Project 2: Positive and Negative Masked Monoprints


Positive and Negative Masked Monoprints

This project explores the use of paper masks to make monoprints. This technique involves creating a design which works well as both a positive and negative shape.


I explored some ideas for designs in my sketchbook. All of these would work as a positive shape, however, it became obvious that more thought must be applied for these designs to work in the negative. The paper, when the positive shape had been cut out, must work as a connected whole and not have internal shapes that would not be attached. This eliminated the dog and the figure design. After looking at the pros and cons of each, which are noted next to the sketches, I decided on the rearing horse shape. I also decided to work in an A3 related size and to print on A2 paper with a border, the paper being medium weight cartridge.

Chosen design - positive and negative masks

Chosen design – positive and negative masks

After squaring up my initial sketch onto A3 lightweight card, I cut out the design to produce a negative and positive shape of the horse to use as a template for my paper masks.

From this I drew around the positive shape onto several sheets of thinner paper and then used scissors to cut out the shape. This left me with several positive and negative masks ready to use.



We were asked to use the negative mask initially, ie the background with the positive shape removed. I inked the plate with black oil based ink, placed the mask down ready for printing. Using a medium weight cartridge paper in A2 I positioned the printing paper as centrally as I could and then applied pressure to help the ink adhere. Carefully peeling off the paper to reveal the print. This was repeated with the same mask and a clean sheet of printing paper to reveal a fainter print and then the mask was removed and a third print taken.


I was fairly pleased with the above results, however, I noticed that the mask was a little smaller than the inked area on the first print, which resulted in an unwanted line at the bottom. I placed a piece of paper on that area before taking the second print to avoid this. The other observation on the first print, was that not enough pressure had been applied to ear area of the horse so this was indistinct. I tried to address this in the next pull of the print.

We were asked to repeat the exercise with a contrasting colour so I used red oil based ink this time.


Observations this time were that the first pull was successful in that it was a distinct print with a clean background, the second was fairly good apart from an inconsistent pressure being applied to take the print and the third, without the mask, had a few blotchy patches of ink in the background, the outline of the horse was nice and clear.

The next exercise was to use the positive mask in the same way, contrasting colours, an initial print, a ghost print and a print with the mask removed in each colour.


This was interesting as the results were quite different, particularly considering that the positive mask was made from the same piece of paper as the previous negative one. Generally, in all three prints from the positive mask, the horse was much thicker set – think sturdy hunter as opposed to sleek stallion! I had also wiped too much ink away at the edges and made the printing area too tight to fit the mask comfortably giving the prints a cropped down appearance. I also thought I had not put enough pressure at the mask’s edges to give a distinct print and tried rectify this in the second pull. It did not make a lot of difference and I put it down to the thickness of the printing paper being too much to allow the moulding around the masked shape. Unfortunately, at this time I had no other suitable paper available to me, although I had some blank newsprint on order.

I made some further positive mask prints with a contrasting colour, also trying to address the issues I had identified previously.



Fourth pull on brown wrapping paper in blue oil based ink but with mask removed

Fourth pull on brown wrapping paper in blue oil based ink but with mask removed

Again, coming across the same challenges in the blue prints as with the red, I found out some brown wrapping paper. This paper being a little thinner and a different texture, I thought I’d give it a try. It didn’t really address the moulding around the positive mask as it had already been removed. I used the less shiny side of the paper to take a ghost print of the plate with the mask removed.

Not sure what this proved, other than it’s another option for printing paper. It did, however, test my patience as the paper had been previously rolled which made it a little unwieldy in execution! I think I will have to wait for my newsprint to arrive to fully test the paper weight theory.




How did you find this process?

I enjoyed this and found it mostly straight forward although I made observations and learnt lessons as detailed below.

Did your ink dry too quickly and not print evenly or was it easy to achieve a smooth print?

Using oil based inks for this project was a complete game changer. On previous projects I only had water-based inks available to me and whereas, in the main they worked fine, I always had trouble with the black ink not printing solidly and distinctly. The black oil-based ink produced a beautifully solid, clean print in comparison. I followed instructions in applying a couple of drops of linseed oil to mix in and loosen the consistency, although I did forget once (with the first use of red ink) and although it didn’t affect the few prints I took with it, I think it would have shortened the working time if I had continued with it.

Does your image work well in both its positive and negative forms?

Yes I think it does, this was a major factor in choosing which design to use as per my notes in my sketchbook and above. It seems easier if thinking only of the positive shapes, it takes more thought for a successful outcome in the negative as all aspects have to be connected as a whole.

Lessons Learnt:

  • Keep designs¬†simple and consider both negative and positive shapes
  • Consider the size of the print – I may have been too ambitious at A3 for my limited skill
  • Do not take design too close to the border’s edge or the negative mask becomes unstable and can distort when applying to the printing plate
  • I found the negative mask easier to handle if kept whole and cut out with a blade rather than cutting in from the edge with scissors
  • Check the printing area does not extend further than the mask as this will print – mask with additional paper strips to keep border clean of ink
  • Before placing printing paper onto plate, ensure there are no dots, blobs or smudges of ink on the mask itself or this will print – depending on the size of the contamination I found a scrap of paper or masking tape placed on top would keep the print clean or remove and use a fresh mask
  • Ensure you have enough masks to address the previous point or for the number of prints required
  • Keep templates for future use
  • Ensure inked area is sufficient for the mask (particularly positive ones)
  • Consider the thickness of the printing paper to ensure distinct edges for positive masks
  • Consider the pressure used for making the print, if a solid print is required, the pressure should be consistent
  • Keep hands and work area clean
Negative mask print in red oil based ink

Negative mask print in red oil based ink