Re-making an Agar Gel Print Plate

About a year ago we made some printing plates using agar and glycerine. This is the alternative option to the more traditional gelatine plate and has many preferable characteristics. It’s veggie and it lasts for ages! Although the plate is extremely robust, almost inevitably, over time the surface gets scratched and those scratches will show in any prints we make. We have a rule of no kebab sticks or palette knives allowed but in the heat of the moment, when we are printing like women possessed, we might forget! It’s not the end of the world though.

All we do is take the old plate and snip it into chunks using scissors.

The smaller the chunks the better because they will melt down more quickly. We put the pieces into an old pan and add enough water to almost cover them.

We heat the gel chunks until simmering point is reached, making sure to stir regularly and not walk away while the pan is on the heat. (A whisk makes short work of breaking the chunks down). We don’t want the gel to boil over or catch on the bottom and burn. It’s impossible to be exact about how much water is required but we’ve found it to be quite a lot! If the gel is looking really thick and gloopy and there are still lumps visible we top up with a little hot water from a recently boiled kettle. Surprisingly the chunks of gel are able to absorb lots of water as they melt down while still remaining thick enough to set as firm as needed to be a printing plate once more.

As soon as the chunks have all melted down and the gel has become perfectly smooth, we turn off the heat and leave it to cool slightly before pouring it into a suitable tray. We use a flat, plastic tray palette. The printing surface will be the side that makes contact with the tray so it must be completely free of ridges or marks and a paint palette is just right. The gel cools and sets very quickly and will be ready to use in an hour or two. Because it sets so quickly it is IMPERATIVE  you DO NOT dispose of any surplus into your drainage system. We wipe the pan and any utensils we’ve used with paper towels and discard. Any remaining trace of gel that sets in the pan can be peeled off and thrown away. And that’s it – a veggie-jelli plate as good as new and just ready for your next mono printing session!

Bye for now,

Linda and Laura