MONOTYPE The Painterly Print

Monotype has its own unique form of expression and certain types of marks and imagery can only be achieved using the monotype process. Monotype is the most painterly method among the printmaking techniques and is often called “the painterly print” or the “printer’s painting.”


Koichi Yamamoto, Beni Monotype

Monotype versus Monoprint

“Monotype” and “Monoprint” are sometimes used interchangeably but there is a big difference between the two. A monoprint is usually a variation on a series, as there is a pattern or image on the painting surface that can be printed multiple times over, in a variety of ways. A monotype is considered one-of-a-kind and does not employ repeatable elements.


Throughout history, painters have often used monotypes in their preparatory sketches. Like painting, monotype is very direct and can be spontaneous or deliberate. The immediacy and range of mark values work well with the luminosity that printmaking inks and procedures offer. Some of the earlier known monotypes were made by the Italian artist Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione who used a subtractive technique to create effects similar to chiaroscuro. Rembrandt used monotype to record an idea as soon as it struck him. Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas and Henri Matisse are all great examples of artists expanding and experimenting with monotype techniques.

Rolling out Color for Printing
Gamblin Relief Ink Monotype printmaking

Gamblin Relief Inks are designed to suit the specific requirements needed for monotype printing. Their unique softer body and high pigment load allow them to be rolled out in thinner applications with greater color intensity,
particularly as you print multiple layers of color.

You can also mix Gamblin Relief ink with Gamblin Artist Grade Oils to create an even wider range of color. When mixing oil paint with relief ink, it may be necessary to add plate oil and/or tack reducer as the oil paint and ink have different viscosities. If you decide to use paint directly from the tube, we suggest that you mix the oil paint with Gamblin Burnt Plate Oil #000, to lower the viscosity and improve the printing capabilities of the paint. Burnt plate oils are raw linseed oils that have been heated to change their molecular structure so that the oil does not affect the permanence of the paper fibers. Do not use Linseed Oil to thin oil paint, as the Linseed Oil will adversely affect the paper fibers over time.


The viscosity of an ink refers to its flow characteristics. If an ink has a high viscosity, it will be too stiff to transfer from the printing element to the paper. An ink with extremely low viscosity will be too thin and may be difficult to control because it flows too easily. High viscosity inks can be “thinned” by adding either Gamblin’s Gamsol or Burnt Plate Oil #000. Low viscosity inks can “thickened” by adding magnesium carbonate.


Ink “tack” is the stickiness of an ink, similar to what you would feel if you try to pull your fingers apart with ink between them.

If you notice that the ink is ripping the paper during printing or perhaps not transferring very well from the printing element to the paper, then the ink is too tacky. Add Gamblin Tack Reducer to make the ink less sticky and better able to transfer to paper.

Printing the Image

If you do not have access to a press, printing by hand can have its advantages. Lay a sheet of paper on top of the printing element. Rub a barren, or similar tool such as a flat wooden spoon, on the back of the paper. This style of printing allows for thicker ink applications and selective printing pressure.


There are two types of printmaking papers usually used in monotype: sized and unsized. Sizing is a material, usually a starch, that is added to paper to regulate how that paper absorbs moisture.

Sized printmaking papers usually contain more sizing inside and less on the surface. In order for the paper to print properly, the paper fibers will need to be softened. This is usually done by soaking the paper in water and then blotting, prior to printing. Examples of printmaking papers that contain sizing are Rives BFK, Arches Cover, Fabriano Tiepolo, Magnani Pescia, Somerset, Stonehenge. An example of a printmaking paper that does not contain sizing is Arches 88. This paper must be printed when dry and should never get wet.

Creating the Image


Mark-making in monotype is vast and exciting. Any tool that can be used to apply or manipulate ink can produce an interesting effect. The tools used will reflect the two basic approaches to drawing for monotype: Additive or Reductive.

Applying materials directly to the printing element is called an Additive Approach. Ink can be applied in a painterly fashion with a myriad of tools. This is known as working into a “light field” because your direct mark making creates the positive image. When working in the Additive Method, stiff brushes such as hog-bristle and brayers can all be used to apply ink or paint to the printing surface.

The Reductive Approach is essentially the opposite. Known as working from a “dark field”, ink is first applied to the printing element and then removed to create the image. A soft rubber brayer is best for even distributions of ink. Shop rags, Q-tips, stiff-bristled brushes, and silicone wedges are all great for moving ink.

The mark-making possibilities are endless! Somewhere as unexpected as the kitchen cabinet can yield compelling textures and patterns.

Reductive monotype printed with Portland Black Etching Ink by Scott Gellatly

Reductive monotype by Scott Gellatly. Printed with Gamblin Portland Black Etching Ink






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