How to make a simple strobe gel holder

Photography Gel Swatches

If you’ve done any reading on the net about strobe photography, you will have seen mention of the use of gels to change the colour of the light that your strobe or flash emits. Most websites say to use tape or velcro to hold the gel onto your strobe (see more on strobist or diy photography) – this seems a tad unnecessary to me, and if you’re like me & want to use the free gel sample packs that you can get from most photography shops, this isn’t really an option…..another method is required, bring on the Simple gel holder.

I came up with this mod as I wanted to attach the gels from a sample pack (Lee or Rosco) to my strobe – the crafty fiends from both these companies have deliberately made the samples too small too cover most strobe units, the length should be good, but they will be too narrow. So we need to come up with a way of mounting them to the strobe that not only holds them in place, but also prevents any ungelled light from escaping into our photograph. Please note that this method will also work with bought gels that you can cut to size yourself – we should after all be supporting these companies & not just using them as a free source of gels!
Rosco now offer a strobist set of gels for a small price, well worth a look, see this article on Strobist. In the UK, the Flash Center will be stocking them.

This is perhaps the easiest of all strobe lighting mods to make – in fact you probably have most of the materials within arms reach of you right now. I use this gel holder on both of my strobes (Vivitar 285HV & Vivitar 283), they both have a slot in the side of the flash casing that allows a wide angle lens to be slipped in front of the main light source – on my strobes, this slot happens to be the same thickness as two credit cards.

DIY Gel Holder for strobe lights

So assuming that your strobe unit has a similar slot in it, you will need the following items:

  • 2x old credit card/store card/ membership card….any plastic card that is like a credit card will do, otherwise you could by some acetate/abs sheet of a similar thickness & cut too size.
  • a small piece of thin tape – sellotape/scotchtape should work fine (other tapes may be too thick, but feel free to experiment)
  • a pair of scissors & a sharp craft knife of some description (a metal ruler/guide will also be useful)

First trim both your cards to length & width to fit inside the slot on your strobe. Rounding the corners will make it easier to insert and remove….I’d suggest leaving it a little longer than needed so you can grip the end with your fingers to pull the gel holder out of your strobe.

Now measure the size of your gels – I had samples from both companies which are different sizes, so I had to make sure that it fit both types. You now need to make a cut out in the middle of your cards so that your gel will be framed by the holder. Make the cutout exactly the same on both cards….a little planning and measuring is a good idea here. Try to make your cutout fit into the center of your strobe when the holder is slid in place. You will need to allow a little overlap with the gel & the cards so that it will stay in place….in practice, the width doesn’t need much overlap at all if there is a good grip lengthways at either end.

note: If you are using actual credit/debit cards, I’d strongly suggest trying to make your cuts & cutouts remove all the important information from the card (account number, chip, magnetic strip etc) just in case you lose it & someone could copy the information….I hold no responsibility for this what so ever!

Once you have cut the hole in both cards, tape them together as though they are hinged at one end….thats it – you’re done.

Check once again that the gel holder fits into your strobe. To fit a gel in place, put the chosen gel into the holder before inserting it into your strobe – gels can be layered/stacked if needed to get the result that you want.
If you have a sample book, you can now gel your flash to match any lighting situation or to create any mood – the possibilities are virtually endless!

As a follow on to this – if you make any other strobe lighting mods, if you cut a slot in the side of them in the correct location, you can use this gel holder alongside any other lighting mod that you make – this really does help to take diy gear to the next level.

So what next?….how about a correx/coroplast box to hold the sample gels instead of having them in a giant stack? This keeps them flat, in good condition & organized – well worth the few minutes it takes to make.


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