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Intro to Gel Printing

We just got in a bunch of new materials for our summer camps, and are so pumped to break them out for our campers! One of the materials I’m most excited about is our class pack of gel plates.  Gel plates are an amazing tool for printing, and especially great for kids because of their simplicity. There are essentially unlimited possibilities when using these squishy printing plates, from playful and messy layered patterns, to clean and graphic magazine transfers. Gel printing is all about using textures around us - leaves, flowers, bubble wrap, stencils, and other found materials - to create amazing pieces of art. 


Gel printing is a fantastic way to introduce children to the art of printmaking, and the freedom of it will really allow them to think outside of the box and use their creativity. For our POP-tastic camp, I made some dessert-shaped stencils for printing, and in our Sew-Cool camp, we’ll be using gel plates to create our own patterned fabrics. You can do projects like this at home or in the classroom with your kids - to get started, check out our beginner’s guide to gel printing here!


Gel Prints - Maker Studio Kidz

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What is a Gel Plate? 

Gel plates are squishy rectangular printing plates that allow you to make prints without needing a press. They produce monoprints, which means that you will only be able to create each print once. 


Gelli-brand gel plate

Materials:

These are the materials you will need to get started with gel printing. Keep in mind that this printing technique is so flexible that you could probably get away with replacing any of these materials, with a little bit of imagination!


  • Gel plate. These come in all shapes and sizes. The most well-known brand is Gelli Arts.

  • Brayer. You will use this roller to spread out your paint. 

  • Paint. Anything works! Most people use acrylic paint, but you can also use oil paint, watercolors, ink, fabric paint, ink pads, and even paint pens.

  • Paper. Again, be creative! You can use any type of paper, including newsprint, old mail, book pages, construction paper, and more! The only thing that won’t work well is a glossy magazine paper. 

  • Textures and patterns. Things you might use to add texture includes: stencils, leaves, flowers, bottle caps, stamps, plastic bags, and even pasta! You can also transfer images from magazine pages. Don’t use anything that can scratch the plate, like toothpicks or knives. 

  • Scrap paper. Keep this beside your plate to roll out the leftover paint on your brayer between prints. 


Gel printing materials

Getting Started:

Let’s get started with gel printing! For visuals, check out this useful video for beginners.


Step 1: Add a small amount of paint to your plate. You don’t need very much, just an amount the size of a dime, depending on the plate size. 


Adding paint to gel plate

Step 2: Roll out the paint with your brayer. A good trick is to lift up your brayer each time you pass over the plate. This will make sure that you are spreading out the paint. Roll out the paint until it thinly covers your plate. You can tell if you have the right amount of paint if it’s making a brisk sticking noise when you roll your brayer. 


Roll out paint on gel plate


Step 3: Add a texture! Throw something on there that covers part of the paint! Follow your heart, you really can’t go wrong.


Add leaves to gel plate for texture


Step 4: Make your print! Lay your paper over the plate and press down. Rub all over with your hands, or roll over the back of the paper with a clean brayer. Pull up the paper to reveal your print.


Gel print with leaves

Step 5: Make a ghost print. There’s probably some ink still remaining on the plate. No need to clean it, just throw down another piece of paper to pick it up. It’s always a great idea to have multiple prints going at once. 


Gel print leaves ghost print

Step 6: Rinse and repeat! Add more layers of texture, and new colors! Go crazy!


Gel prints


Further Steps:

Once your print is dry, turn it into something! My plate is square, which means my finished pieces are great for folding into origami projects. You can also cut them up and collage them, or draw and paint on top of them. Browse the Gelli Art website for more ideas on what to do with your print.


How to Clean Your Gel Plate

There are a few ways to clean your gel plate. First, try to pick up as much paint as you can with a piece of paper. If there is dry paint, a lot of artists use packing or masking tape to pick it up. Hand sanitizer or alcohol wipes will work for hard stains, and soap and water is always a classic. 


It is likely that your plate will get stained at some point. Don’t worry about that; it won’t affect the print.


Video Guides:




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