Gel Transfer Workshop

In late August 2014, I ran a workshop at Opus Art Supplies (north Van) for 20 students, teaching my gel transfer printmaking technique. I had so much fun! It was a lively 2 hours with great questions, conversations and insight from participants. I hope that members took home skills to incorporate this pigment transfer method into their own work, but were also inspired to experiment and move their work forward in new ways.

For a brief history of Acrylic Gel Transfer technique:

Materials needed:

– laser print in reverse, as a mirror image
– Cradled panel or board – a surface with white (or perhaps clear) gesso to transfer the image onto. Hard, smooth surfaces work best.
– ~1 inch very soft bristle brush, one that doesn’t drop bristles easily.
– wide sponge
– soft rubber roller, 6 inch preferably. It’ll be with the linocut supplies in the art store.
– Acrylic gel medium (Golden recommends their soft gel, although I’ve been using their regular gloss gel)
– water spray bottle
– plastic gloves
– for scraping paper off: your choice of sponge, toothbrush, and/or facecloth

Step by Step: the Gel transfer process

1. Laser Print: before you get to the transfer process, you will need an image to work with. Inkjet images don’t work with this method (the pigments soak too far into the paper). So once you’re happy with your digital image, get a laser print done. I use Kinkos or the UPS store. You can print from a photoshop file, or even have a photo copied, if you’re looking for a more distressed image. If you want the image to go all the way to the edge of the printing surface, consider creating it larger, with a bleed around the edge. ** Remember that your image will appear in reverse. So if you have text in the image, make sure to flip it horizontally

2. Prepare your surface: Gel transfer works best on a hard, mostly flat surface, like a cradled panel or board. You can prep the board with a white, clear or even a coloured gesso; however, remember that the white areas of your print contain no ink and will be transparent, showing the colour of your surface. Let any gessos dry for 24 hours before the next step.

3. Paint the gel onto the surface: I use very soft brushes for this process, and paint about ~3 mm of gel in slow, sweeping strokes, with extra gel at the end for the corners and edges. Stay away from cheap brushes that drop bristles, and try to reduce the grooves in the gel as much as possible. Vigorous brushing and hard bristle brushes will increase the bubbles trapped in the gel.

4. Place your image on the gel:  laser print face-down as centered as possible. Adjust placement gently to avoid tearing the paper.

5. Roller: using a soft rubber roller, roll back and forth along the length of the surface several times, pressing gently. Start from the centre and work out, especially for bigger pieces. Gel will ooze out at the edges. Avoid the hard plastic rollers if possible, which will leave grooves in the gel and your final image.

6. Sponge and spritz: If you want a very clean image without too many empty spots, spray the back of the paper a few times, till it’s damp all over. And gently press the surface with a sponge all over, and make several passes at the edges and the corners. Leave the print to dry for 24 hours, or at least overnight. 

7. Remove paper: Make sure the paper looks dry and completely white — if there are dark/damp patches, the ink may not have set. Spray the back with water till it’s all wet, and you can let it soak for 10-15 mins. Then gently rub the paper away (rubbing too hard may rub some of the pigments out). Your image will start to show through. You may need to let it dry fully, then spritz a few times and work the remaining paper off with your fingers and toothbrush.

8. Finishing: if you want a matte finish, leave as-is. Note though that there may not be UV filters in the gel, so if your piece is left in direct sunlight over time it will fade.
My favourite acrylic gloss varnish is the Liquitex gloss:

Tips and tricks:

– This is a picky process, so it will probably take you several tries to get the hang of it. It took me at least a month before I was happy with it.
– Your final image is only as good as your laser print. Very sharp photo images don’t tend to work as well as images with some texture/grain in them. Distressed images are great, and illustrations work nicely.
– Oils and acrylics do not play well together. So this technique works best with other acrylic paints and mediums. I have been using the new clear gessos, which might work as a layer between your transfer, and then an oil paint layer on top. However, they are not completely clear and your transfer layer will look quite cloudy after the gesso.

Golden website:
Malaspina printmakers

I also found this fun resource with a pile of photographic print/transfer methods:


I hope this offered some new tools, or opened up new avenues for inspiration – sometimes the greatest stories to tell are not just ours, but those of the people around us. Or if you have stories of your own gel transfer adventures, or tips for others, please share below!