Gelatin Plate Printmaking Recipe
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.
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
- 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
- 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…
- 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).
- Place 1/2 cup cold water in a bowl.
- 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.
- Using the spatula, stir to mix thoroughly, but mix slowly. This is important so as to not add bubbles into the mixture.
- Once thoroughly mixed, sprinkle all the gelatin powder into the water/glycerin mix.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Slowly stir to thoroughly blend all ingredients. It is still important to maintain the slow stirring so you don’t introduce additional bubbles.
- Once all of the ingredients have been blended, pour the mixed liquid into the tray – slowly and carefully to avoid spilling.
- You will see some bubbles on the surface of your poured mixture. There may be a few, or there may be many.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Once set, remove the gelatin plate from the tray and it is ready to use!
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gelatin plate printmaking tips
Watch this space – I’ll be adding tips and ‘how to …’ articles over time.