Gelatin Plate Printmaking Recipe

 In Journal, Printmaking, Workshops

Monoprinting with gelatin plates is a helluva-lotta fun! The softness of the gelatin plates allows you to capture and print great detail in your artwork. When to comes to printing with gelatin plates, you have 2 options – either make your own, or buy them. I use both options! Below I share with you the gelatin plate recipe I like to use.

For a long time the only option was to make your own. They are easy to make, but depending on the ingredients used, had a limited life. The addition of glyercerin to the recipe seems to have soled that problem.

For those of us who would rather buy something ready-made, along came Gelli Arts and Gel Press

Gelli Arts produced a “non-perishable printing plate that had the same sensitive surface as gelatin; a plate that could be stored at room temperature [in the] studio; a plate that would always be ready for printing; and importantly, a plate made of non-toxic materials.

I run Gelatin Plate Printmaking workshops, and in these workshops we use commercially produced Gelli Art plates. I do a demonstration showing you how to make your own gelatin plates at home; and below is the recipe I use.

I like the convenience of the commercial Gelli Art plates but they can be expensive (ranging from AU $35-$85 depending on the size). Having said that, when looked after, they will last you years. Making you own gelatin plates means you can create your own large plates, or make one large and cut them into smaller plates. You can pour the mixture into any flat-bottomed tray, dish or bowl; creating plates of all sorts of shapes and sizes. My recommendation is to aim for a thickness of approx 8-10mm.

I my printmaking arts practice, I like to use both my own home-made gelatin plates and purchased Gelli Art and Gel Press plates.

When it comes to home-made, the best gelatin plate recipe I have found is published by Linda Germain. She has a great website showcasing her work, sharing tips and other resources related to Printmaking without a Press – www.lindagermain.com

Below is my adaptation of Linda’s recipe, converting her measurements to metric and referencing products readily available in Australia.

 

The Gelatin Plate Recipe I like to use

Ingredients

  • 375 ml glycerin – I buy 2x 200ml bottles, using 1 and 3/4 of the bottles, keeping the other 1/4 for my next plate
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 115 grams powdered gelatin – I buy 2x 100gm McKenzie’s tins, keeping the excess for my next plate
  • 1 and 1/2 cups rapidly boiling water

Utensils

  • large mixing bowl
  • rubber spatula
  • measuring cup
  • 22cmx 33cm biscuit tray. You could use any shape tray or dish, as long as you end up with approx 1cm thickness of gelatin mix for the plate
  • spirit level – to check the tray is level
  • strips of cardboard to level the tray (if needed)
  • newspaper strips to remove surface bubbles

Lets get making…

  1. Get all ingredients and utensils ready before you get started. Once you start, the gelatin reacts pretty quickly, so the better prepared you are, the easier the process is. This includes checking that your tray is level on the bench, ready to receive the mixture as soon as its ready. Use your spirit level and strips of cardboard to level the tray on your bench, making sure that it will be a safe place to leave the tray while the mixture sets (approx 1-2 hours).
  2. Place 1/2 cup cold water in a bowl.
  3. Pour half of the glycerin liquid into the water. I buy 2x 200ml bottles of glycerin, using 1 and 3/4 bottles for this recipe, so I pour all of the first bottle into the bowl at this stage.
  4. Using the spatula, stir to mix thoroughly, but mix slowly. This is important so as to not add bubbles into the mixture.
  5. Once thoroughly mixed, sprinkle all the gelatin powder into the water/glycerin mix.
  6. Using the spatula, mix and squish the mixture to remove all lumps and clumps of gelatin, maintaining a slow mixing (and squishing) motion to reduce the addition of bubbles.
  7. Once you have removed all of the lumps, add the rapidly boiling water and continue to stir, slowly, until all the gelatin crystals have dissolved.
  8. Once all the gelatin crystals have dissolved, add the remaining 175ml of glycerin. I pour in 3/4 of the 2nd bottle, saving the rest for my next plate.
  9. Slowly stir to thoroughly blend all ingredients. It is still important to maintain the slow stirring so you don’t introduce additional bubbles.
  10. Once all of the ingredients have been blended, pour the mixed liquid into the tray – slowly and carefully to avoid spilling.
  11. You will see some bubbles on the surface of your poured mixture. There may be a few, or there may be many.
  12. Use the newspaper strips to skim bubbles off the surface of your gelatin mix – slowly drag a strip of newspaper across the surface of your gelatin mixture.
  13. Leave the tray to set on the bench top. DO NOT move the tray until the mixture has set. Within 1-2 hours it will normally set enough to then move the tray to the fridge.
  14. Once set, place the tray in the fridge for the final ‘setting’. This will normally take 3-4 hours. I like to leave it overnight so that the plate shrinks a little in the tray, making it easier to remove it from the tray.
  15. Once set, remove the gelatin plate from the tray and it is ready to use!
  16. When not in use, place the gelatin plate between 2x sheets of acetate or stiff/hard plastic. This will protect the surface of the plate.

