Gelli Print - Self Portraits

Masked Mono Print lesson Plan

I am by no means a printing expert. In fact, when it’s time to do a printmaking theme or unit I am biting nails, watching YouTube tutorials and frantically trying to remember what goes first. So, when I got the idea to create gelli-print self portraits as part of a new years themed camp, I spent hours struggling with the process. The end results however, turned out amazing and I’m so excited to share these with you.

I’ll keep the process as simple as possible.


  • Gelli plates (they are expensive to purchase, but you can make them yourself, or use glass or clear plastic. 
  • Printing ink
  • Hard printmaking rollers
  • Scissors / sharp pen knives/ cutting boards
  • Pencils
  • A printed photo of each child’s face, taken with a good contrast of light and dark (A4)
  • A selection of patterned paper that students can choose, try and find something that allows them to infer meaning. You could also make these yourself, with some simple mono prints… maybe in you explore the process another day with shapes, patterns and colour. 

This process is a simple mono Print, using a cut up photo as a mask. As with most prints, start with your lightest colour, and go darker. In general, I print warm colours first, and introduce cold colours second. As an experiment, I did not wash the gel Plate or rollers during the whole process. I like the effect, so have kept that in these instructions.

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  1. Print a photograph of each student in A4, With one smooth cut separate the face from the background.
  2. Roll white ink onto your Gelli Plate. You want it fairly thin, but tacky. There should be a good coverage without any run off when you roll.
  3. Place the background of the A4 photo over the inked Gelli Plate. Positioning it carefully, using a corner to line up the position. 
  4. Choose the paper you wish to print on, and place it facedown over the plate, lining it up against a corner. 
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5. Rub Firmly and remove.

6. Remove the background mask, and repeat steps 2-5 with your lightest colour. (I used white first to help the colours stand out against a patterned background.)

7. Remove the background mask

8. draw over the face photo, drawing spaces around all of the light areas of the image. Cut these out, ensuring that you are making clean cuts… not cutting through the picture. (This is important as all parts of the photo will become masks.

9. Roll the next colour you wish to do. Many prints are only 2-3 colours, so look for a good contrast.

10. This is important… Place the background mask back on

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11. Lay down all the masks for the light areas (onto the inked plate) Try to position them carefully.

The Ink will dry, so this has to be done fairly quickly. Once the masks are in place, Position your print back onto the plate, and rub firmly.

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12. Remove the Print, and all masks. If you want additional colours, continue steps 8-12

Before cleaning your Gelli Print, do a final print without adding ink… the results here are often really surprising.

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My students finished by writing over the backgrounds, adding pastel and collage, and painting as well. Gel pens can work well too.

Thats the process. Enjoy, and let me know how it goes, :)