Relief Printmaking – Monoprinting

I spent most of twelve months from March 2017 working through Susan Yeates’ excellent online course: “Introduction to Printmaking” ( I undertook this course for two principal reasons – firstly, to experience those relief techniques that I had not come across before and, secondly, to decide what I would continue to work with. Monoprinting was the first technique covered in the course.

Monoprinting is a straightforward technique that involves rolling out or drawing with ink on to a printing surface. A sheet of paper is then laid over the top to take a print. It can be a very ‘painterly’ way of printing.

As suggested by its name, the image created is a one-off (mono) print so there are certain limits for reproducing the same image again. Although a monoprint is usually a unique print, several similar prints can be made one after the other i.e a series of monoprints depicting a similar topic.

  • Tools & Materials
  • Glass slab on which to roll the ink out
  • Glass or Perspex Plate (cut to the size you want your print to be)
  • Water-based Ink (I used this in preference to oil-based inks in order to make cleaning-up easier and not so time-consuming)
  • Palette knife
  • Roller
  • Paper (smooth surface)
  • Roller, baren or wooden spoon for printing
  • Pencil
  • Tools for creating marks in the ink (e.g. paintbrush, rag, stick, sponge, palette knife, etc.)

The various methods are:

  • Negative Mark-Making
  • Positive Mark-Making
  • Back Drawing
  • Using Stencils
  • Using Multiple Layers of Inks

1. Negative Mark-Making

The negative mark making method is so called because the marks that you make will not print. You ink up your plate and, using one or more of your mark-making tools, draw into the ink. Whatever you remove will print white (should you be using white paper). You are making negative marks.

You should place the inked-up plate on a clean sheet of cartridge paper, positioning it centrally. A sheet of printing paper is then placed face down lining up with the edges of the cartridge paper. The back of the paper is gently burnished, taking care not to let the paper slip as you are burnishing.

Monoprint with linocut

2. Positive Mark-Making
By contrast to negative mark-making where you remove ink to create the image, positive mark-making is the opposite. Here, it is the marks that you make that will print. You start with a clean plate and add ink(s) to create the image.

Printing is the same as for negative mark-making.


3. Back Drawing

This method can give quite interesting results. A thin layer of ink is rolled out onto your plate. As above, you place the plate centrally on a sheet of cartridge paper and very gently place the printing paper, face down, on top of the inked plate and in line with the edges of the cartridge paper. You should avoid pressing the printing paper onto the inked plate (); simply rest it on top in the correct place.

Now that you have the correct side of the printing paper resting gently on the printing ink you can begin your ‘back drawing’. Using your drawing tool, very carefully draw your image onto the back of the printing paper. Wherever you draw will create a mark – the pressure of your pencil will touch the ink underneath creating a dark mark on the paper. You do not need to burnish the paper; simply peel the print paper up and away from the plate. The finished image will have interesting marks where the paper has perhaps just touched the plate. These marks are certainly not mistakes; in fact they can add to the overall effect.

Postbox – Back Drawing










4. Using Stencils
Monoprints created using stencils will produce images that are less painterly and have a more flat block of colour instead. With care, it is also one way of creating an edition of prints or series of very similar prints.

You will require additional tools/materials, such as:

  • Sheets of acetate or paper for stencils
  • Stanley knife &/or scissors
  • Cutting mat
  • Permanent marker pen

One simple approach is to take a sheet of acetate (or paper), draw an image on the acetate and cut the image out using a sharp knife of scissors. Place the remains of the acetate sheet on a clean plate and roll ink over the entire plate. Carefully remove the acetate and print/burnish as before. The print paper will have the marks made from the image that you removed from the acetate sheet.

Alternatively, you could place the pieces of acetate that you had removed on the clean plate, then ink up and print. Now your print will have the images in white and the remainder of the acetate sheet coloured.

5. Using Multiple Layers of Inks

All four of the previous methods have used just the one colour. Here you will be using two or more different colours.

In addition to the tools noted above, you will need some tracing paper.

You can use one or more of the above techniques for this method, for example, combining a positive image with a back drawing.

Making sure that your drawings are the same size as the inking plate, split your colours ready for printing by placing a sheet of tracing paper over the top and draw around each colour including the edges of the plate. Each sheet of tracing paper will be used for one layer of ink.

The principle behind printing multiple layered mono prints is to always position the inking plate in the same place on the cartridge paper. This can be achieved by drawing lines around the plate onto the cartridge paper. This re-placing in the same location is referred-to as ‘registration’ and this is covered in subsequent blog posts. The reason for exact re-location is that you will print each colour separately onto the print paper. This requires you to remove the paper and allow it to dry before applying the next colour.

Church Window – Multiple Layered with Back Drawing











Here is one final image combining negative mark making over an under-layer of yellow ink.

Dales Hill – mono print over yellow background











Comments & Conclusions
Although monoprinting as a whole is not a first choice for me, I certainly enjoyed the back drawing method and multiple ink layering combined with back drawing. I can see me continuing with the latter in future.


Recommended Reading

  • In addition to the course book and videos, I can recommend the following books:
    Newell J. & Whittington D. (2006) “Printmaking Handbook – Monoprinting” published by Bloomsbury
  • Stobart J. (2nd ed. 2005) “Printmaking Handbook – Printmaking for Beginners” pp.11 to 19. Published by A&C Black. (Jane Stobart uses the term ‘Monotype’ in her book.)