Storing and Caring for your Gelatin Plate

Once the plate has set you can lift it out of the tray and start using it.

storing your gelatin plates

The plate does not need to be stored in the fridge. If you do keep it in the fridge, it will continue to shrink. Refer below to see how much shrinkage can happen after a few days in the fridge.

I keep mine stored between 2 sheets of acetate/plastic. Any plastic no thinner than a laminated piece of paper will do the trick. Thin flimsy plastic (like plastic wrap or the plastic of plastic sleeves) will not protect the plate from impression marks.

Make sure, when you store your plate, that there is no foreign matter between the plate and the plastic covering. I may we create a permanent indentation on your gelatin plate.

Given the sensitivity of the material, some minor imperfections may not show up in prints, while others will be hard or impossible to avoid.

Comments and Troubleshooting

Gelatin plates really are VERY easy to make. Follow the instructions carefully and you should end up with a perfect gelatin plate to start printing with.

Having said there, there are some hiccups that can happen. I’ve made notes below with common problems.

The first time I made my gelatin plate using this recipe is was perfect! The 2nd time I had trouble squishing out the lumps. I decided to just go with it to see how it set – it was a good exercise to fully understand what NOT to do.

homemade-gelatin-plate-with-gelatin-blobs2

Gelatin Lumps

This is what can happen if you don’t squish out all of the lumps while you are slowly blending your gelatin, glycerine and water mixture. These lumps WILL appear on your printed pieces – they will add imperfections to the surface of the plate.

Mixing the liquid can take 5-10 minutes. Take your time to carefully squish all the gelatin lumps that formed when you poured the powdered gelatin into the water-glycerine mix. A slow motion with the spatula will do the trick. You could try to remove stubborn lumps when you pour the mixture into the tray, or move them to one end of the plate and cut that away when the pate has set; but it is best of you can remove them while mixing your ingredients.

homemade-gelatin-plate-with-bubble-scum

Surface Bubbles

This is when you realise how important it was to mix at each stage SLOWLY … if you mix the ingredients too fast you can introduce extra bubbles into the mixture. Some bubbles will occur naturally, but you want to work to keep this to a minimum.

Once you have poured the mixed ingredients into the tray, scraping the bubbles off the surface of the plate is easy, but the fewer bubbles there, the better the result. Too many bubbles can create a scum on the surface.

Simply drag a strip of newspaper across the surface of liquid once you have poured it into the tray. The liquid is thick and sticky, making it pretty easy to lift the bubbles from the surface. If you have too many bubbles or a scum on the surface, scrape them to one of of the plate, then when set the plate has set you can simply cut that section of the plate away.

homemade-gelatin-plate-with-gelatin-blobs3

Plate Shrinkage

From my experience, the plate will ONLY shrink if you leave it in the fridge. I like to leave it in overnight once the gelatin mixture has set. It really only needs about 4 hours for its final setting before its ready to work. If you leave it in the fridge overnight the plate will shrink a little in the tray. I left one plate in the fridge for 4 days (it was the spare fridge and I had forgotten about it). It shrunk a good 20mm in each direction. That wasn’t a problem, but good to have seen how much it can shrink in the fridge. I’ve not had any shrinkage issues when the plate is left out of the fridge.

