Technique Tuesdays: Gel-Plate Printing

Gel-plate printing has taken the mixed-media world by storm. Ready-made silicone plates make it incredibly easy to create monoprints with paint, stencils, stamps, and more. A little practice is all it takes to become a pro at printing on gel plates, which can also be made from scratch. Use the following techniques to add unique touches to your prints, and discover how to incorporate prints in your artwork.

1. Gift wrap is one of many things gel-plate prints can be used for, and Elizabeth St. Hilaire shares some cool ideas for creating printed wrapping in her article “Hand-Painted Papers” in the November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. One tip is to use large maps, architectural drawings, and flight altitude charts for substrates. These are inexpensive, readily available, and big enough to wrap large gifts. Since fluid acrylics can be somewhat sheer, portions of the papers are still visible through the prints, adding an extra layer of patterning and detail. Another of Elizabeth’s tips is to create prints using familiar supplies such as ready-made stencils and masks, as well as unexpected items such as leaves, string, and mesh bags. Try experimentating with various combinations and colors.

Using a map as a substrate for gel-plate printing to create gift wrap
Using a large map as a substrate for gel-plate printing produces unique gift wrap. (Art by Elizabeth St. Hilaire, photo by Sharon White Photography)

2. The serendipitous results from gel-plate printing are perfect for those who prefer an intuitive approach to painting, says Annie O’Brien Gonzales. In her book Bold Expressive Painting, she offers easy techniques that result in striking abstract pieces. Among her top tips: Before pulling a second print from a gel plate, sprinkle a little water on the leftover paint to keep it loose and moist. Results of this type of printing, she says, are always a surprise. Also, try positioning your paper on top of the plate in a different way. For example, instead of placing the whole sheet on top, angle it, or cover only a portion of the plate.

Shifting paper positions for gel-plate printing
Changing the position of the paper on the gel plate is a great way to make prints more interesting. (Art by Annie O’Brien Gonzales)

3. Commercial gel printing plates come in a variety of sizes and shapes, offering lots of options for printing on various surfaces. Joan Bess uses a 3″ x 5″ rectangular Gelli Arts Gel Printing Plate to create a patchwork effect on fabric in the article “A Printed and Doodled Pillow” in the Fall 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop magazine. To get this look, brayer fabric paint onto a plate and create patterns with stencils, textured materials like bubble wrap, or by drawing into the paint. Joan recommends attaching the plate to an acrylic stamp block, which makes it easy to work with and position. Press the plate onto tightly woven cotton fabric, such as muslin. Or, try printing on commercially printed fabrics. Give the wrong side of the fabric a try—Joan says the patterns and colors are more muted. Tear or cut the fabric into patches to use for various projects. One more tip: Before printing on the fabric, stabilize it by ironing it to the shiny side of freezer paper. Remove the fabric after it’s printed, and then tear or cut it to size.

Gel-plate printing on fabric for a patchwork effect
Different sizes and shapes of gel plates makes it easy to create the look of patchwork fabric. (Art and photo by Joan Bess)

4. Deli paper is a popular substrate to use for gel-plate printing. Semi-translucent but strong, the printed papers can be used as is, or easily torn or cut for collage. In Art Journal Your Archetypes, author Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli shows a masking technique using deli paper. After applying paint colors to the gel plate, cut out deli paper circles and place them on top of the plate. Press a sheet of paper onto the plate and lift. The white circles appear where the deli paper blocked the paint from getting on the sheet. Fill in the circles on the print with writing, drawing, or stamping. The deli paper circles can be used as embellishments for an art journal page or other artwork.

Using deli paper for gel-plate printing
Use deli paper as a mask on prints, then use the cut paper as an embellishment. (Art by Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli, photo by Christine Polomsky)

5. Creating a handmade journal with pages made rom gel-plate prints is a great way to avoid facing the blank page. In the article “Gelli Jumpstart Journals” in the November/December 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Patti Tolley Parrish says she gave her prints a purpose by binding them into a book. In addition to using printed sheets for the pages, she also prints fabric for the cover. That process starts with a piece of plain 18″ x 16″ fabric, printed using the same gel plate techniques as the paper. She recommends pulling multiple prints to cover most of the fabric. The fabric is then glued to a manila folder, and the pages are sewn to the spine using a pamphlet stitch.

Gel-plate prints used as pages and for the cover of a handmade book
Gel-plate prints can be used as pages inside a handmade book, as well as for the cover. (Art by Patti Tolley Parrish, photo by Sharon White Photography)

6. Gel-plate printing is somewhat addictive, and it’s not uncommon to have an abundance of prints. What to do with them? In the article “A Sweet Life” in the January/February 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Diane Salter shows how she uses prints in stunning, colorful collages. To begin, create a background using several printed papers. Cut or tear them, and audition them on a canvas substrate. Use gel medium to adhere the papers to the canvas. Then, draw simple templates on plain paper for the components of your main image, and cut them out (Diane drew a cup and sauce, a bird, and a pear.). Trace the templates onto some printed papers, and cut them out. Adhere them to the background with gel medium and add details with a black pen, such as shading and borders.

Gel-printed papers used in collage for backgrounds and focal images
Printed papers can be used in collage, for both backgrounds and focal images. (Art by Diane Salter, photo by Sharon White Photography)

7. Paint isn’t the only medium that works for gel-plate printing. “Printing with gel medium, instead of acrylic paint, creates a clear image when the print is dry,” says Joan Bess in her book Gelli Plate Printing. When dry, the gel medium acts as a resist, which is a great technique to use with printed papers like book pages, sheet music, and maps. To start, apply regular gel medium to a gel plate with a brayer, covering the surface evenly. Place a clean stencil on the plate, and rub a sheet of printed paper over it, making sure the gel medium transfers to the paper. Let the paper dry completely. Apply a thin wash of water-based color medium to the paper, wiping off any excess with a damp paper towel. The areas covered with gel medium should resist the color, showing off the pattern.

Using gel medium as a resist in gel-plate printing
Gel-plate printing with gel medium results in a resist pattern on paper. (Art by Joan Bess, photo by Christine Polomsky)

Ready to do some gel-plate printing? Get even more techniques in these great resources from the North Light Shop!

Gelli Plate Printing: Mixed-Media Monoprinting Without a Press, by Joan Bess
Discover pages of fun and easy techniques for gel-plate printing in Gelli Plate Printing: Mixed-Media Monoprinting Without a Press, by Joan Bess.
Collage Characters video with Jodi Ohl
Explore the possibilities of using gel-plate printing with collage in the video Collage Characters with Jodi Ohl.
Gel printing plate techniques in the Fall 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop magazine
Learn how to print on fabric using Gelli Arts Gel Printing Plates in the Fall 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop magazine.
Bold Expressive Painting by Annie O'Brien Gonzales
Learn the intuitive process of gel-plate printing in Bold Expressive Painting by Annie O’Brien Gonzales.

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Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques, Printmaking

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