Gelatin Plastic

I first encountered homemade "gelatin plastic" several years ago when I was looking for relatively easy and definitively inexpensive ways of creating art/craft materials for making gifts. Cash and time were extremely tight so shopping for and buying "real" materials (e.g., air-dry clay) was pretty much out of the question. I was limited to what I could concoct from everyday grocery, hardware-store and office-supply items like Elmer's glue, cornstarch, and in this case, gelatin and food coloring. So I found various recipes and how-to's online and adapted them to suit my particular purposes---most of the projects I found were of the "fun rainy-day activities for kids" variety so it was a matter of maximizing the capabilities of the material to make something that an adult could give another adult without anyone being horribly embarrassed. The following modified how-to for gelatin plastic makes for relatively flat, smooth-edged translucent shapes that you can combine into (or use singly as) cheerful sun-catchers.

  • Three envelopes powdered gelatin
  • 9 tablespoons water
  • Several drops food coloring
  • X-acto knife
  • Flat-bottomed dish (glass is best)
  • Shape templates (optional; not pictured)

Place the water in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Add food coloring and heat on low flame, stirring pretty much constantly until the gelatin is dissolved. Pour the mixture into a flat-bottomed dish and let set---most recipes say for 45 minutes to an hour, but I prefer at least a few hours. The longer set-time makes for less curling as your cut pieces dry.

Once set, cut the gelatin sheet into various shapes and sizes using cardstock templates (if you like) and an X-acto or similar knife---not scissors, as some recipes suggest. Scissors make for a less even edge. Ditto cookie-cutters. The difference becomes obvious once the pieces dry.

I like to leave my cut shapes in the original dish to dry, rather than remove them as most recipes/how-to's instuct. The original adhesion between the gelatin and the surface of the dish seems to help keep the pieces from curling overly much when they're drying. I also like to lightly tape down the edges of my cut pieces to help keep them flat as they dry. I haven't had any luck with the multiple plastic container lids and paper-towel/cheesecloth contraptions that many recipes/tutorials recommend for this purpose. Gelatin is much stronger-willed than that!

Allow your cut pieces to dry for 2-3 days (or more, depending on their thickness), then drill holes for hanging. Most recipes say to make holes for hanging when the pieces are wet, but I think you get a better result if you wait until they're dry. It's hard to predict how large the hole is going to be once the gelatin dries, and the edges can also come out raggedy. Raggedy edges will not do! Embarrassment will ensue!

Hang the pieces on a suction-cup hook and stick on a window. Use fishing line for a "floating-in-air" effect. Wait for the sun to shine through them; be surprised and intensely gratified at how pretty they are!

Until next time --