Melting the plate and starting again

If you find that you have too many lumps in your finished home made gelatin plate, or you want to reshape it in a different mould, you can simple melt it down in the microwave or over the stove and repour it.

Cut the plate into small squares – 1x1cm or 2x2cm. I placed my squares into a microwave dish and microwaved them for about 2 minutes on a lower temperature. Every microwave is different. Start with small amounts of time, and keep a close watch on the progress. You’ll see it return to its liquid form, then its ready to re-pour.

If you had gelatin lumps in your plate, before melting, you’ll find those lumps still in the melted mixture. Remove and discard them before you pour your mix into its new mould.

You may also find that the reformed plate is a little less flexible than the first. I suspect that that is because it loses water when it is melted down. The plate still works just the same, but it may not be as wobbly as previous.

Note: please be careful with the melted mix. It will be hot, and sticky!
Another note: this only works for your home made plates. I’ve not tried, nor will I try, to do this on the commercial plates.

Gelli Arts gelatin plates

Commercial Gelli Plates

The commercially produced gelli plates are clear and soft. They are a sensitive surface to work with, soft and able to retail much of the detail of any item placed on top of it. If you hold the plate it is floppy, but retains its shape perfectly. While the surface can quite robust, it is important to remember that it is still quite sensitive. I tell my students to treat it as you would your own skin – it can scratch and mark if not used carefully.

home made gelatin plates

Homemade Gelatin Plates

Home made gelatin plates, using my gelatin plate recipe, will have a yellow tinge to them. They are a little floppier than the commercial plates, but work just as well. I have found that they don’t hold their shape as perfectly as the commercial plates, bit doesn’t worry me. You can experiment yourself with the gelatin:water/glycerine ratios to make a stiffer plate if you like. If you do experiment with the gelatin plate recipe above, please share below what you did and how your plate turned out.

Want to learn more about gelatin plate printmaking?

Printing with gelatin plates, home made or commercially bought, is fun and easy. There are many different approaches you can take, using different paints and inks. If you’re interested in learning my approach, attend one of my gelatin plate printmaking workshops. In them I share how I created my layered prints using organic materials. We print onto paper and fabric; and I demonstrate how to make a gelatin plate. Workshops run throughout the year, and I am available to private group workshop bookings too.

Click here for more working information or to make a booking.

Gelatin Plate Printing and Monotype Workshop February 2018
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Showing 26 comments
  • Nicole
    Reply

    Hello Kim,
    Thank you for sharing your gelli plate recipe. I use a commercial one but they are a bit expensive and would like to try making one for myself. Do you have suggestions for plant varieties that print well using the gelli plate. The leaves I have used so far did not produce very detailed prints. Yours are lovely!
    Nicole

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Hi Nicole, I love to use a mix of leaves – hard and soft. If you want to details, I recommend weeds! They usually give the best detail with their veins. Its good to mix the hard and soft leaves for some contrast in shapes on the paper. Jacaranda tree leaves are fun to play with too – lots and lots of little leaves on the stems. My next step with the gelatin plate is to melt down one of the ones with the undissolved blobs of gelatin and have a go at salvaging it. I’ll post about that after I ahve had a go at it.

  • Annie McIntosh
    Reply

    Thankyou Kim for clear instructions. Many of the overseas recipes use packets of gelatin that are hard to assess exact weight. Gives me confidence to play with the medium.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Hi Annie, so glad this is useful for you! Oh do play. Its such a fun medium to work with. So many possibilities, and the plate is so easy to make. My next step is to melt down one of the plates with chunky gelatin bits (I didn’t squish them all out when making the last plate) and reset it. I’l also going to have a go at making circular plates, and other odd shapes. You just need a container with a flat bottom – really you’re limited only by your imagination.

