DIY Photography Gels

About: I enjoy photography, horticulture and carpentry, and am almost always doing something relating to of those things.

Photography gels are precisely colored acetate sheets (overhead transparencies) used to alter the color of lights. There are different reasons for doing this, including for aesthetic effects and contrast reasons. Professional sets can cost a fortune, these cost me $14.25 (not including the transparencies, which I already had), and are great for any amateur photographer!

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Step 1: Making Them

I went online and found the standard color values for a set of gels. Using these, I made an 8x10in jpg file for each color. Attached is a zipped file containing all 27 images that you can burn onto a CD.

Once this is done, take the CD and a pack of acetate sheets to Kinkos, or a similar printing venue. Kinkos only charged me $0.49 a print.

Easy as that.

Step 2: Using the Gels

Once you've made the gels, it's time to have some fun! There are different ways to use them; for a studio strobe, you can get a filter holder that will attach onto your light stand. You can also get filter holders for normal speed lights. For an on camera flash, just cut out a small rectangle and tape it right on. Because they're made out of acetate, the tape should come right off, making your gels removable and re attachable.

  • Store gels in a manila envelope to keep them from getting dusty or scratched.
  • If you're shooting in black and white, a red gel will add more contrast to the picture.
  • An interesting effect can be achieved by lighting different parts of a picture with different colors.
  • Putting a gelled light between you subject and a white backdrop allows you to have whatever color background you want.
  • Position the subject far from the backdrop if you want colored light on the subject, but not the background.

The pictures are just 2 snapshots so that you can get a feel for what effect they have. Both shots were taken with an on-camera flash, supplemented by a lot of natural light. (That's why they are so lightly colored)
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    36 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Do you know where I might get files to print neutral gradient filters?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Could you use these to project images for stage lighting? I am looking into using these for stage lighting at my church and was wondering I could use them like GOBOS

    Lighting gel used in theatre and film will run 5-6 US dollars depending on the supply house. The color media is 20in x 24in and more heat resistant than overhead transparencies.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Out of curiousity, is the $.49 just for the printing in color, or does that include the pricing of the acetate sheets? I ask because when I went to Kinkos and asked about how much it cost to print transparencies (which I'm assuming is the acetate sheets) in color, the guy told me it was $1.99 per sheet.

    5 replies

    BTW, has anyone tried out the Fellowes Crystals clear plastic binding covers for their DIY Gels? I ask because everywhere I've gone to that has acetate sheets (transparencies for projectors) have ranged up into the $35+ range for the cost for 50 of them, and I found one store that has the Fellows Crystals Binding covers (basically the professional grade plastic covers that requires the machine to bind a stack of papers by using a plastic spine) for only $13.99 for a pack of 25. I'm asking because I don't know if they are good enough to withstand the printing process. The only cheap transparencies (other than the Fellows product) are for the ones you write on (and I don't know if those can stand the printing process at Kinkos.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I would worry that something not designed for printing might melt inside a laser printer. Kinkos wouldn't be happy.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the input, but I decided to go with inkjet transparencies I picked up at a Goodwill for $5 (comes with 50 sheets).


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Why are some of the colors appear different? Example the Blue N+1 appear like Magenta and the Green N+3 appear to be turquoise? Also where are the yellows?


    9 years ago on Step 1

    Why are the files named with and "N"? Just curious.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Just want to ditto photoman22. The colored report covers are cheap. Stacke 'em up for intensity. Thanks for zip file, I'll give 'em a go. BTW, I tried the request for the free swatch book from Roscoe but they were overwhelmed once it was mentioned on the Strobist blog. B&H has the best price


    10 years ago on Step 1

    Sweet! Great idea! Have they melted at all under the heat of the modeling lights?

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 1

    I mostly use them on my speedlights, so they haven't spent too much time in front of a modeling light. The transparencies are used commonly on overhead projectors, though, so I'm sure they'd hold up pretty well.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Instead of buying gels, I went to Office Depot and bought a package of colored acetate report covers. I cut the covers in half and have two sets of "gels" that work great.

    1 reply