Friday, February 15, 2013

Gelatin printing vs. the Gelli plate

I love gelatin printing.
The first time I did it was back in April 2011.  I made my own plate with unflavored gelatin and printed papers for days on end.

I had another epic session last fall, covering every surface in my studio with beautiful papers.

But it's kind of a pain to make gelatin.
It's not that it's hard, it's that it takes planning and I'm not much of a planner.

So I sucked it up, dropped the cash and bought a Gelli plate.
I quickly found that even though it's pretty great, I don't like it as much as an actual gelatin plate.
The biggest disadvantages are that it's too firm, and the paint dries too quickly.

With real gelatin, the plate is somewhat moist so the paint stays wet a little longer, giving you more time to work, and more prints per single paint application.  I also didn't realize how important the wiggly-ness of the gelatin is to me.  It has more give, so the objects I lay on the plate get sort of embedded in the paint, which makes for a much more detailed print.

Check this out.  This is a piece of cheesecloth laid on top of black paint, on top of the gelatin.  I first rubbed paper on top to remove most of the black paint from around the cheesecloth, then I pulled off the cheesecloth and took another print:
This just blows me away.  It's almost like a photograph.
I did some side by side testing with the gelatin and the Gelli plate and I couldn't get this level of detail on the Gelli plate.

The gelatin gives crisp detailed images of delicate objects like plants, flowers, feathers, etc.
Of course it being winter right now, I didn't have much plant life to choose from, but here's a print of some pine needles.

Now, I'm not knocking the Gelli plate.
It's pretty awesome to be able to pull it off the shelf any time the print-making mood strikes.
And I certainly got some wonderful papers from it.
(stacks, and stacks, and stacks....)

I'm not sorry I bought it, and I know I will continue to use it for background and collage papers, but I will continue to use real gelatin when I want the print to be the focal image.

Here's my summary of both types of plates:

--> -->
gelatin advantages:

·      cold/moist – paint doesn’t dry as fast, can get more prints

·      more flexible/wiggly

·      gives more detailed ghost prints

·      paint rolls more smoothly

·      easier to wipe clean

·      inexpensive – my grocery store sells boxes of unflavored gelatin for $1.79.  I used three boxes to make my 8x 10 plate and it was weeks of fun for under six bucks

·      since you are pouring a liquid into a container of your choice, you can make virtually any size or shape plate

gelatin disadvantages:

·      planning ahead – you need to buy the gelatin, mix it with the boiling water, and let it sit for several hours to get firm

·      It has to be refrigerated after use, so it hogs a fair amount of refrigerator space

·      after a while it starts to break down/crack/pit, but I probably made over 100 papers off a single block before it really became a problem

Gelli plate advantages:

·      it’s always ready, there’s no prep time, I can print on a whim, I don’t feel compelled to print a million sheets in one sitting since I know it will always be there when I need it

·      the residual paint that doesn’t lift off can make very interesting layers on subsequent prints. 

Gelli plate disadvantages:

·      it’s too firm

·      paint dries too fast

·      it has a weird smell (am I the only one who thinks this?)

·      the cost of plate (the bigger the plate the more expensive)

limited size (they come in a few different sizes, but you can’t customize the size to your project
My recommendation?
If you've been dying to try this technique but find the Gelli plate too expensive, go make your own gelatin.  If you absolutely love it and become addicted the way so many of us have, you might want to start saving your pennies for Gelli plate. 

Want more info on how to make and use gelatin plates?  Linda Germain has a wonderful website called printmaking without a press, and she's got a lot of excellent information as well as her wonderful art.  Her video on making a gelatin plate is here.  (or the written instructions here)
I leave you with collage number 44/365, made entirely from pieces of various gelatin/gelli prints:


  1. This is really interesting reading - I am the only person in my circle of friends who has not yet brought a gelli plate, as I figure I can make my own when the mood strikes (not that I do very often :) as you say it's a faff, I've only done it twice over 4 years)

  2. Perfect timing. The Gelli Plate has been on my mind lately, and I've been wondering if it really *is* all that and a bag of chips like everyone seems to be saying (I'm skeptical of all "must have" art tools over $5, ha). Thanks for the overview of both options - maybe I can overcome my laziness/impatience long enough to make my own gelatin plate :D

  3. Wow. This is so cool. Where have I been that I haven't tried this? Going to buy gelatin this weekend...

  4. Well, thank you for that most helpful post. I have a gelli plate but I must try the real deal now to see the differences. As for the smell, I didn't notice. Did you stick your face in it? LOL!

