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Monoprinting is a form of printmaking that has images or lines that can only be made once, unlike most printmaking, where there are multiple originals. There are many techniques of monoprinting. Examples of standard printmaking techniques which can be used to make monoprints include lithography, woodcut, and etching.
A monoprint is a single impression of an image made from a reprintable block. Materials such as metal plates, litho stones or wood blocks are used for etching upon. Rather than printing multiple copies of a single image, only one impression may be produced, either by painting or making a collage on the block. Etching plates may also be inked in a way that is expressive and unique in the strict sense, in that the image cannot be reproduced exactly. Monoprints may also involve elements that change, where the artist reworks the image in between impressions or after printing so that no two prints are absolutely identical. Monoprints may include collage, hand-painted additions, and a form of tracing by which thick ink is laid down on a table, paper is placed on top and is then drawn on, transferring the ink onto the paper. Monoprints can also be made by altering the type, color, and pressure of the ink used to create different prints.
Monoprints are known as the most painterly method among the printmaking techniques; it is essentially a printed painting. The characteristic of this method is that no two prints are alike. The beauty of this medium is also in its spontaneity and its combination of printmaking, painting and drawing media.
Monoprinting and monotyping are very similar. The difference between monoprinting and monotype printing is that monoprinting has a matrix that can be reused, but not to produce an identical result. With monotyping there are no permanent marks on the matrix, and at most two impressions (copies) can be obtained. Both involve the transfer of ink from a plate to the paper, canvas, or other surface that will ultimately hold the work of art. In the case of monotyping the plate is a featureless plate. It contains no features that will impart any definition to successive prints. The most common feature would be the etched or engraved line on a metal plate. In the absence of any permanent features on the surface of the plate, all articulation of imagery is dependent on one unique inking, resulting in one unique print. Monoprints, on the other hand, are the results of plates that have permanent features on them. Monoprints can be thought of as variations on a theme, with the theme resulting from some permanent features being found on the plate – lines, textures – that persist from print to print. Variations are confined to those resulting from how the plate is inked prior to each print. The variations are endless, but certain permanent features on the plate will tend to persist from one print to the next.
Monoprinting has been used by many artists, among them Georg Baselitz and Tracey Emin. Some old master prints, like etchings by Rembrandt with individual manipulation of ink as "surface tone", or hand-painted etchings by Degas (usually called monotypes) might be classifiable as monoprints, but they are rarely so described.