Monoprinting Techniques

By Faith Chandler
Wear gloves and an apron when working with printer's ink.

Monoprinting is a simple form of printmaking that produces one image per printing. Artists apply the ink to a flat printing plate and press the plate against a piece of paper using a printing machine. The process removes most of the ink from the plate, so the artist ends up with a unique image. Sometimes, artists can run the plate through a second time to get a "ghost image" with the ink left on the plate. When applying ink to the plate or the paper, artists use a variety of techniques.

Wet Plate and Dry Plate Transfers

The artist can print on a wet plate or a dry plate, and each technique produces a slightly different effect. In wet-plate printing, the artist prints with the plate while the ink on it is still wet. Because the ink is still liquid, it is more likely to spread out and blend on the paper. In dry-plate printing, the artist waits until the ink is dry on the plate before transferring it to wet paper. The ink is dry and holds its shape better for more detailed final results. Typically, the paper used in dry-plate printing soaks in water while the ink is drying. After the ink dries, the artist removes the paper and and blots it lightly before starting the print. The surface of the paper shouldn't be slick with water.

Additive Inking

Additive inking is a term used to reference one way to add ink to a printer plate. Additive inking allows the artist to paint an image directly onto the plate using fingers, palette knives, rags or brushes. The artist starts with lighter colors and works towards the darker colors in the image. This process yields effects that are more like painting, with the ink being layered and blended together. It produces more blended, ethereal or even impressionistic images.

Subtractive Inking

Subtractive inking allows the artist to cover the plate in ink using brushes, rags or an ink roller and then remove sections or draw into the ink using the ends of rollers, palette knives or paint brushes. With this technique, it's possible to achieve a reverse ink-drawn effect. The artist also uses stencils to block out sections of ink in subtractive inking. The stencils can be made from leaves, lace, paper cutouts or anything flat enough to stick to the plate and run through the printer.

Direct Draw

This direct-draw inking technique is done by hand. The artist places ink on the plate however she desires for the inking. When ready, the artist lays a piece of lightweight rice paper on the wet plate. The artist presses on the back of the paper with hands, brush handles, rollers and even textured objects to create an ink print on the rice paper. The ink transfers only to the places where the artist has applied pressure to the back of the paper.