gelatine printing

Gelatine printing is a form of monoprinting in which a gelatine slab is used as a printing `plate’ in conjunction with standard water soluble printing inks/paints to create images. Very little pressure is required to make monoprints using this technique – no press is required.

Basic materials

  • brayer/paintbrushes
  • slab of glass for ink rolling
  • paper/ aluminum foil /plastic – for covering the work space
  • removable tape (masking, cellophane, etc. not essential but can be handy)
  • water-soluble printing ink , acrylic paint, (Oil-based inks are not advised.)
  • paper
  • something to print e.g. stencils or flat textured objects: plants, feathers, found objects, etc.

To create the gelatine plate
I use 2 tablespoons of unflavored gelatine for each cup of water – food grade Gelatine –  (It can be helpful to dissolve the gelatine with some cold water first then add hot to make up the amount.) The finished slab should have a yellow tinge. If the gelatine is too thick I have noticed that it is harder to release the paint/ink – weather conditions also effect this.) The plate can remain in the container (if your paper size is smaller than the container) but if you want to use the edges you need to turn it out and make a plate that is about 1.5 cm thick.
For a more permanent gelatine plate substitute 1/2 the water for glycerine. (eg. 6 TBS gelatine, 1 1/2 c glycerine and 1 1/2 c water)

Smooth is good as any marks will leave indentations. Try shallow baking tins, Tupperware style containers, trays from op shops etc.  You can make your own shape by building up the edges with non-drying modelling clay/plasticine around the interior edge of a tray or on a plexiglass sheet. The plexiglass will yield gelatine with two flat, workable sides, but the plate must be level and check very carefully for leaks in your clay dams before pouring the hot gelatine. Larger plates may be made using larger containers, in which case lining the bottom with plastic wrap will make the plate easier to remove.

Pour dissolved gelatine into the mould. Sweep out any air bubbles with paper scraps. Allow the liquid gelatine to solidify by leaving it undisturbed in a cool place (refrigerator, if possible), until it is quite firm to the touch.
When ready, dip a knife in warm water and run it carefully along the inside of the mould, then gently get hands underneath hands underneath lift up, keeping hands wide walk your fingers along length to avoid cracking and ease the gelatine out of the mould.

Smooth is good, thin is good. Use a dry paper. Watercolor papers, especially the hot press ones (Arches is good). Rives BFK, some pastel drawing paper, lightweight printmaking paper, Asian papers, brown paper, and tissue paper. Paj and organza silk pick up with delicacy. Computer and velum paper tend to curl up at the edges once they dry.

Standard water-based printing inks generally dry very fast, typically less than 5 minutes. This is good because your prints dry quickly however the ink/paint may dry too quickly on the gelatine block. It can be useful to add mediums: gel medium to acrylic paint, textile medium to textile inks, transparent base and extender to printing inks.

Many techniques used in traditional monotypes are possible using gelatine as the printing surface. Ink can be applied to the gelatine in a positive manner, using brushes and brayers to develop the image. One great advantage of using a gelatine plate is that ink can be transferred fairly evenly with very little pressure and gelatine is an excellent material for transferring details from found materials.

Squeeze some printing ink onto your palate and brayer it evenly until you have a nice thin coating on the brayer. Brayer the ink onto the gelatine plate gently and evenly. (Or paint on with a brush and even out with a brayer directly on the plate) The ink colour should both suit your subject matter and contrast with your paper in order to bring out the most detail.
Place flat textured object/s on top of the inked plate. Gently press down to be sure there is good contact with the gelatine, but try not to tear, gouge, or damage the plate.
Leave the object/s in place on the plate and lay a piece of paper down on top of it. Rub your palm lightly over the back of the paper to transfer the ink. You don’t need much pressure; gently ensure that the paper makes good contact with the exposed gelatine plate. Peel the paper off. The resulting print is called a negative image. Newsprint can be used like a blotter if you are not so keen on the silhouette image results from this step, or have a spare piece of paper where everything excess gets loaded onto – could be useful for wrapping paper.
Continue by gently lifting the textured object/s off the gelatine. You will see some texture imprints which will appear in your monotype.  Lay a fresh dry piece of paper/fabric down on the gelatine plate and run your hand over gently, again to ensure a good contact between the paper and the gelatine. Slowly peel the paper off. This print is called a positive image.
Gelatine has a natural suction to it and ink transfers quickly and easily.  As you continue to work with the gelatine, it starts to give off moisture, which mixes in with the inks, adding fluidity and translucency, resulting in painterly, fluid-looking prints. While the plate can be cleaned and used several times, it will eventually start to break down. After much use, it can crack, crumble, and develop texture, all of which give interesting effects in your prints. These irregularities and surprises can give you the opportunity to think of some of the printmaking session as drawing.

Stencil printing
start with a flat application of color, making layering a part of the image from the beginning. (Use a bit of masking tape to fix your paper down on one end to help with registration) As the image develops and some areas become complete, they can be blocked out with a homemade stencil of cardstock or mylar, and you can continue developing your image on the uncovered areas of the plate. You can cut your own stencil shapes, or even incorporate store-bought stencils into your prints. I like using the boldness of stencils with something more detailed, like fabric mesh.

Printing Tips
The gelatine plate is quite cold when it comes out of the refrigerator and moisture will condense on it for the first 20 or so minutes of use. You may find that your first prints are a little bit runnier than your later prints or you may need to wait until the plate dries up slightly. As the plate warms up, 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.
If you tear the edges, just cut away with a knife till you have the shape you want.

I cut stencils out like this – photocopy (or draw) a simple silhouette onto the middle of a sheet of mylar and then cut around the image with a soldering iron. Do on a glass surface. My soldering iron is a textile one – it has a fixed temperature and a fine point.

Clean the plate: you can use a piece of newspaper to pick up extra ink left behind, or use a slightly damp sponge. I clean mine with baby wipes! The plate may look coloured but you can print other colours on it after cleaning.

Experimental Techniques

  • 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 gelatine plate.
  • Different papers – different types of paper will absorb the ink differently and reflect the technique differently. I like using white paint on black paper for strong imagery.
  • 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! Many recommend Akua Kolor.
  • Use the plate like a rubber stamp – cut the plate into pieces, ink them, then pick them up and print on surfaces as if you were using a rubber stamp.(It’s easy to see where you are stamping as you can see through the gelatine!)
  • Do a woodblock/screenprint print over the top.
  • Alternative media – try fabric, painted surfaces, wood, egg shells, etc.
  • Gelatine can even be used as a material for relief printing, cutting, gouging the plate. It must be handled carefully, and it won’t stand up to editioning.
  • Pour gelatine onto one of your etching plates to create a flexible stamp.