers including card stock, smooth watercolor paper, and even Rives BFK printing paper (my all-time favorite)
Grab a bunch of random flat or textured objects to experiment with:
- crumpled paper towels
Really, anything you can find that can either press texture into your paint or block off areas of paint can be used to get great effects. You need to be semi-gentle with it so it doesn’t puncture or tear, but it does have some give and will stand up to a lot of random weird objects you’ll find around your house to experiment with. 🙂
How do you clean a Gelli plate?
Bonus time! You don’t need any harsh, nasty chemicals to clean a gelli plate. Simply use water and/or baby wipes to wipe the surface of your plate clean. Let it dry and then store it either in the plastic clamshell packaging it came in, or between 2 pieces of heavy stencil plastic.
You can use mild dish soap with the water on your plate, and I’ve also heard you can get stains out of the plate with hand sanitizer gel, but I haven’t tried this yet.
I usually wipe mine down with baby wipes between prints, and then give it a good final rinse-off in the kitchen sink when I’m through printing for the day.
Making Your Own Gelli Plate
- 1.5 cups (12 oz) liquid glycerin
- 7 packets Knox unflavored gelatin
- 1.5 cups boiling water
- square 8×8 or 9×9 pan
- Put glycerin into a glass bowl
- Sprinkle the gelatin over the glycerin and mix them together
- Pour the boiling water into the mixture and stir slowly
- Pour the whole mixture into a pan and lightly touch any air bubbles that form on the surface with your finger to pop them
- Let it set up for a few hours
- Gently slide a sharp knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the plate
- Very carefully invert it to release it from the pan
- Store between thick pieces of stencil plastic (plastic wrap will leave textured lines in the surface of the plate)
* Apparently if your plate splits or breaks when you remove it from the pan, you can microwave the pieces in a glass bowl for about 2 minutes and re-pour it!
You don’t need to refrigerate this plate because of the glycerin, which acts as a preservative.
Here is my experience with making gelli plates: while they are much cheaper to make than to buy, I totally prefer my Gelli Arts plate. In fact I LOVE IT so much I actually did marry it. It’s crystal clear, stores nicely in the plastic package it came in, is lasting me a long time so far, and is smooth and wonderful.
I recommend you make your own if you aren’t sure if you’ll even like gelli printing, or if you have a whole classroom you’re wanting to try gelli printing with. Or, like I did, just because it’s fun to try.
What is a monoprint?
Gelli prints are used to make monoprints, which means you are making a single print, instead of multiples like in most printmaking techniques. After you pull the first print from your gelli plate, there will be some paint left on the surface, which can be wiped away or incorporated into your next print. this is where some magical stuff happens!
What is Gelli art?
Gelli art is a print made by using a gel printing plate. Gelli Arts is the company that makes commercial gelli plates. Ooh- I just did a little poking around, and Speedball is making them now, too. So is some company I’ve never heard of called Gel Press. Hmmmmmm.
I have a Gelli Arts plate and adore it love it like I previously mentioned. You can find out more about Gelli Arts here, or check out some of their products here.
Acrylic Paints for Gelli Printing
You can use any acrylics, from liquid to the really thick, professional stuff. You can even use nasty old craft acrylics; I’ve used all of these paints, and they all work well on the plates.
Fluid acrylics are great for pouring or splattering, or a thinner paint layer
Heavy body acrylics are buttery, thicker, but should also be thinned down with water when you are using them with a gelli plate – they tend to be so thick that when you roll them out, they are tacky and the brayer leaves weird ‘peaks’ in the paint. (These are what I use for my very textury paintings)
Liquitex has an awesome set of acrylic basics that I use often on my gelli; just water them down a little bit (which also gives you more paint for your buck. Bonus.)
Open acrylics dry slowly, (similar to oil paints) so they are good if you want to mix up more paint and store it for future use, or you work slowly and maybe more detailed on your plate and don’t want the paint to dry before you’ve had a chance to pull a print.
Craft acrylics have a good supply of these on hand. They work great with the gelli and they are cheap and pre-mixed, lovely colors. My opening photo uses Blick matte acrylics, and here are Apple Barrel , which are perfect and beautiful and wonderful for using on your gelli.
Carolyn Dube did some experimentation with different types of acrylic paint on gelli if you want to see her results.
What is a ghost print?
Ghost prints are haunted prints that will try to kill you in your sleep and then you need to probably hire an exorcist.
Or, maybe ghost prints are simply prints made after your first pull, using the paint that is left over on the gel plate. Sometimes, ghost prints are the prints you end up loving more than the first print, and sometimes they are great starters for other artwork, backgrounds for art journals, etc.
Where to buy Gelli Printing Materials
plates – warning: clicking this link will make you want ALL THE THINGS
brayers – there are different sizes (widths) you can buy. this one is 6″.
glycerin if you make your own plates – this is SUCH an awesome price, and you can use the extra glycerin on your skin; it’s an amazing humectant.
tools to use while gelli printing – or find stuff around your home
More Gelli Printing Resources
Videos – Um. Here is an endless supply of gelli printing videos for you. Don’t forget to stop watching at some point and make some prints…
Books – this book is a great resource for gelli printing ideas:
Gelli plate Class
Gelli Plate Printmaking | Carla SonheimCarla Sonheim this looks SO GOOD.