How to Make Distress Gel Medium at Home

How to Make Distress Gel Medium at Home main article image
Posted on June 8, 2021 by Julie Richards

What is a Gel Medium?

Gel mediums perform three main tasks when used in a craft project; change paint viscosity, act as a binding agent, and create texture. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what gel mediums can do in the craft room. When you make distress gel medium at home, not only do you save money, but you also add another use for gel mediums.

Gel mediums come in a wide variety of thicknesses and are offered by a vast number of manufacturers. The expense of supplying your stash with all of them can be exhausting. This simple recipe allows you to create just the right blend for your projects, whether it be collage work, mixed media canvases, or image transfers.

Distress gel medium is used to add a vintage look to papers, photographs, and other art pieces. This recipe gives you the choice of how dark you want the gel medium, what color you want it to be, and how thick you want the distress gel medium.

Types of gel medium

Certain gel mediums, such as Mod Podge, are used for collage work or image transfer. These are more of a glue than an actual gel medium. There are artists who do use these gel mediums in their craft projects.

Light gel mediums are good to use as a sealant on a finished piece of art. They also do a great job of thinning down a thick paint. Often a thin gel medium is combined with a watercolor paint to create a glaze for projects. I refer to this kind of gel medium as a carrier because it carries the color where you want it on the canvas. This is not to be confused with a pouring medium for acrylic pours.

Soft gel medium is used to thicken a light viscosity paint. It gives more depth to the art project by adding a thicker layer of color. Applied directly from the jar, this gel medium adds a transparent coating as though there is a layer of acrylic or water over the project.

Heavy gel medium is often used to create texture to a mixed media piece. Often used through a stencil, the heavy gel medium leaves a raised effect on the canvas. This creates added interest in the background of a piece. This gel medium also acts as a binding agent to keep certain light-weight items in place, such as seed beads, feathers, and other small items.

Distress gel medium can be any of the above mediums. The difference is that Distress gel medium is tinted with a colorant to add a vintage look to your art projects. This is the medium we are making today.

Supply List

The recipe calls for ingredients commonly found in the craft room and the kitchen pantry.

  • 5 Tbsp Corn starch (often referred to as corn flour in various countries)
  • 3 Tbsp Glycerin
  • 3 cups Distilled Water
  • ½ cup PVA glue
  • Watercolor paint or instant coffee crystals


Basically, you need a thickening agent, a binding agent, a colorant, and something to keep it pliable. This recipe creates a gel medium with a matte finish. I like the matte finish because I find that some gel mediums that dry with a glossy finish may become sticky when the environment is humid.

Distress Gel Medium

The corn starch, when mixed with water and heated, is the thickening agent. The thickness of your distress gel medium is determined by the ratio of water to corn starch. I prefer to make a large batch of heavy gel medium and divide the gel into several containers. This way I can make light, thick and heavy gel medium simply by the amount of water I add to the containers.

The glycerin keeps the gel medium slightly soft when it is cured. There are two differences between a gel medium that contains glycerin and one that doesn’t. The first is if you coat a piece of paper with the gel medium that does not contain glycerin, the paper may break when it is folded. The other difference is any paint you add to the gel medium without glycerin could crack or chip through the years.

I use distilled water when I make distress gel medium because it reduces the risk of contaminates in the mixture. If you do not have distilled water, simply boil tap water, and allow it to sit uncovered overnight.

As for the colorant, I prefer instant coffee crystals or a watercolor paint. I find that neither of these two additives reduce the viscosity of the distress gel medium. Both are transparent when they dry, and both allow me to tint the distress gel medium to the color I desire.


I prefer PVA glue that dries clear and not cloudy. This is the binding agent I use. It allows me to collage with my distress gel medium when I make some of my projects. A regular white glue or Elmer’s glue-all that dries clear can also be used. A regular school glue may produce a cloudy finish and might not bond as well as the PVA glue.

The Process

You will need a disposable microwave-safe bowl, a spatula, and at least three airtight containers. I prefer to recycle jars for the purpose of making my distress gel medium.

  1. Add 5 Tbsp. of corn starch to the bowl.
  2. Add 3 cups distilled water and mix well with the corn starch.
  3. Add ½ cup PVA glue to the mixture.
  4. Add 3 Tbsp. glycerin to the mixture.
  5. Stir until well blended.
  6. Heat for 90 seconds in the microwave and stir to keep the mixture smooth.
  7. Heat for an additional 90 seconds and stir again.
  8. Repeat the heating and stirring process until the mixture is smooth and very thick.
  9. Divide the mixture into three jars.
  10. Cool the mixture completely.
  11. Add coffee crystals or watercolor paint to one jar until the desired color is reached.
  12. Store your distress gel medium in the covered jars until ready for use.


(NOTE: You can add mica powders for additional colors and shimmer.)

I hope you enjoyed learning how to make distress gel medium at home. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you!

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