Gelatin printing is a form of monoprinting in which a gelatin slab is used as a printing `plate’ in conjunction with standard water soluble printing inks to create images. Very little pressure is required to make monoprints using this technique. No press is required.
The process is extremely simple, versatile and addictive. It is equally well suited for professional or novice printmakers, craft enthusiasts, professional artists, and children. The basic materials are inexpensive, non-toxic, and clean up with water.
- unflavored gelatin (Knox brand, etc.)
- mold to form the gelatin slab (plastic container, etc.)
- butcher’s paper or aluminum foil – for covering the work space
- palate for printing ink – optional: butcher’s paper and aluminum foil can be used instead.
- removeable tape (masking, cellophane, etc.)
- water-soluble printing ink (Speedball brand, etc.). Oil-based inks are not advised.**
- paper- experiment with a variety of papers
- textured objects: leaves, jewelry, found objects, paintbrushes, anything with a raised surface-even paper towels have decorative possibilities. Plastic wrap, twine…the possibilities are endless.
**With practice, printing with fabric dyes on silk produce beautiful results. See samples under gelatin mono printing page
Gelatin plates are best made by using Tupperware style containers for molds. Lining the bottom of containers with plastic wrap will make the plate easier to remove. If large plates are required, a mold can be fabricated by using modeling clay to build a dam on a sheet of glass which the liquid gelatin can be poured. The glass must be level before pouring the gelatin. Be very cautious as you pour and do not move the mold for several hours; until the gelatin is firm.
- 2 Tbsp powdered gelatin (if using Knox brand Gelatine, 1 packet = 1 Tbsp.)
- 1 cp. cold water
The gelatin plate is easiest to manipulate at a thickness of 1/2″ to 3/4″. Determine how many cups of water are necessary to fill your mold to that depth and then how much powdered gelatin you’ll need.
Easy first try method: Follow the directions for “knox blox” on the back of the unflavored gelatin box, using 1/2 the amount of liquid called for. (all water, no juice!) Start with cold water. follow prep instructions. Allow the liquid gelatin to solidify by leaving it undisturbed in a cool place (refrigerate if possible) for several hours, until it is quite firm to the touch.
This recipe can be doubled and doubled again, for as much as you’ll need.
Remove the cured gelatin from the mold before trying to print. Dip a knife in warm water and run it carefully along the inside of the mold then invert and shake or flex the mold lightly. Place the gelatin on your prepared work surface. If you fabricated a mold, remove the modeling clay.
Squeeze some printing ink onto your palette or butcher’s paper and brayer it evenly until you have a thin coating on the brayer. Brayer the ink onto the gelatin plate gently and evenly. Place a textured object on top of the inked plate. Gently press the object down to be sure it has made good contact with the gelatin but try not to tear, gouge, or damage the plate.
Leave the object in place on the plate and lay a piece of paper on top of it pressing gently to ensure that the paper makes good contact with the exposed gelatin plate. Peel the paper off. The resulting print is called a negative image.
Continue by gently lifting the textured object off the gelatin. Try not to move it across the gelatin. Lay a second piece of paper on the gelatin plate and rub gently and evenly to ensure good contact between the paper and the gelatin. Slowly peel the paper off. This print is called a positive image.
There is still a fine layer of ink on the surface of the gelatin once you have printed a positive image. Place a piece of paper on the gelatin plate and gently press. This image is called a ghost and may be preferred over the original positive image.
Tape the print to a wall to dry. Standard water-based printing inks generally dry very fast, typically less than 5 mintues.
The gelatin plate is quite cold when it comes out of the refrigerator and moisture will condense on it for the first 15 to 20 minutes of use. You may find that your first prints are runnier than your later prints.
As the plate warms, it will become more and more `mushy’ and may start to fall apart. Chilling the plate after 2 or 3 hours of use helps to restore its firmness.
The plate may be stored in the refrigerator and reused for up to 2 weeks or until it falls apart. If left alone it actually hardens into a film like hard plastic.
Experimental Printing Techniques
Once you have a feel for the basic process, consider trying these techniques:
- Collage printing & layered printing
Create a collage either by making multiple prints on a single piece of paper, or by arranging many different individual prints into a single composition. Or, created a layered image by overprinting.
- Negative-on-positive, positive-on-negative
Printing negative images on top of positive images and vice-versa.
- Apply ink to printing object
Apply small amounts of ink, either with the brayer or your fingertips, to an object before pressing it onto the gelatin plate.
- Different papers
Different types of paper will absorb the ink differently and reflect the technique differently.
- Different inks
Experiment with different brands and types of printing ink, paints, dyes, etc. Tempera paint is particularly well suited for young children. Be sure that all colorants are water soluble !
- Use the plate like a rubber stamp
Cut the plate in manageable pieces, ink them, then pick them up and print on surfaces as if you were using a rubber stamp.
- apply ink on the surface with a paintbrush, much like a traditional monoprint
- Plate texture
The gelatin itself develops patterns with use. Experiment with cutting, gouging, and reforming the plate.
- Alternative media
Gelatin printing techniques can be used on fabric, painted surfaces, wood, egg shells, etc.
My history with gelatin monoprinting
I have been making gelatin monoprints since 1999 and learned the method from Peter Madden. My enthusiasm for the medium has never waned. Since then, the method has become more popular with manufactured permanent “Gelli “plates available for purchase. I have not tried the Gelli plates preferring instead the process of pouring, heating and preparing the gelatin.
The homemade gelatin plate has uneven edges that wear and age with each use. Stress cracks appear. The space between serendipity and intention becomes redirected. The prints take on an aged, primitive appearance unobtainable with commercial plates. The pros of the manufactured plates are: no refrigeration is needed, long lifespan, and easy traveling.
I once took my gelatin packets and inks with me on a bareboat charter in BVI. We had a gelatin print afternoon on the deck of a 48ft sailboat, using joss paper and objects found while on the beach. I think I may have considered the Gelli plates if they were available at that time. The 86 degree balmy temps made for a mushy printmaking session and lots of fun.
“Making Monotypes using a gelatin plate” by Nancy Marculewicz is a wonderfully comprehensive book on the subject.
Nancy was a student of Fran Merritt, the printmaker who developed the gelatin plate method of monoprinting. The history of his quest to discover a portable medium to take “on site” for the purpose of making monoprints without a press and various printmaking methods are well documented in this book. I highly recommend it!