Have any of you found a way to make inexpensive gels?

I'd like to try using a few colors with my lights but have found most shops are mighty proud of theirs.

My son saw me looking at them online and asked if photographers could use either plastic colored/see-through folders or colored page protectors?

I'm sure there's an issue of melting and safety. If you've had any success with a cheap way of making gels, where to find them, I'd sure appreciate any tips.

  • 11
    Whaaa? You're kidding, right? A 20x24 of gel in any color under the sun can be purchased for less than $6 a sheet... How much cheaper do you want them to be? Aug 19 '11 at 0:57
  • 3
    Free is always good, especially if you're just experimenting. I'd never try to make my own lens, but lighting mods I will almost knock up a solution with objects to hand MacGyver style to test the effect before even thinking of buying something.
    – Matt Grum
    Aug 19 '11 at 11:17
  • 2
    @Kalai: It may seem like $6 per sheet is a 'ripoff,' especially when compared to '55 gels for $12' type deals, but buying big sheets and cutting them yourself is waaaaaaay cheaper than buying a precut pack. Remember that with pre-cut packs you're not actually getting 55 different colors, you're getting ~15 different colored gels and multiples of your CTO and CTB gels (usually 5 to 10 of each) in 2x3 cuts. With a 20x24 sheet properly stored you can literally make a single 6 dollar gel sheet last more than a lifetime (I'm still working on gel sheets my father purchased more than 20 years ago). Aug 19 '11 at 17:23
  • 2
    As if that isn't enough, with a 20x24 sheet you get the versatility of choice. You want to gel a bare lightbulb, studio strobe, or other 'unusual' lighting instrument for a certain effect you want to play around with? Good luck doing that with a 2x3 gel remnant out of a 'pack,' but with your own sheet you can cut a 6x6 piece and you're good to go. Store that piece you cut when you're done with the shoot and that gel swatch you cut will last for years. Seriously, you could invest $100 in full-sheet gels and then never buy another gel in your lifetime. Aug 19 '11 at 17:31
  • 2
    Or you could just buy a few up-front (a hint, CTO, CTB, blue and red are the only colors you're going to use more than 75% of the time... There are colors in a '55 pack' that you will never use... On the other hand, you could invest $25 on full sheets with just these 4 colors only adding additional colors if you need to as things come up and you may never spend another dime on gels in your lifetime. That's a real value. Aug 19 '11 at 17:33

I would pick up the Strobist Rosco collection, $12 gets you 55 gels. You aren't going to be able to handcraft 55 different filters out of things you can find at an office supply store.

If you really want to make them yourself, head on over to instructables.com and read this tutorial.

  • 1
    $12 for 55 gels?! Yeahhhhhhhh! Now that's what I'm talking about! Much better than $6 bucks for 55 colors? That's over 330 bucks, then shipping and tax--NOT cheap when you're on a budget and like to buy silly things like food and electricity. Ha. Thanks, DP, but I wouldn't mind finding some larger sheets for bigger lights if possible. But..maybe there's no way around buying "photography gels" and coming up with a creative way to make 'em. (shrugging) Oh well. Aug 19 '11 at 13:18

For subtle colour correction (e.g. matching the available light) then you really want a proper gel with consistent and predictable frequency response.

However for special effects you can use almost anything, candy wrappers, coloured paper, tape, fabric. In fact I have a harder time trying to prevent light picking up colour from mods.

When using plastics melting is a genuine problem, however it's easily solved if you mount your homemade filters with an air gap. An effective way is to create a short cardboard collar round the flash with a slot to slide filters into.

  • 1
    Thanks, Matt!! That's what I hoping to learn from you guys; ways to come up with DIY gels and fun with lighting. Aug 19 '11 at 13:20

For my outdoor night time photography I use cloth sheets over the flashlights. If it's thin enough one layer will do a little color change, but 2 or 3 or 5 layers will increase the saturation of the color, but weaken the strength.


We can consider different parameters for our "colored gels", then we can find some options for them.

If we just want to play with them, we can simply use anything that has some translucency or transparency and color.

My first option is cellophane you can go to a gift store and get a bunch of different colors. This is very saturated, very defined colors, but you can at some extent play with some levels of the color. You can partially cover your flash head and put a diffuser in front (like vegetal paper)

enter image description here

Or add layers of the same or a different color.

enter image description here

But you can use a lot of stuff:

  • Plastic bags, from different stores, use the logo part.

  • Vegetal paper tinted with watermarks.

  • A plastic food container.

  • Colored bottles.

  • An old bath curtain.

You can also try matt colored surfaces, like colored paper.

In some cases you will lose a lot of power, but that is another issue. Put the light closer or increase the power.

But if you want a consistent light color, or very specific tint, like a sunset orange tint, then I would go for a good brand like Rosco or Lee.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.