GELing It All Together

Hello! A lot of stuff has happened since my last post, but let me try to catch you up on what I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks…

When my team was working out how the “skin” for our BatCam would be produced, we found issues with what we had originally planned regarding the transfer of textures, transparency, etc. So when Karen suggested the use of something called “Crystal Gel,” I was skeptical and honestly, did not think it would really be of any use.

Crystal Gel

Boy, was I wrong.

If you don’t already know what Crystal Gel is, it is a water-based coating for scenic pieces and props and is often used in scenic design and theatre.

Let me be clear. That is NOT what I used it for.

When first acquiring this material, I really just wanted to see what it could do, so I got out some wax paper and outdated 3D prints and smeared it on to see what would happen.


Crystal Gel is spread onto a 3D Print

Crystal Gel is spread out onto wax paper.

It doesn’t look like much at first glance, but by taking the Gel off of the wax paper and holding it up to the light, it provides a frost like, almost transparent quality.

This gave me an idea. Would the Crystal Gel be able to pick up the leather texture as well as it did the creases in the wax paper? And if it did, would we be able to use this material to create a transparent-like skin which my team had talked about earlier in the semester?

The layer of Crystal Gel from the wax paper is held up to the light to showcase its transparency.

In order to test my theory, I layered (from bottom to top) leather, vaseline (to keep the crystal gel from sticking to the leather), the crystal gel, and a prototype 3D printed wing and set it out to dry overnight…

Leather, Vaseline, Crystal Gel, and a 3D printed wing are layered to test the effectiveness of the crystal gel as a wing

And I don’t think I could have gotten a better result. On the table, it looks plain, but when held up to the light, the texture of the leather can be seen imprinted on the gel. Not only did the Crystal Gel adhere to the wing, but by drying on top of the leather, it was able to pick up its texture with great detail.

Crystal gel that dried on top of the leather is held up to the light to showcase its texture.

The Crystal Gel adhered to the wing and acts as a skin on the detached Camcorder wing.

We quickly decided, that this was exactly the kind of look we wanted to go with for the wing, and with some dry brushing and painting, we would be able to get the transparent, skin like texture.

Because the Crystal Gel worked way better than I thought it would, we ultimately decided to use it for the skin of the entire body. We decided to pigment the Crystal Gel in order to get the color we wanted and quickly learned that a little goes a loooooong way.

It took a few tries to get a color we were comfortable with, but once we got one we liked, we laid out the leather (with vaseline) and smoothed out the Crystal Gel so as not to get any streak marks. We let the Gel dry like this, later peeling it off of the leather and fitting it to each individual part of the painted body.

The pigmented Crystal Gel is stuck onto the 3D printed body using a solution for 3D prints.

The pigmented Crystal Gel is stuck onto the 3D printed body using a solution for 3D prints.

We used a 3D print coating from Smooth On in order to attach the Crystal Gel “skin.”  This way, we could be sure that the “skin” wouldn’t budge when our actors are holding it!

However, this product has more uses than as a coating for scenic pieces or props, and being used as “skin” for Bat Camcorders…

One of the characters in our story Refund High School, has a signature barrett that she always wears and after modeling one in Vectorworks and 3D printing it, we decided it would be great if it weren’t so rigid since it had to bend around a clip and go in our actress’s hair. Since we had just gotten the Crystal Gel in, we decided to try it and see what happens.

First, we made a silicone mold of the 3D printed barrette out of our homemade silicone using 100% silicone caulk and blue dawn soap. Once the mold was done drying, we filled it up with the gel and let it be for 48 hours.

*Side note* Something we learned early on dealing with the Crystal Gel, is that the drying time completely depends on how thick you layer it and how much of it is exposed to air. The more Gel directly exposed to air, the faster it will dry and less likely to still be a goopy mess when you come back to it!

After a 2 day drying period, we ended up with a barrette face that we were able to glue to an alligator clip. This allows the barrette to be moved and bent without worrying about it breaking.

I know I just talked a lot about this material and what it can do, but it goes to show how a material you’ve never used before can quickly become one of your most valuable assets. Crystal Gel was able to solve a lot of the issues we were facing and it made my life ten times easier in dealing with our BatCam’s “skin.” Thank you Karen for suggesting this product!

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