Gelatin Plate Photo Transfer Prints
From family photos to fashion magazine images, you can create monoprints with just a few tools and a very simple gelatin plate technique. Gelatin printing is a type of monoprint, which means that each print is unique and cannot be duplicated, giving you one-of-a-kind prints. This technique can be used in many projects, from straight print making to journal pages and greeting cards.
Tools and paper:
- Gelatin printing plate
- Rubber brayer
- Acrylic paints. Either high flow craft paints or medium body tube acrylics (Monoprint ink can also be used if it is available but may behave differently and is not covered in this tutorial)
- Magazine pictures or other glossy brochure type paper with high contrast images
- Plain copy paper or cardstock for printing on
- Scrap paper for brayer rolloff
- Wet wipes for cleanup
Photo transfer with gelatin plates can be achieved in a couple of ways, but this technique has the highest success rate. If you are familiar with gelatin printmaking you may have heard of “ghost prints” which is essentially what we will be doing, but instead of it being a side effect of the process, it’s the desired result. Keep in mind that this technique is best suited for high contrast images with a medium level of detail. The printing method and ink used for magazines makes them a great source for images to transfer, however glossy brochure paper printed on an inkjet printer or laser printer will also work. (do not use photo paper)
Inking the plate
Squeeze a small amount of your chosen color of paint directly to the gel plate. I’ve found that a good amount for most images is a little more than the size of your thumbnail for a 5×7 inch plate. Roll the brayer through it to coat the plate evenly. It should be not so thick that you can scrape it off easily, yet not so thin that you can see through it completely.
If you have applied too much paint, just roll the brayer on your scrap paper to remove the paint from it, and then roll it on the plate again to pick up the excess, repeating until you have a nice thin layer of paint on the plate.
Dark paints will work the best for light papers, and vice versa. The key is using the right amount of paint. Too much and you’ll get a gloppy result and probably a non-useable image. Too little and your page will stick and not leave anything behind on the plate.
Now that the paint has been applied, it’s time to make the print!
Placing your image
Using the image of your choice, lay the page down gently on the gelatin plate in one smooth motion. I like to start from the bottom and smooth it down with my hand, so no air gets trapped.
You can use more than one image for a collage type effect, you can use images smaller than your plate or larger, it is all up to you. (If your image does not cover the plate completely then the exposed areas of the plate will still have the full amount of paint on them which will be picked up in the final print. You can remove this if you want, before taking the magazine images off the plate, by using a piece of scrap paper.)
Slowly rub the back of the paper with your hand, using gentle and even pressure, making sure that you get all the corners and edges. Remove the paper slowly, holding the plate down if necessary, using a lifting rather than a peeling motion. You should be left with a transferred image in paint on the plate. Some images may not transfer at all, so you’ll need to try a few different images to find one that works. This is due to the different types of printing inks used for magazines. I’ve noticed that Elle magazine uses an ink that does not always transfer well, however the thicker pages such as perfume inserts work perfectly.
Completing the transfer
To transfer the image from the gelatin plate to your blank paper, place your blank paper on the gelatin plate and rub the back very gently to ensure good contact. You can peel back just a corner to check for transfer. If the image is not transferring, press it back down and leave it for a few seconds while gently rubbing the back.
That’s it! You’ve made a photo transfer image monoprint. Admire your work!
Make sure to set it somewhere safe, away from all the messy paints in your workspace. You may want to weigh the edges down to also help prevent the paper from curling.
Notes on paints and paper
Golden Open acrylics are a great paint for this type of printmaking because it has been formulated to dry quite slowly, giving you more time to work with it. They also sell an additive retarder that I have successfully used with regular medium body acrylics to slow the drying time. Depending on the climate where you are it may help keep the paints wet while you get paper ready.
Choosing what kind of paper to put your print on is a big part of the fun here. You can print on plain white paper, colored papers, watercolor paper, your journal pages, just about anything. A great option is using vellum or tracing paper, as you can then overlay it on other surfaces for an interesting transparent look.
Here are a few images that I’ve done on various types of paper
Plain copy paper
Hot pink copy paper
Copy paper using a two-layer paint method
Will you test out this craft? Leave a comment below!