  • Megan Bice
    Reply

    Thank you Kim, best recipe for us Australians ever. Loved that you showed what can go wrong as well.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thanks Megan! I think its important to share the mistakes. We all make them, so by sharing we can all learn from them.

  • Donna
    Reply

    Home made gelli plates are great. When mine gets worn, I put it in the microwave in a Pyrex jug, melt it down, and repour it into my systema container and make a nice new plate. Very effective.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      I melted one of mine down the first time a few weeks ago. I found that it changed the overall feel of the plate, I guess with reduced water maybe, but I loved working with it.

  • Liz Allender
    Reply

    I have made gelli plates before using recipes similar to yours and found them to be a bit too jelly-like and damage easily. I set out to make something a bit more rubbery and durable and I have just made exactly what I was after!
    I measured 2 cups of glycerine and then added roughly 120g of gelatine powder.
    I tried dissolving the gelatine directly in the glycerine by heating it gradually in the microwave 20 seconds at a time and stiring. It wasnt quite dissolving so I added small amounts of boiling water and stirring until the gelatine was dissolved. I poured the mix into some muffin cases and a large loaf tin to a depth of 1 – 1.5 cm and put this in the fridge. Within 2hrs I touched the surface of one and it was really good firm and rubbery. I took them all out of the molds and the gelli plates are perfect. They are firm and easy to handle, like the plastic polymer version. But the surface is bouncy with give. The surface feels like a plastic polymer, I cut the loaf tin size plate into 3 pieces because I wanted small stamping plates. The geli plate was very firm but I cut it easily with a very sharp knife and firm pressure.
    I am so excited by the results it is exactly what I was after. I thought I would share this, in case anyone else was after the same thing.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thank you for the information Liz! I had one ‘fail’ with making my gelli plates, but I’ve found my recipe works pretty well. If I leave the plate in the fridge for a few days it seems to ‘set’ the jelly better and its a pretty robust plate to work with. Reducing the amount of water can help too.

  • Katie
    Reply

    Have been so keen to start with this and just tried my first attempt at making a gelli plate 😀😂🤣 didn’t have the right quantities of ingredients, so had to resize the recipe. Then put the final glycerin in before the boiling water so mucho lumps! Then had to strain the mixture twice to remove the lumps. And now have a rather scummy looking surface 🤔😂🤣 however we will see how it sets. Think the day is too hot as well. Maybe I should stop being a cheapskate and just buy one… will keep you posted

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Hi Katie, yay for giving it a go! Have a go at melting it down in the microwave and re-pour – see if that sorts the surface scum. Or – can you use the ‘bottom’ of the plate as the surface. Nothing to say you can’t use the bottom side as the print side. Very much looking forward to seeing what you print !!!!

  • Anne
    Reply

    Hi Kim,

    Thanks for the great article. I’m hooked on gel printing as well and have the commercial plates in a variety of sizes but really want one that’s at least as big as an A3 or even A1 which is why I’m going to have a go at diying my own.

    How large of a surface does your recipe cover? I’ve made my forms (out of plexiglass in the sizes that I need and don’t want to run out of ingredients half way through). I think because my forms are so large I’m going to aim for a depth of about 2cm… What do you think- do I need to double, triple, quadruple or more) your recipe?

    Best,

    Anne

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Hi Anne, I have found an A3 sized Gelli plate. They’re not cheap but I’m finding the effect between the commercial and home made plates different. I like both, but for the work I’m doing at the moment I’m preferring the commercial plate. I’ve also though about making a plate the size of my work desk. I am wanting to create some wall hanging gel prints and debating between trying to print them from one plate or printing several smaller plates in the space.

