When I post videos of gel printing on Instagram the most common question I get asked is "What type of paint are you using?" Most days I am working with Liquitex Professional Soft Body Acrylic (Artist Quality) or Liquitex Basics (Student Grade). (NOTE: I am not affiliated with Liquitex.).
But, if they were to ask me what type of paint SHOULD I use? My answer for beginners is always whatever you already have on hand. Arts supplies are expensive, try what you already own! My answer for any other gel printers would be whatever paint you think works best for the techniques you enjoy. I do not believe there is only one perfect paint for gel printing and just because I love Liquitex Soft Body, it doesn't mean you will.
Let's take a trip back in time to when I started gel printing 12+ years ago. I took an intro workshop with a local artist who brought a hodgepodge mix of paints, mostly craft and student-grade acrylics in various brands. I didn't have any experience as a painter and had taken a handful of printmaking workshops where we used ink, cause that's what you use for most printing techniques. Needless to say, I didn't know ANYTHING about paint.
When I started playing around with gel plate printing at home I used what I had on hand, craft acrylics. That's really all I used for the first few years of playing with my gel plate. When I started buying tubes of higher-quality paint it was a huge eye-opener, mainly because craft acrylics tend to be very opaque and thin in consistency.
(If you want a breakdown of paint grade categories and definitions visit this blog)
Understanding a pigment's transparency/opacity or a paint's viscosity wasn't something I had thought much about. My new tubes had these little codes that I didn't fully understand and I was getting muddier prints. I had to spend time educating myself on paint and color mixing, which I would recommend to anyone.
Even though I mainly use higher quality artist paints, I'm not at all against using craft acrylics for gel printing. I just think it's important to understand what you're working with, how to use it, and how it will impact your final print. It's a lesson I wish I had understood sooner.
As I said up top, I don't believe there is one "correct" paint for gel printing. If you're trying to figure out your perfect paint you might ask yourself these questions:
- Do I care if the paint dries quickly on the plate? Or would I rather it dry slowly so I can pull multiple ghost prints without doing a dry paint pull?
- Do I want to do image transfers?
- Do I like clean or grungy prints?
- Do I want to do a lot of layering in my prints? And how much of the layers underneath do I want to be able to see?
- What I am going to do with my gel prints? Am I creating fine art prints, collage papers, cards, or bits for mixed media work?
Your answers may lead you in different directions, but that's okay too. Truthfully, most of us probably have lots of different paints lying around the studio, because there really isn't one perfect paint.
Happy Gel Printing!