Have you discovered the addictive art of gel printing? If you have, you may likely have quite a few sheets of beautiful prints laying around, just waiting to be used. Today I am sharing a tutorial to solve the problem of “what to do with all these gorgeous gel prints?” The answer: make greeting cards!
Now if you have no idea what gel prints are, or you’ve never picked up a rubber stamp, never fear! We’ll go over the basics of each of these crafting skills and how to combine them, creating a beautiful card, (or a bunch of cards!) to send to the ones you love.
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I was inspired to make my own note cards as a way to send something more personal to my mother. Mom has always loved receiving handmade cards, especially when we were little kids. These days it still gives me great pleasure to send her something made by my own not-so-little-anymore hands!
What You Need to Get Started
Ok, so let's get to work. Before I go into the details of how to use a gel plate or rubber stamps, let me give you a list of supplies you will need.
Note: These are the supplies I used; some are optional. Substitutions are always welcome in art, get creative and use what you have!
- Gel printing plate, 5"x 7" or larger; mine is 8"x 10". Popular brands include Gelli Arts or Ranger Gel Press. (note: A brand new gel plate is nice and clean and clear, not full of paint stains like mine, lol! I just say that creative people aren't messy, they just have tons of great ideas laying around!! Or remnants of them!!)
- Acrylic paints (choose the colors you love!)
- Soft rubber brayer
- White copy paper
- White tissue or tracing paper
- White card stock or blank white cards sold in craft departments
- Texture stamps (stamps with various patterns and shapes to build up a background)
- Stencils (also patterns or textures for backgrounds)
- Paper cutter and/or scissors
- Sentiment and focal image stamps (Choose images that can stand alone and are appropriate for everyday note cards, unless you are making holiday-specific greeting cards. Choose sentiments that are friendly, all-purpose, or, again, appropriate for any holiday images you've chosen.)
- Black ink pad (dye or pigment ink, as long as it's waterproof)
- glue: decopage glue (like Mod Podge) or watered down white glue, glue stick
- Water soluble oil pastels, Portfolio brand by Crayola (optional)
- Black and white tools for defining images: black and white acrylic paint pens,
- permanent fine point black marker,
- white charcoal pencil,
- black Stabilo water soluble "All" pencil (my favorite!)
- Various colored brush markers
- Prismacolor Premium colored pencils
What is a Gel Plate?
Traditional printmaking methods include heavy printing presses and expensive equipment. The gel plate, however, is a simple, lightweight, fairly inexpensive tool that produces immediate results. And it's super fun and addicting!
Basically a gel plate is a one inch thick slab of gelatin-like material, made in various sizes and shapes. There are even recipes for DIY gel plates, using unflavored gelatin or liquid glycerin poured into a shallow flat shape. The gelatin plates eventually wear out, however, so most people prefer buying the commercially made gel plates available in craft stores or online.
How to Use a Gel Plate
To use a gel plate, you will need a thin, even layer of paint. Select a few colors that blend well and squirt a few dots randomly across the gel plate. Then use your rubber brayer to spread the paint into an even, thin layer. Don't over-mix the colors; the pops of different colors adds interest.
Next, you will want to create impressions in the paint with texture tools. These may include stencils, rubber stamps, botanicals such as leaves or flowers, even household objects like bubble wrap or cardboard tissue rolls. The main thing is to work quickly before the paint dries. Create your impressions, then place your sheet of paper carefully over your paint. Rub it well to burnish the textured paint into every inch of your paper. Then, starting with one corner, carefully peel off the paper to reveal your image.
Step by step gel printing.
In the video above, you can see the basic steps of creating a gel print.
- Squirt several dots of paint in various colors onto your gel plate.
Make sure the colors blend well, so you don't get a muddy brown if mixed. (think about using colors close to one another on the color wheel, not opposites or complimentary colors).
- Roll over the colors with a brayer, allowing enough blending to cover your gel plate with a smooth, thin layer of paint.
Be careful not to overdo it, though, as the contrast of different colors adds interest.
- Press into the paint with your chosen texture tool(s).
