I bought a gel press. Yes, I was totally swayed by all the beautiful instagram reels and tik toks coming out about it. But I could also see it being a super useful tool with the photo transfer printing and the interesting textures you can get out of printing with it. I was like…this is gonna be SO EASY. HA! Life loves it when you say stuff like that. Just a disclaimer before I start, do NOT use this post as a tutorial. I do not know what I am doing, I am just experimenting and telling you about it, but at the end, I will leave you some references from people who DO know what they are doing and you can check them out for tutorials.
Firstly I have to say this. I often have a hard time when things don’t work as they should or as I expect the first time around. First I get frustrated, then I get upset, then I get really stubborn. I am kind of at the really stubborn stage at this point.
The gel press is a squishy piece of…well…gel that you use as a mono printing plate. Basically you lay down colour on the plate, whether that is the most widely used acrylic paint, or ink or anything that, “if you can wash the media off the plate with materials you would use to clean your hands – then it should work well on the plate.” (FAQ – Gel Press). Once you have laid your colour down, you can press items onto the surface or use a photo transfer technique to make texture or a print and then you press a clean piece of paper over the top and VOILA! PRINT! Or in my case, VOILA! WTF?
I used Golden Acrylics, Chromacryl and Matisse Structure paints for mine because that is what I have on hand. I know they say to use cheap acrylic paint, but in all honesty, I don’t HAVE any. I had one tube of Silver Chromacryl. I usually use my Golden Acrylics like cheap paint because I don’t like them (don’t come at me if you are a Golden fan, I just prefer Matisse for the kind of artworks I do. I know lots of people that swear by Golden for everything!). I do have a Brayer that I usually use for lino printing, and now I have sullied it with paint, I find that is an adequate excuse to buy myself a new one. And for paper, I just used Reflex 80gsm printer paper.
The first prints were kind of cool. The stencil worked out really well for imprinting on the paint and the ombre effect of blue and pink turned out nicely but I did learn you can WAY overwork your paint and you need to move QUICK because that stuff will dry out if you step away for a moment. I still don’t really have a feel for how much paint to put on to the plate I just throw some on there, close my eyes and hope for the best.
The problems really started when I tried the photo transfer printing. I have tried it a few different ways now. I tried it with a couple of magazines, I tried it with black and white photocopies and colour photocopies (from Officeworks because I made an assumption that their copiers use a laser printing process. ). None of the above worked AT ALL. I followed the tutorials (they make it look super easy and you know what? It probably IS if you know what you are doing) I did the paint and the laying of the image and what I got was a big nothing. Each time. Not even close. I genuinely have NO idea what I am doing wrong, if anyone has any idea, please tell me. Luckily, I am in the really stubborn phase of learning how to do things so I am currently watching and reading through every tutorial I can find at the moment and trying as many things as I can to understand what is happening.
But then I went back to using simple stencils and masking techniques and layering the paint in different ways. This was a much happier time for me, I was just throwing things on there and seeing what came out of it and I really liked some of it. The botanical prints I did the next day were another interesting little experiment for me. the negative print came out well, but when I went to take the positive print, the paint had already mostly dried on the plate, so I decided to let it dry completely and try another technique where you roll another thin layer of paint on top of the dried layer and cross your fingers that it will all pull up together.
I am enjoying the process when I get out of my head enough to. The botanical prints and learning to layer while drying the layers in between have been a lot of fun to experiment with. Two things I would like to mention…Using paint and using copy paper. The chromacryl I had was a metallic silver and I found that if I didn’t do a thick enough layer, it dried WAY too quickly and ripped my paper. The picture below, I was trying to do a thin layer in order to pull up a double layered print, but as you can see, that did NOT work. The red golden paint I have is also thick and annoying to use. So, Chromacryl was too thin, Red Golden paint, too thick. All around I find it strange to be using paint to take prints with but only because I am so used to using oil based printing ink. I have some water based printing ink that I think I will give a go at some point.
Secondly, using Reflex Copy paper. I am a paper snob. I did not love the experience of using copy paper. I can see how that would be ok if you are just using the prints for journaling or collage or something like that. For works that go to exhibition however, I would very much need to switch up my paper and use something more suitable. I do realise you can use any paper for this sort of printing, provided that it is not a photo paper as the film on top sticks to the gel plate and can cause problems. Reflex paper was indeed a much cheaper option for experimenting with, but I have some handmade papers I would like to try with it too.
Overall, there is still a long way for me to go with this technique. it certainly has potential. I can’t wait to take it to art group and see what other people do with it. Clean up is really easy, no more than cleaning up paints and paint brushes, and once you have your plate it really can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. Will I keep going with it? Totally. A lot of the time it was really fun to do and I think once I start using different things on the plate it will be even more so.
Lastly, some other useful information…I bought my gel press plate from Oxlades. It arrived within 2 days of ordering. This is the Oxlades website where I ordered it.
And some tutorials and other information…
Gel Press Youtube Channel – has a LOT of tutorials and inspirations videos
Nitsa Creative Studio Gelli Printing Playlist (Youtube) – Nitsa does a lot on Photo Image transfers but also there is a lot of ideas and inspiration and other techniques on this playlist.
Gel Press Website – if you are going to use the Gel Press brand, you may as well hit up their website.
GELLI Plate Image Transfers in Acrylic Paint (Youtube) – this was a livestream of a photo image transfer class.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Gel Printing – A Colourful Journey (Written + Video) – I saw the video first and then went to the website page. The page is basically a run down of what happens in the video but is useful if you prefer your information in a written format.
The Basics of Gel Printing – Einat Kessler (Written + Video) – a good solid run down of what gel printing is and the basics of how to do it.