How to Make a Gelli Plate at Home
A gelli plate is a slab of firm gelatin that lets you create monoprints, sometimes referred to as hectography. In the craft world today it is referred to as creating gelli prints. There are a wide variety of commercial gelli plates available. The larger ones are sometimes a little pricey. Avoid this expense and make one of your own at home. The cost is nominal and you can make the gelli plate in any size you want with this recipe.
Purpose of a Gelli Plate
Art is all about layers, whether you paint, create mixed media art, make digital journal kits, or greeting cards. Each layer builds upon the last to emerge as a true work of art. A gelli plate produces layered background prints you can use in any of the art mediums in which you work.
As with all art forms, you create the color combinations and patterns used on the gelli plate. You might want two or three colors in your gelli plate print. You may choose several patterns on one print. That is the great thing about having your own gelli plate. You determine what substrate to use and how much. You decide which pattern and in which color that pattern prints.
You will need unflavored gelatin, glycerin, isopropyl alcohol, and cold water. The combination of these four ingredients, when heated, causes the gelatin to transform into an almost silicone type texture. Once the gelatin cools, it is a squishy slab that is good to use for many years. I will later discuss how to refresh the gelli plate for continued use.
1 cup unflavored gelatin powder
3 cups cold water
1 ½ cups glycerin
1 ½ cups 91% isopropyl alcohol (70% works just as well)
I used Knox unflavored gelatin for this recipe. The single serving boxes contain envelop packets that have 1 tablespoon of gelatin powder in each packet. You need 16 packets. However, you can buy unflavored gelatin in an economical canister. I opted for the canister size because I knew that I was making more than one gelli plate.
This recipe results in a 9 inch by 15 inch gelli plate that is a little more than an inch thick. If you prefer a smaller plate, just use half the recipe and pour the mixture into an 8 inch by 8 inch pan.
The Mixing Bowl
Use a glass microwave-safe mixing bowl to blend the the ingredients. The gelatinous mixture will not harm the surface of the glass. The gelatin sticks to the sides of the plastic bowl more than it does the glass bowl. Also, because there is heat applied to the mixture, you don’t want a plastic bowl that may melt during the process.
The pan in which you make your gelli plate is critical to the success of getting great prints off the plate.
A glass or brand new non-stick baking pan is best when making the gelli plate. Any nicks, scratches, dents, or logo markings will show on the surface of your gelli plate.
Once you create the gelli plate mixture, it is poured into the pan. After the gelatin solidifies, and you unmold the plate, the top because the bottom and the bottom surface because the top. It’s like flipping a cake from a pan after baking; the top in the pan becomes the bottom on the cake plate.
It is best to start with a new baking pan that measures 9 inches by 15 inches or smaller. A used pan will have small score lines or scratches from utensils. A new pan has the perfectly flat surface bottom that is needed for successful printing on the gelli plate. Also make sure the pan does not have any type of indentations along the outer edges of the bottom or the logo of the manufacturer embossed into the bottom of the pan. This logo would show on every gelli print you make.
Preparing the gelli plate mixture is very simple and must be done in the order listed for the best results. The order is water, gelatin, glycerin, alcohol, and heat. The gelatin has to be dissolved in the cold water before you add the glycerin. The alcohol works with the glycerin for the desired effect. It’s almost as if there is a chemical reaction between the glycerin and alcohol that causes the gelatin to become almost like a type of silicone.
You need a surface to release the gelli plate on to when it has completely set up. You can use a piece of Plexiglas, firm plastic or glass. I put mine onto a plastic place-mat and cover it with a large, rectangular baking pan. Do not store the gelli plate on a metal pan or sheet of metal. Eventually the metal breaks down and rust forms. This will ruin the gelli plate.
Clean the bowl with a paper towel and a small amount of alcohol to remove any residue, lint, or unwanted material.
Clean the pan in the same manner as the bowl.
Pour 3 cups of water into the bowl
Add 1 cup of powdered unflavored gelatin
Wait a minute or two for the gelatin to “bloom”. You will notice the gelatin reacting to the water in the same way yeast blooms when making dough.
Gently stir the gelatin into the water with a silicon spatula. Do not use a whisk because this will introduce air into the mixture. The result is a film on the mixture when it is heated.
Add 1 ½ cups of glycerin and stir with the spatula.
Add 1 ½ cups 91% alcohol and stir until the mixture is fully incorporated.
Place the bowl containing the mixture into the microwave for approximately 30 to 45 seconds, depending on the wattage of your microwave.
Stir the mixture gently with the silicon spatula. The mixture will be cloudy.
Heat the mixture for another 30 to 45 seconds and stir again.
Repeat the heating and stirring process until the gelatin mixture is completely clear.
Carefully remove the bowl from the microwave.
SLOWLY pour the mixture from the glass bowl into the clean pan.
Set the pan on a flat, level surface where it can sit undisturbed for at least 8 hours.
DO NOT cover the pan as it will cause condensation on the surface of the gelli plate.
Do not move or touch the gelli plate until it is completely set up.
Releasing the Gelli Plate
Put your hand on one side of the gelli plate and gently (very gently) pull the gelli plate away from the pan a little at a time.
Continue all the way around the pan until every side of the gelli plate is released from the sides of the pan.
Gently slide your hand under one corner of the gelli plate and lift up slightly to create an air bubble under the gelli plate.
Repeat step three to all four corners of the gelli plate. (the side facing up is the bottom of the gelli plate. The surface resting on the bottom of the pan is the top of the gelli plate.
Tip the pan onto one side and slowly release the gelli plate from the molding pan and onto a plastic mat or other smooth surface. Your gelli plate is now ready to use.
Using the Gelli Plate
You need a brayer and paint or other medium and your choice of paper, book pages or card stock to pick up the prints from the gelli plate. This is where the fun begins. There are some do’s and don’ts when using a gelli plate. The first is use what ever adds the color you desire on the surface of the gelli plate. This can be acrylic paints, water color paints, alcohol inks, or other liquid inks. Do not use sharp objects like pens, markers or paint brushes.
You can use stencils or pieces of craft foam to create texture, patterns and lines to the surface of the gelli plate. Do not use hard plastic or anything that could damage the surface of the gelli plate. Once a dent, gouge or scratch is on the surface of the gelli plate, it remains there permanently. Even a fingernail can cause a mark on the gelli plate.
The process is simple. Spread the paint onto the surface of the gelli plate with a brayer. Let that layer set up for a minute. Add another color of paint and smooth it on with the brayer where you desire the color.
Cover the gelli plate with a piece of card stock or paper and smooth the paper or card stock down firmly with your hand. Make sure to do this to the entire surface. Slowing remove the paper from the gelli plate. You will see that the paint has transferred onto the paper.
You can add texture and patterns to your prints with a variety of items. Put down a layer of paint and push a section of bubble wrap or other textured items into the surface of the paint. The result is a painted print with a pattern of small circles.
Use a stencil over a layer of paint. Roll another layer of contrasting paint over the stencil. Remove the stencil. Cover the gelli plate with paper, press down firmly and remove the paper to reveal a background that contains a reverse image of the gelli plate surface.
There is no limit to how many layers and effects you can add to the gelli plate. The longer you let the paint sit on the gelli plate before you remove the paper determines how many layers the the paper will pull from the plate.
Clean the Gelli Plate
The best way to clean the gelli plate is with a water bottle and a very soft paper towel or baby wipe. Simply mist the gelli plate with water and wipe it clean. Allow the surface to dry before storing the gelli plate away.
I hope you enjoy making and using your gelli plate. It is addictive once you start. I also hope you will share what prints you have made with the gelli plate you made at home.