In the video above, I used a texture plate designed for kids' crayon rubbings. I'd purchased a set of these in the craft section of a teacher supply store years ago, and found them quite handy for gel printing! Other texture tools that work great are stencils, patterned or textured rubber stamps, household scrap objects such as bubble wrap, dried flowers and leaves, whatever catches your imagination!
- Lay your sheet of paper over your painted, impressed gel plate.
Your paper may be regular white copy paper, tissue paper, or even an old page of text, torn from a discarded old book.
- Rub the paper onto the gel plate, firmly smoothing out any air bubbles or wrinkles.
Lift up a corner to check your progress, then continue smoothing it out if the impression wasn't quite dark enough.
- Pick up one corner and very carefully peel off the paper.
This is your big reveal... ta da!!
Sometimes gel printing is a game of hit-or-miss!
Be aware that sometimes gel printing is a game of hit-or-miss. Sometimes the impressions don't completely fill the page, leaving white gaps between painted areas. Other times you may be surprised with the fantastic results! Also, don't stop with just the first image caught on that one sheet of paper. Sometimes you get an even better one with the "ghost image". Ghost images are the second, (or third!) lighter image that you pick up with another sheet of paper.
Making the Card
Once you've made a nice pile of gel prints, look through them and choose which prints you want to use as cards. You only need about a 3" x 4" rectangle, so don't worry if the whole print isn't perfect. You can always cut off the less interesting parts.
Trimming the gel prints.
Next step is trimming the white edges off the prints, using either a guillotine style paper cutter or a scissors. Then, either by measuring or "eye balling" it, trim the print into a rectangle that fits on your card front. Be sure to leave a small white border around the print. The size of your trimmed art print will vary, depending on the size of your blank card.
Making your own blank cards.
Here's how to make your own blank cards, using sheets of white cardstock.
- Cut your cardstock sheet in half so you have two 5-1/2" x 8" rectangles.
- Then, simply fold each piece in half to make two 4-1/4" x 5-1/2" cards. Using a bone folder helps keep the creased edges nice and smooth.
Glue the trimmed print to the card front, using either a glue stick, gel medium, or decopage glue. Be sure to smooth out any bubbles with an old gift card or your hand.
Repeat this process until all your usable prints have been made into cards.
Stamping your focal images and sentiments
At this point, you should have a nice collection of blank note cards with beautiful abstract art on the front! You could just leave them as they are, beautiful note cards. But we'll take it a step further and add a focal point stamped image with a sentiment.
How you decorate your card is totally up to you! Depending on what your purpose is and what stamps you have, the possibilities are endless! So I'll just explain what I personally did with my own cards.
I started by picking out some of my favorite image and sentiment stamps. In my former crafting life, I was an addicted rubber stamper. I even became a seller/ demonstrator for a rubber stamp company, just so I could get the seller discount. I might have even become a bit of a stamp hoarder!
This was when unmounted stamps first came out, which were a big hit. With unmounted stamps, you only needed to buy the rubber or acrylic images. Simply stick the image on an acrylic block, and you're ready to stamp! I keep my unmounted stamps in clear CD cases, so they're easy to store and keep organized.
Stamping on tissue or cardstock paper.
For this project I chose to stamp most of my images on tracing paper first, or tissue paper. I really love how the translucent paper allows some of the beautiful gel prints in the background to shine through! Yes, I could just stamp directly on the card. But honestly, I tend to make plenty of "bloopers" when stamping. This way I can get my image "just right" on the tracing paper first, before cutting it out for the card!
You can also stamp your images on a scrap of white cardstock, cut it out and adhere to your card. The white background helps make the image "pop" against the patterned background.
Coloring the Images (Making it Pretty!)
The fun thing about using stamps is their versatility. You can create so many different looks with them just by coloring your stamped images.
There are many different coloring tools to use with your stamps. For this project, I used a few of my favorites:
The photos above show what I used to color my images. Starting at the top left, moving clockwise:
- Water soluble oil pastels, Portfolio brand by Crayola
- Black and white tools for defining images:
- black and white acrylic paint pens
- permanent fine point black marker
- white charcoal pencil
- black Stabilo water soluble "All" pencil (my favorite!)