      As for the recipe – it makes enough to fill a standard biscuit tray, approx 10mm thick. To go A3 you would need 1.5x – 2x the amount. To go A1, probably 4x, maybe 6x if you want to increase the thickness. I’ve been thinking about how to go about it. The home made mix, once mixed, is very sticky and does start to set quite quickly once poured into the tray or pan. I would recommend have 1 or 2 people to help – each mixing the batch as per the recipe, then working together to pour into the tray. Have a go at making it as per the recipe first, then you’ll get a better feel for it.

      If you do make a big one, I’d love to see the end result! Of both the plate and prints!!!! Go forth and print !! 🙂

  • veronica aldous
    Reply

    My gelatine would not dissolve without microwave intervention. It’s not the one in your recipe as I am in the UK. I used plain beef gelatin ( pooh gosh!) I found it easier to skim froth with newspaper and then push the bubbles to the side with a sharp knife and pop them. I hope it will be ok! I will let you know! I am quite excited.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Frustrating for you that you had to dissolve the gelatin in the microwave. When you get the chance, try a different brand and see if that’s easier to work with. I like the idea of popping the bubbles. I have thought about leaving them on the plate … I think they’d make some interesting marks in the gelatin print. I’d love to see some of you finished prints!

  • Mandy
    Reply

    Hi Kim, thank you for your recipe! I’m in Katherine NT where it is usually 38 degrees (32 in the dry!) and just wondering if you have noticed whether hot weather affects the plates, will they melt ? I’m still prepared to give them ago but may not always have a fridge handy!

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Hi Mandy, yes, hot weather will affect it – but if you can store it in a cool dry place (like a cupboard) it may be ok. I’d make one and see how you go with it. I had some of mine stored in an outside cupboard that gets full sun in the morning. I had used them in the afternoon and they seemed ok – it wasn’t until I wanted one in the morning that I could see how much the heat was affecting the plate. It was as if the outer layer was melting a bit. Bit it was probably 10-15+ hotter int he cupboard than outside when the sun was on it. I’d love to hear how you go with it in the heat if you do make one.

  • Schöller Petra
    Reply

    dear kim – what can I do if my diy-plate is tooooo soft? melt it again and put in more gelatine ?
    petra

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Hi Schöller, my first thought is to melt it down and re-pour it without adding more gelatin. I’ve found that water evaporates with each melt, so it gets a little stiffer. I guess it depends on how soft it is. If you think its too soft and flimsy, maybe melt half and mix with a fresh batch mix, but only use half of the ingredients for the new batch, with some added gelatin. Does that make sense? Good luck. I’d love to hear how you go with it.

  • Linda MacAulay
    Reply

    Thanks so much for sharing this Kim. Worked well and I have made 3 plates using this recipe. I love that it is Australian. and appreciate all the time you have put into this very generous post.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thanks Linda! Thrilled it worked for you!! Viva la gelatin plate printing!

  • Anne
    Reply

    Hi Kim,
    I was wondering if you managed to do magazines transfers with the homemade gelli plate ?
    Thank you

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Hi Anne, I have to admit that I haven’t tried that. I have worked with magazine tranfers on the commercial gelli plates but not the homemade. I imagine it will still work – but with less or more of a ‘reaction’. Give it a go! And I’d love to hear how you go. It may be an idea to try pages from different magazines – they will be commercially printed at different places and there may be a difference in the inks they use and their reaction with the gelatin plate.

  • K Parkin
    Reply

    Hi my geli plate from last year has gone mouldy. Is there any problem in adding essential oils eg tea tree to try to stop mould growth? Will it still set ok? Would that work? Has anyone else had this problem???

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Hi K, I haven’t had a mould problem, but have had a problem with it melting when left in a hot cupboard. If it were me I’d probably cut or scrape the mould off, then melt the gel plate down and re-mould. How do you store your plate? I keep mine between 2x sheets of acetate. I live in a warm wet climate so mould is a real problem here, but I haven’t had a problem with the plates.

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Maleny RSL HallPrintmaking and Teaching - my 2 passions