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Understanding Monotypes: Introduction to Printmaking for Beginners

A monotype is a unique print created by applying ink or paint onto a smooth surface, such as a plate or glass, and transferring the image onto paper through pressure. Unlike other printmaking techniques, a monotype produces a one-of-a-kind image that cannot be replicated.

What Is Monotype in Art?

In this post, we will explore the fascinating world of monotypes, the simplest form of printmaking that has been used by artists and designers for centuries.

So what exactly is a monotype?

It’s a type of printmaking that produces a single, one-of-a-kind image. Unlike other printmaking techniques that allow for multiple identical prints, each monotype is a unique print and cannot be replicated.

The process involves applying ink or paint to a smooth surface, such as a plate or sheet of glass, and then transferring the image onto paper by hand rubbing or through a printing press. This results in a soft-edged, subtly colored printed picture that has a painterly effect that is the defining characteristic of monotype art.

Check out the video to see a monotype print being made.

Monotype Printmaking | SUNY Oswego

Now, why are monotypes so fascinating and unique?

One reason is the spontaneity and experimentation they allow. With each print being one-of-a-kind, artists can explore different color combinations, textures, and compositions without fear of ruining a limited edition print run. This freedom leads to a great deal of creative expression and can result in truly captivating works of art.

Additionally, the tactile nature of monotype prints gives them a special appeal. They are physical objects with texture and depth that you can touch and feel. Each brushstroke and mark made by the artist is visible up close, providing a sense of intimacy and connection to the artist’s hand.

In today’s world of digital art, monotypes stand out as a unique and captivating medium. They have been adapted to modern times and are used in mixed media pieces and book illustrations, and some artists have even merged traditional and digital techniques to create fascinating works of art.

As you can see, monotype prints offer a wealth of possibilities for artistic expression.

What Does “Monotype” Mean?

The word “mono” is a prefix that means “one” or “single,” while “type” refers to a category or classification of something. Therefore, “monotype” can be interpreted as a single or unique type.

Monotypes are often referred as “one-off prints”, which means that there’s only one impression.

Types of Monotypes

As an artist who loves to create monotype prints, there are two primary techniques that I can use to create my artwork: additive and subtractive.

Additive monotypes involve adding ink to a plate or surface to create an image. To use the additive method, I would paint the image directly onto the plate.

An Example of the Additive Monotype Process | Gelli Arts

On the other hand, subtractive monotypes, involve removing ink from a plate or surface to create an image. When using the subtractive method, I would apply ink to the entire plate and then carefully remove some paint, using different tools, to create my image.

An Example of the Subtractive Monotype Process | TheAegeanCenter

Other types of monotypes I love to use include viscosity monotypes. It’s a process that involves using ink of different thicknesses to create a layered image without mixing the colors. The thicker ink doesn’t mix with the thinner ink, enabling me to produce a multicolored print with well-defined lines and shapes. This allows me to create prints that are bold, bright, and visually striking.

Another popular monotype process is called trace monotype. This type of monotype involves rolling out ink on a glass or plexiglass, placing a piece of paper on top, tracing a drawing without resting the hand on the paper, and then peeling up the paper to reveal a fuzzy-lined drawing.

An Artist Using Multiple Monotype Printing Techniques | Rebecca Vincent

The versatility and unique qualities of monotypes make them a popular medium for artists seeking to create expressive and one-of-a-kind images. By experimenting with different types of monotypes and techniques, artists can push the boundaries of traditional monotype printmaking and create truly unique works of art.

Materials & Tools for Making Monotypes

As someone who enjoys monotype printing, I can tell you that having the right materials and tools is essential to creating a successful print. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll need to get started:

Ink/Paint: First, you’ll need ink or paint. If you’re new to monotype printing (sometimes also called monotype painting), any acrylic paint set (Amazon) will do just fine. However, if you’re making monotypes as a professional artist, opt for high-quality printmaking ink, either oil-based or water-based, depending on your preference. I tend to use Akua inks (Amazon).