- Various colored brush markers and/or Sharpies
- Prismacolor Premium colored pencils
I really adore these Prismacolor colored pencils. I never understood why people raved about these until I tried them myself. Prismacolor colored pencils are not like the cheaper colored pencils I've used since a kid in school. These are softer and lay down much more vibrant colors than any others I've used. I highly recommend these awesome colored pencils for your artwork!
Another exciting discovery I made in the realm of art supplies lately: water soluble oil pastels. When first searching for these, I only saw the more expensive brands. I felt discouraged, not wanting to spend a lot of money on supplies. (as usual, I'm a cheapskate!) But then someone recommended the Portfolio series pastels by Crayola. I was pleasantly surprised by their high quality at such a reasonable price!
In the video below, you will see how I used these pastels on a card. Notice how a subdued flower image in the background begins to stand out as one of the focal points. By dipping the oil pastels in water, they become even creamier, giving your art a watercolor effect. Simply dip them repeatedly in water as you color your image, to maintain a painterly flow of color.
Defining with black and white
As you color your stamped images, you also may need a bit of definition, something to make the images stand out a bit more. Enter white and black! My favorites are acrylic paint pens, fine point black markers, and the water soluble black "All" pencil by Stabilo.
Add some white space.
The acrylic paint pens are great, too. I love that they're just acrylic paint, but are much easier to control for small marks than a paintbrush. Because they're just acrylic paint, there's no strong odor like the paint pens of my earlier crafting days! I especially love using white paint pens. Adding that bit of white space helps tone down my work when it gets too busy or dark.
Make it "pop" with black.
For some black definition, it depends on what look I'm going for. If I want a precise thin line, then it's definitely the fine point permanent black marker. One of my favorites is the Sakura Micron fine point pen. This pen is available in a variety of different size points, plus my favorite brush and graphic markers! This set of assorted sizes plus brush and graphic points would be perfect!
Try a sketchy, more fluid black.
If I'm going for a more artistic, painterly look, then I highly recommend the Stabilo water soluble "All" black pencil. I just discovered this gem of a pencil this year, and am completely infatuated with it!
Here's how it works: You lay down your black lines with it, which go down so smooth and creamy on their own, similar to a charcoal pencil. But because it's also water soluble, you have the option to go over those lines with a wet paintbrush, and watch the pencil work its magic! Lines become more fluid and watery, which creates a great effect! You just need to be careful not to get carried away with it, or let the watery areas cloud up the rest of your image. I like to use my crafting heat tool, as I just cannot wait for paint to dry!
In the video above, you'll see how I used both the Stabilo black "All" pencil, and the fine point permanent marker.
First I used the Stabilo pencil to outline the petals of the flower. Then I used the fine black marker to go over the edges of the gel print background so it "pops". Next, I used a wet paintbrush to smooth out the lines around the flowers. You'll need to be careful not to use too much water or smudge the images. I used my heat tool to make sure the flowers were dry before continuing. (I am famous for sticking my hand in wet art and making a mess!)
Touch up stamped words with black pens.
I was then able to add the stamped sentiment, "thanks", with my unmounted stamp on an acrylic block. This time I stamped directly on the card, which ended up not coming out quite as dark as I'd hoped. Never fear, just pull out that permanent fine point marker and touch it up!
I hope you had as much fun as I did making these gel prints, and that you've found a brilliant way to put them to use as thoughtful greeting cards!
Enjoy sharing a handmade card with someone you love. Whether it's for a family member or friend, a teacher, co-worker or client, or anyone who could use some encouragement, your gift of caring thoughts and a handmade card could really brighten someone's day.
If you have any questions about the techniques or supplies used in this project, please let me know in the comments below. If you enjoyed this tutorial, please consider sharing it with the social media "share" buttons down below. I also invite you to keep informed of my latest posts by filling out the simple form to receive my newsletter.
Until next time...
Thanks for reading,
and create some joy today!!
Jennifer Storm Nelson