Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Gel Transfer Tutorial

One of my favourite techniques in my mixed media work is image transfer. Through some trial and error I've come up with what works best for me. 

Supplies used:

-a laser copy of your image

-Golden Self Leveling Gel

-a small sponge

-the substrate of your choice - I've used my altered book journal here in the examples

I start with a laser copy of my selected image - if there is any text in the image I reverse the image in my photo editing software.   In this example I've used a copy of one of my drawings and I've cut around my image since it's a black line image and there is no background to worry about in the image like a photo image would present - more on that later. 

With a brush I apply a layer of the gel on the altered book background that has been previously painted with liquid acrylic using stencils.

 Then a layer of gel is brushed on the image side of the copy - not too thick but you don't want it drying before you attach it to the substrate so it's a balance of the right amount of gel and being quick about laying it on the surface of the substrate.  Please disregard the very messy glue-board I have been using for months and months!!  It has a lovely patina of Gesso and glue ;)

After applying the image on the substrate, starting at the center burnish the paper with your fingers to push out any extra gel and to make certain the copy is adhered well.

Depending on the moisture in the air - drying time can take up to overnight.  This is quite important for a good image transfer - all areas must be dry.  I sometimes use my heat gun to speed up drying time.

When the paper is totally dry - using a wet sponge - soak the paper to rub off the fibers.  Don't rub excessively or you risk taking off parts of the image

Continue using the sponge - rewetting as needed - until most of the paper fibers are rubbed off.  Then switch to your fingers to get a better feel for the image underneath so you don't rub any off.

Keep going taking off fibers - it will seem like you are done - but let it dry and see if you can see any more fibers.

  After letting it dry - my image looks like this - cloudy - more rubbing is necessary for a clear transfer.

After more fiber removal - the final transfer -

Here's another example - this time it's a photo - and I've carefully ripped around it instead of cutting around it.  I prefer the look of a ripped image than a straight line - most times.  I have cut around photos before and then intentionally rubbed the edges of the image off while removing the paper fibers to give them a distressed look.

I am applying this transfer onto a page that hasn't been prepared - it is a raw vintage book page glued into an altered book.  If I applied this straight onto the page I would end up removing the page around the transfer with the wet sponge - so I've used the gel on the entire page to seal it and protect it from the water used in the fiber removal. Same process with application of gel on the image - brushing on and quickly adhering.

After transfer is dry - remove with wet sponge and fingers.

I really enjoy the effect of the text coming through the image!! 

An example of a colour photo transfer - I applied it to a Gessoed page - then I painted the background around the transfer.

Another black and white image applied to a vintage book page - before applying the image I brushed gel over the entire page.  The image was cut not ripped - the left hand side rubbed off quite well and I like the grungy ripped look - but the right side did not cooperate! That is how it goes with transfers - not always as planned.

This example was applied to a collaged surface - kind of interesting how the different colours of the pages shows through.

I hope this was clear and concise - if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.  I will do my best to answer or find answers for you.

Have fun with gel transfers!!


  1. Wow Emily! So much to learn from your blog! This post alone was super-informative! Thank you for taking the time to document your process and share. Very interesting!

    1. Thank you Suzanne!! I am happy you found it helpful! and thanks to you for tweeting about it - you rock!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing all your wisdom, and beautiful transfers, with us Emily!! xx

    1. you are most welcome Lorinda!! thanks for stopping by - it is always a pleasure :)

  3. Question - does the gel layer on the page need to be wet or dry when you apply the gelled image?

    1. I have had best luck when the gel on both the image and the page (or substrate) are wet. If parts are dry then the transfer will not be as complete and you may have chunks missing from your image. Sometimes that can be just the look you are going for - it can create quite a weathered or aged appearance to the transfer.

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I can't wait to try it out! (probably tonight)
    When using a previously painted journal page, does the wetting and rubbing off of the fibers take away from the original painted background? if so, how do i avoid messing up the background?

    1. Hello Nicholette!! I am glad you found this helpful :) In regards to your question - it all depends on the nature of the materials in your painted page. No worries if it's acrylic or something permanent and non-soluble - but if it is soluble (dissolves with water) then you need to treat the surface first with a spray varnish. I like to use Kyrlon matte finish and usually give it 2-3 coats to ensure even coverage. I hope this helps!!

    2. Thanks so much for your response!! I didn't see it until just now, so last night i tried my first transfer on a non-painted page with only gesso and let it dry over night. I can't wait to get home and remove the paper to see how it worked. And now i need to try one over acrylic! Thanks again!

  5. Thanks for showing different examples - it gives more of a feel for the process.

    Question; I noticed you use the self-levelling as opposed to the regular gel. Does this give you better control over smooth application, or ???

    Let me know why this type is your choice!