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How to make a monoprint
Because monotype printing allows considerable freedom in the approach to imagery, this is considered to be a very versatile method. The artist can decide to work positively or negatively, to use waterbased or oil based inks, to incorporate other materials or not.
Working positively means that the artist will put down imagery with brushes or rollers. Working negatively means that ink is removed with hands, rags, cotton swabs or anything pointed.
The directness of painting directly on the plate requires skills of drawing and painting as well as a sure hand and a considerable degree of spontaneity.

Materials and methods To make a monoprint or a monotype all you need is a plate and some ink. Plates can be of any type, as long as they are non porous. Plexiglass or thin sheets of metal such as copper or zinc, seem to work best, but you can also use the following materials

  • Heavyweight vinyl
  • Mylar or acetate
  • Masonite
  • Discarded thin litho zinc or aluminium plates
  • Cardboard sealed with gesso or acrylic spray or glue
  • Glass (only used when handprinting)
  • Styrofoam
  • Polystyrene

1- The artist is rolling out a flat area of ink with a roller on a previously etched plate (you can see the lines of the image below).
2 - Using a cloth, the artist is removing the ink from the plate to form fresh, spontaneous images. If the artist feels that too much ink was removed, this can be reapplied with brushes.
3 - texturizing the ink with fabric
4 - Result

Once you have a plate, just paint directly on it with etching or lithography inks using any kind of brush. After the image is painted, put the plate on a press bed, carefully place previously dampened paper and run your plate and paper through a press using light or moderate pressure.

Depending on the effects you want, you can use a variety of tools for painting the image; not only brushes, but also fingers, toothbrushes, foam brushes, sticks, sponges, feathers and anything that can scratch a plate such as needles, scissors or etching equipment.

Special effects can be achieved dabbing solvents such as mineral spirits or turpentine to your inked plate, allowing the solvent to dissolve the ink so as to create beautiful reticulate marks.

Another method of producing images allows to work negatively from dark to light by wiping off ink from the plate rather than adding it. First use a brayer to roll out a flat area of ink on the plate and then wipe away areas with a rag or cotton swabs and solvent to create lights and tones.
For textural effects, ink can be also removed with brushes, sponges or sticks just like Degas and Matisse used to do.

Another simple but effective method of producing monotypes seems to have been invented by Gauguin. This method, called direct trace drawing, produces a linear monotype that has a unique soft edged quality similar to the tone and line in soft ground etching. All you need to do is evenly ink a plate, place a piece of paper over the inked image area and then draw the image directly on the back of the paper, the lines drawn will be transferred and a reverse image produced. Massing lines together will produce darker areas while hand rubbing will create softer tones; by varying the pencil pressure and using different kinds of widths and hardnesses, different effects are obtained.

Using waterbased inks

Monoprionts can be created also by using water-soluble materials such as watercolors, crayons, watercolor pencils, watercolor felt tip pens or commercially produced monoprint inks (Akua-Kolor, Createx or Green Drop Inks).
Prior to drawing, the plate to be used (usually plexiglass) needs to be finely sanded and the edges bevelled. This will allow color to fix better on the plate and make drawing much easier. Using a sponge or small brayer apply a thin even coat of hand soap to the entire printing surface and allow it to dry. The soap will perform as a releasing agent and allow the colors to lift during printing.
Draw directly onto the surface of the plate with the water-soluble materials, letting the color dry for a few hours prior to printing. The paper to print on should be damp, but not excessively wet unless you want the colors to "run". When printing, the moisture in the paper will reactivate the drawing materials, allowing for the transfer of the color to the paper. Run the plate through the press with moderate to heavy pressure. This will give you the best impression. Prior to removing the printed image. Check the impression quality by lifting the corner of the print and checking the image. If the impression is not satisfactory, lightly spray/sponge the back of the paper with water and run it through the press again. Repeat this until the image is of acceptable quality.

Collage monoprints
The term collage is not used in its traditional meaning; materials are not glued on the surface but are used on the paper either inked or not inked (only used to produce embossments on paper). Materials often used are cut or torn shapes from textured papers, lace, cloth, thin vinyl sheets, leaves, and even metal grating.

Chine Colle'
This method requires the use of two kinds of paper: one durable which serves as a base of the print and one which is really lightweight such as Japanese papers. The image is printed onto the Japanese paper which is glued on the more durable paper.

Magazine or newspaper images can be easily transferred to a print by the simple but effective frottage method. Any image, whether color or black and white can be used; better results can be obtained with recently printed materials.
To transfer an image onto paper, some thinner* is applied on the back of the image to print. This can be done with a blotter or with a few brushstrokes. This is then placed, image sude up, on top of a previously inked and wiped intaglio plate. The damp printing paper is laid on top and run through an etching press. Transferring an image from a magazine page can be obtained also by hand rubbing.

* The thinner is used to soften the printing ink on the newspaper
and that same ink will be transferred to the damp paper

Combination of techniques
The monotype is a technique used by many artists only as a transition for other work, such as Degas used to do. He first printed a monotype, then developed the image by drawing and painting over it with pastels, pencils, oil paint, watercolors or printing ink. When an image printed too heavily, Degas made a second impression of that same print by placing a new sheet of dampened paper over the just printed monotype. This would take away some of the color and a second lighter impression was the result which was also used to work on with inks, pastels or oils.

The history of monoprints: click here to learn more about its origin