Gelli Printing: Is it really all it’s cracked up to be?

As an obsessive Pinterest user I am no stranger to the phenomena known as “gelli printing” – a way of making a monoprint. The Gelli Arts company not only figured out how to make a permanent slab of gelatin and the monoprint process more accessible to the average Jane or Joe, they also brilliantly marketed their nifty product and created quite an obsession.

A typical gelli print looks something like this:


And, it’s made like this:

Art journal enthusiasts, scrap bookers, printmakers, and a variety of other types of artists are singing the song of the gelli plate and you can explore a thousand (plus) techniques on blogs and youtube in addition to the well made and very helpful videos made by Gelli Arts (like the one embedded above).

Of course, without knowing if this was something I’d find helpful in my own art practice I was very drawn to the tutorials available that demonstrate how to make a permanent plate of your own for a tiny fraction of the cost of the real thing.

I choose to follow blogger Kyra Sander’s instructions to make my own plate but I did not end up using the same proportions as she did because I was using less glycerin to start out with (our Wal-Mart only had 2 bottles). I mixed two 6 oz bottle of glycerin with 2 boxes of gelatin (8 packets) as instructed. I mixed 1.5 boiling cups of water with the gelatin/glycerin mixture and poured it into a cookie sheet (it was 3 total cups of goop). Advice: Mix in something you can throw away!


The glycerin was $3.5 a bottle, the boxes of gelatin were $2.25 each, and the 9×13 inch cookie sheet was $1 – all were purchased at Wal-Mart – for a total of $12.50 for a 9×13 inch gelli plate. It is “permanent” too – no mold or anything and it has been several weeks now. (I’ll explain the quotes around the word permanent later on.)

I can see why people are a bit intense when it comes to this process – you have to move quick and so it keeps you out of your head and in a more open mindset. There is just not enough time to be too judgemental and, if you can’t live with a certain pull there is a good chance you will like the second pull, called a ghost print, or can use the bad print to pick up another print (and so on until you find something you actually like). It is a pretty forgiving medium, in my opinion.

But is it for me? After earning one half of my BFA degree in printmaking back in the day (oh wow, was it really over a decade ago?!) I clearly saw the potential to create some interesting layering but the idea that the final print would essentially be in acrylic – a media I generally avoid – caused a little initial hesitancy. You need quite a lot of paint so gouache really doesn’t seem cost effective as an alternative. With the invention of watercolor ground I suppose the plasticity shouldn’t really bother me (even though it does).

I’ve only played with this for one session (using card stock) and I envision more to come but some of what I’ve noticed thus far is that the effects are dynamic and the layering can be easily manipulated. When using plants as stencils I liked that the textures are visually similar to fossils. This aligns with other imagery in my work so I think I’m going to keep exploring. This means I can expand the basic ideas a lot further by making my own stencils and finding appropriate vegetation and still adhere to my own personal aesthetic.

I will say – I allowed my plate to dry out too much in-between pulls and when I wiped it off with baby wipes I probably rubbed a little too hard. This create a soft puckering on the surface (think of pruny fingers after soaking too long in a tub). I have seen that you can just cut the diy plate into cubes (thus why it’s not necessarily permanent) and nuke it to recast it so that is the plan (though I also don’t think that it is a big problem for me personally either and I will probably wait until this seems truly necessary).

I will say, I would consider buying a real plate if I could afford it just to compare how well these feux-gelli’s stack up to the original product. But – I don’t see that happening any time in the immediate future (teacher salary) so until then, I’ll do the best I can with what I have.

So, is it all it’s cracked up to be? I’m going to say yes for one major reason – it gets amateur creatives and artists into printmaking in a way that is not only easy but fun and provides a process that opens doors to further creativity. I like this as a teacher and feel that it’s a really positive factor. I also think that there’s definite potential to create some really interesting imagery. There are so many resources to provide inspiration I feel that anyone can come up with ways to push their understanding of the media even without a butt-load of student load debt.

So, if you have $13 buck and a few free hours I’d definitely recommend making your own DIY gelli-plate just to see what you think.






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