Plate: Next, choose your plate. Monotypes can be made on a variety of surfaces such as plexiglass, metal, gel, or even paper. I love to use gel printing plates by Gel Press (Amazon) when I’m making monotypes at home. The plate serves as the base for your image and where the ink or paint is applied.

Brayer: Use a brayer (Amazon), which is a roller, to apply ink or paint to the plate. You can choose between a hard or soft brayer, depending on the type of mark you want to create.

Paper: Selecting the right paper is crucial. A heavier-weight paper (Amazon) with a smooth surface is ideal. Printmaking papers work best, but watercolor paper (Amazon) is also a great option.

Printing press: Although not necessary, a printing press (Amazon) can make the process easier. If you don’t have access to one, you can use a hand-held baren (Amazon) or a wooden spoon to transfer the ink or paint to the paper.

Remember that your choice of materials and tools can significantly impact the outcome of your print. For example, a softer brayer will create a smoother ink application, while a harder brayer will create more texture.

Now that you’ve gathered your materials, it’s time to get started on creating your beautiful monotype!

Techniques for Making Monotypes

I love the art of monotype printing, and I’m excited to share the step-by-step process with you.

This is an example of how to make a subtractive monotype. It may seem simple, but with different techniques, you can create stunning effects!

Step 1: Inking the Plate

To begin, we need to “ink” a plate (although we’re going to use acrylic paint instead of ink for this example). Using a brayer or paintbrush, we can apply different colors and densities of paint to create unique effects. For instance, using dense black paint creates bold, graphic lines, while a lighter color creates a subtle effect.

Step 2: Creating the Image

After “inking the plate” (or in our case, “painting the plate”), we can start creating our image. We can use various techniques such as wiping and stenciling. Wiping involves removing paint from the plate using a cloth, creating a lighter area in the final print. Stenciling involves placing a stencil over the plate, creating a pattern or shape in the final print.

Step 3: Printing the Final Image

It’s time to print the final image. You can use a printing press or print by hand. Using the right amount of pressure is crucial to ensure that the paint transfers correctly to the paper.

An interesting technique that can be used in monotype printing is called ghosting. This involves creating a second print from the remaining paint or ink on the plate after the first print has been made. The resulting effect is a subtle and unique image.

There are various techniques that you can combine to create unique monotype images. Ultimately, creating beautiful monotypes requires experimenting with various techniques and materials to find what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try new things and see what exciting results you can achieve!

Difference Between Monotype & Monoprint

Although monoprints and monotypes share similarities in technique, their approach is a little different.

With monotypes, I take a blank plate and mold the ink or paint into a unique design for every print. It’s an exhilarating process that allows me to experiment and unleash my creativity.

On the other hand, monoprinting involves starting with a pre-existing pattern or image that I replicate in each print. These prints usually originate from an etched plate that serves as the foundation for the entire series. By applying various pigments and designs, I can create endless variations within the series.

Most artists, including myself, limit the number of prints in a monoprint series and number each print accordingly to maintain their uniqueness.

Final Thoughts: The Unique & One-Of-A-Kind Art Form

Monotype is a unique art form that is typically created using simple processes involving a matrix*, which is usually made from a non-absorbent material like plastic or gelatin. (* In monotype printing, a matrix is a flat surface, such as a metal or glass plate, on which a design or image is created using ink or other materials, which is then transferred onto paper.)

In monotype, the image is usually painted onto the matrix using acrylic, or another type of paint or ink. Once the image has been created, it is transferred to paper by applying pressure to the back of the paper, typically using a press.

The resulting impression is a mirror image of the original, and because the picture can only be pulled once, each monotype is a unique work of art. The plate is typically wiped clean after each impression.

Monotype paintings have been created for centuries, and they remain popular in the art world today due to their unique, one-of-a-kind nature. And since each monotype is unique, this makes monotypes highly sought after by art collectors.