How a Monoprint is Different from a Monotype

One need only walk in to 15th Street Galley to see that we are both a contemporary art gallery and a picture & art framing service. In addition to oil and acrylic paintings, the gallery handles many types of works on paper, including lithographs, woodblock prints, collages, monotypes and monoprints. Most collectors, whether experienced or just starting out, possess a general understanding of these media.

Well, except for the last 2: monotypes and monoprints. The differences between these often confound art collectors, and, truthfully, even some art dealers. It’s one of the most-frequently asked questions: what’s the difference between a monoprint and a monotype?

So, here goes:

Printmaking 101: Monotype vs Monoprint

First, it should be noted that throughout history the 2 terms, monoprint and monotype, have been used interchangeably. But no more.

In today’s post-modern world where sometimes it appears that things are moving away from specific rules, the terms monoprint and monotype have actually become more specific and have come to refer to 2 different, though admittedly similar, types of prints.

Let’s start with their similarities. The most obvious is that both a monotype and a monoprint involve the transfer of ink from a smooth non non-absorbent surface made of, say, metal, glass or polycarbonate, to paper, canvas or some other artist-selected surface. Another similarity is that both involve the use of a press often with a metal roller applying pressure to the back of the paper which transfers the ink from the plate to the paper or canvas. That’s about where the similarities end.

Monotypes

Let’s first define each print staring with the monotype. The monotype is actually a very simple medium that only requires applying pigments or ink to the smooth substrate plate. The plate for a monotype is a blank smooth surface that has no permanent markings or incisions.

Picture a painting on a piece of smooth acrylic. This image on the smooth surface is created by applying the ink. It can be brushed, rolled, daubed or applied in any way that suits the artist. The artist may further manipulate the ink before a sheet of paper is applied on top of the image. This plate with the paper applied on top is then run through the press. What is created is a unique one-of-a-kind work on paper.

So here’s the question we are frequently asked at this point in the explanation: why doesn’t the artist avoid all this rigamarole involving the plate and press and just paint directly on the paper?

Simply put, our answer is that the monotype can have remarkable transparency combined with a layered quality that one is unlikely to get from a painting on paper. Also many of the monotype artists we work with have told us they enjoy the element of surprise that comes with lifting the paper off the plate after it has gone through the press. One is never quite sure what the print will look like. Sometimes they can, of course, be disappointed but, as one of our artists elegantly puts it, there can also be some “happy accidents”. The numbering of monotypes is usually left to the discretion of the artist. Some chose to number them 1/1 while others artists prefer to avoid any numbering at all.

Monoprints

The monoprint, unlike the monotype, is one of a series, so it is not completely unique. The monoprint begins with an etched plate, unlike the smooth plate of the monotype. The image on this etched plate is the underlying image of all monoprints in the series. It is a constant that is common to each print in the series. The artist adds different pigments and designs on the consistent image of each print that is pulled. Monoprints are often thought of as variations on one theme. The theme, of course, is the sustained etched image that is on all prints. The variations are endless. Each print has something unique. The series of monoprints has a limited number of prints and each is numbered.

So, there you have our distilled explanation of the differences and similarities between monotypes and monoprints. We could have been much more technical, but the purpose of this blog is to provide you with a very basic explanation. Think of it as “monotype/monoprint 101”.

Stop by the gallery for the upper-level class. We’ll do our best to explain some of the nuances.