Abstract Recent progress in our understanding of the properties of monolayers is linked to the development of techniques for their direct visualization. The use of such methods for the determination of phase diagrams of Langmuir monolayers, both pure substances and mixtures, is described. Complex optical textures — stripes, spirals, stars — have been observed that are related to those found in liquid crystals. Textures can persist when the monolayers are transferred to solid supports, allowing them to be studied by scanning probe microscopy. The transfer procedure can be employed to produce stable patterned surfaces.