  5. Oooooooh that purple circly swivel one is my favorite!

  6. very cool Karen -thanks for the information and the tutorial
    I refuse to buy a Gelli plate - I have been able to use blank EZ cuts to do these mono-prints with.

  7. Really helpful comparison, Karen. Thank you!

  8. Wow, what great info, thanks so much! I've been very curious about the Gelli plate thing. So, are you saying that cheesecloth we're seeing is not the actual cheesecloth but a print of it? If so that's amazing!!

  9. Karen--thank you so much--you always have the best posts with the best info, tutorials and eye-candy!

  10. Awesome. Such patience!

  11. Hehe, Your studio looks exactly like mine when I tried it out :) I ran out of floor before I ran out of paper and paint!

  12. Interesting and comprehensive review. What a mass of gorgeous papers and fantastic prints. As always your output leaves me breathless.
    Had a great surprise - an unexpected and cheering card from you, love it and the way you used that paper. Thank you so much. XXX

  13. Karen, this is fantastic! I don't know if I will ever try it but it is nice to know more about Gelatin/Gelli Plate!

    Very nice blog BTW...


  14. One of my friends and I were just discussing this exact thing! Thanks for trying it out and documenting so well. I always learn so much from you!

  15. wow what a great comparison. Can I share a link to this post on the flickr and facebook gelatin pages? Thanks for the link to my tips page

    1. Thanks Linda, I'd be honored if you shared it. I've been admiring your work from afar and learning from your videos. I'm also in MA and hoping to get to one of your workshops.

  16. Oh my gosh! I can't believe the timing of this post... Seriously.

    I have been wanting to make a gelatin plate ever since your tutorial & very cool zine, but I still haven't done it. I was considering possibly just buying a gelli plate instead, so I just did a google search to compare buying vs. making, and your post was one of the first links that came up!!!

    I thought, "Wow! This is a sign! Karen will know what to do!"

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    Thanks to your (VERY) well timed post, I will (finally) suck it up and make my own!

    You are awesome :)


  17. Thank you so, so much for this post Karen. Extremely informative and very interesting. It's one for the bookmarks for sure!! xx

  18. That collage looks amazing! What a thorough and complete discussion of gelatin printing, Karen. I am seeing this being done everywhere, but haven't really paid much attention to descriptions of the process. Thank you for an engaging post on the subject!

  19. Super fun... I LOVE IT ALL!! :]
    These look great, thanks for sharing.
    Amazing what you can do with a little gelatin. ~xx

  20. thanks for posting this. I feel the same way!

  21. This is on my to-do list. I have decided to make it one of my artist dates! I can't believe the level of detail you got. That is incredible! The cheesecloth blew me away.

  22. Very interesting comparison. Thanks for sharing. I notice that some artists first mist their Gelli Plate with water before applying the paint in order to prevent the paint from drying too quickly. I have not done this as I have not found a problem. I use the Liquitex soft body paint. I wonder if the paint makes a difference?

  23. Very interesting info. Thank you very much for taking the time to compare. This coolmakes me want to try.

  24. I stumbled on your blog post while doing an internet search on the Gelli vs gelatin. I've used gelatin before (more on that later) and don't have the money for a Gelli. Recently, I've been using a sheet of plexiglass as my plate, but found many of the same disadvantages as you did with the Gelli.

    Like you, I've made tons of gelatin prints and was overwhelmed by the detail I got. However, when mine broke down and split, I just recooked the gelatin and reused it. It stayed nice and fresh for about six or seven weeks. After that, I got bored and decided I had enough prints. That was three years ago, before the Gelli was even heard of.

    After reading your review, I think I'll save my money and stick with gelatin. Thanks for this review.

  25. I came so close to buying a Gelli Plate instead of making one. I think I will after reading this again. It's one of my favorite posts to revisit.

  26. I came by your blog because I wasnt trying to do some net recon on how to make a gelatine plate last longer and I was thinking of adding Kemaben to the water solution. If you dont mind answering, how long does your average gelatine plate last - and have you ever tried to put in a preservative, also if you discount the water, do you get a firmer plate. How squishy and firm is the DIY gelatine plate with jello being 1 and Gummy bears being a 10. I am so curious about this - I think I might try get some gelatine tomorrow to try!

    1. I've never tried adding a preservative. My plate lasted well over a week in the fridge and through 100+ hundred prints before it started to crack. (and the cracks add some interest to the prints, so you could keep going with it for a while.) A lot of people have success melting down the gelatin block and re-pouring it into the mold and letting it firm up again. I've never tried it. Typically by the time mine starts to fall apart I've got more prints than I know what to do with and I want the space back in my refrigerator! The recipe I use calls for far less water than preparing normal gelatin, so on your scale it might be a 7. The link at the end of my post is the one I use to make my block and I'm happy with the results. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  27. I really, really appreciate you taking the time to test this out, and let everyone know. I've been so curious as to why gelatin printing is so huge right now, and I can see why by the results you're getting. Just can't bring myself to plunk down the money for something I could make at home.

  28. Recently went to an art retreat and they had a workshop on gelli plate printing. I've not bought one yet; we'd had issues with paint beading up and sometimes drying too fast. Thank you for the review, it was very helpful.

  29. Thank you so much for this. Several years ago I read about gelatin plates, made one, and was amazed at the detail possible. I was just trying it out to see what it was like and didn't have anything particular in mind but made dozens of prints. I've not done it again just because of the planning aspect.

    Then about a year ago I bought a 6x6 Gelli plate from the company that makes them. It smelled so bad I returned it and I am NOT a person who is sensitive to most smells. Plus the prints smelled disgusting. I ended up getting another one that was included in the price of a short workshop (yes I'm stubborn) and it never smelled unpleasant and only has a slight lemony smell now. I've tried a lot of different paints and found that the cheap Americana acrylic paints by DecoArt work best as they stay wet longest. I completely agree with your pros and cons.

    My summary would be that a gelatin plate and a Gelli plate are like apples and oranges -- two different tools that give different results with a gelatin plate having the capability of making more unique prints.

  30. I've been wondering about gelli plates recently, so thank you for this. I think that I will have a go at making may own to see how I like it before shelling out.

  31. Thanks for sharing this with everyone, a very useful comparison. I have been considering getting a gelli plate but will now try a gelatin plate first to see if it is what I am looking for before the expense of a gelli.

  32. Boy I'm glad I read this instead of shucking out the bucks for the Gelli plate. I am someone who is sensative to some odors, especially when it comes to plastics. I tried the gelatin plate and love it though wasn't happy about the space hogging issue in my fridge. I was wondering if there was maybe another way to make in some pourable mold making stuff. Something that wouldn't smell and might be softer like real gelatin. I live near a plastics company...I should go as them.

    Oh and I did see that one crafter was using rubber mats she had purchased for making rubber stamps out of with some success. Just a thought.

    1. I just found this link for making your own permanent plate that doesn't need refrigeration. I haven't tried it yet

      Permanent gelatin plate

  33. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I've been looking at the gelli plates but I quickly turn away when I see the price! I think I just may have to get some gelatin and make one for myself. One question I don't know if you can answer - is it okay if it freezes?

    1. I haven't tried freezing it, but I suspect it wouldn't survive. Since I've written this post I've learned two things: when the homemade plate starts falling apart you can can chop it up and melt it in the microwave and re-pour it into a new plate (tried it first hand and it worked!). I've also heard of people making their own more permanent plate using glycerin along with the gelatin. (the advantage being the durability and not needing to refrigerate it) I haven't tried this yet, but there are recipes and videos out there.

  34. Hello! I have a question: What do you think about using a common silicon carpet like the used for cake design? I was thinking about it, maybe it is possible to obtain good results! I don't have tried yet this...

  35. Have you tried palette wetting solution? It's a spray that I've seen at art stores. I've been thinking of spraying my gelli plate with it to see if it helps with the paint drying issue.

  36. Great resource; both the original post and many of the comments. Thanks!

    i don't know if blogspot lets you add tags (labels?) after the fact, but if you tagged this with "gelatin prints" it would show up with your other pages when we do tag searches (e.g. )

  37. I am a children's illustrator and looking to add another dimension to my work. I was attracted to mixed media and printing and hence the search and find here.

    I don't mind paying for good equipment as I believe the investment is usually well worth it. But it was good to read you found the gelatine gave more definition. I will definitely try this first.

    I think I will share my results too. It is good to see what others come up with when experimenting. I hope I don't make too much of a mess and end up with lots of happy

  38. I recently made a gelatin plate using half glycerin and half water mixed with the gelatin product. It is holding up well and I don't refrigerate it. Saw the recipe online somewhere and the poster said hers was going strong after a year. You can buy glycerin in the pharmacy section of Walmart or at Amazon (much cheaper). Total cost is about half of a gelli plate and you can make it any size you can find a container. I made two different sizes.

  39. I, too, made my own gelatin plate with glycerin and water. The glycerin, purchased special order from the mom n' pop pharmacy, was very expensive. But the finished product can be any size or shape depending on what pan I use, and if I damage it or it breaks down, I melt it for 1-2 minutes in the microwave and chill to set. I've stored it at room temperature for weeks with no problem. Lots and lots of fun!!!!!