Linocut Tutorial: Techniques and the Best Tools, Ink and Supplies
What's a linocut? Maybe you remember them from school? A linocut is a type of relief, or block print, and bears a lot of similarities to woodblock printing. Essentially, the artist carves an image into a linoleum (lino) block and what's left of the block is inked and printed.
I'm going to give you an overview of the process for making simple single-color linocuts on this page and more challenging multi-color lino prints on the next page. I've included some information on some of the best options for linocut tools and supplies since those are common questions. I've included links that will take you to amazon.com, where some lino supplies are sold. If you click on those links, I would get a small commission if you end up buying something on amazon, but please shop at your favorite store! You can find more details about this here. I also have luck buying lino supplies at Dick Blick, McClain's Printmaking Supplies, and local shops.
How to Make a Linocut Print
1. Linocut Design - My linocut design process usually starts with sketching on paper and a quick study or two on small pieces of linoleum while I experiment with compositions and patterns. I sometimes use Adobe Photoshop Elements to see how the print might look in different colors or by tweaking the composition. It's much more affordable than "professional" graphic design software like Adobe Illustrator.
After coming up with a plan, I sketch my final design on paper and transfer the image to the linoleum block using graphite transfer paper, or draw directly on the block. I buy my linoleum blocks in large 18" x 24" pieces and then cut them down them to size, which can save some money. I have to keep in mind that the image will be printed in reverse so I plan (when I remember!) accordingly.
2. Carving a Linoprint - using gouges and other mark making tools, I carve the image in the block - typically battleship gray linoleum. What is carved out of the block will not be printed in the image.
- Selecting the Right Carving Tools - Gouges come in different shapes (like "V" and "U") and sizes depending on the job. Common carving tools are Speedball linoleum cutters (popular and affordable), and Power Grip (I particularly like the "U" gouges), Pfeil and Flexcut (I've not used these but they're popular) gouges. These are the best reviewed linocut tools on amazon.
- There are also excellent Japanese woodcut tools, which I really like. Sharp tools make all the difference, making it easier to carve fine details. McClain's Printmaking Supplies has good instructions on how to sharpen them.
If you carve a mistake in your lino, I have some tips on repairing the linoleum block.
3. Inking the Linoleum Block - I check my work periodically by rolling a thin layer of ink on the linoleum, usually with a Speedball rubber brayer, and printing. This gives me an idea of how the carving is coming along and I can make changes to my design as necessary. Here's an example of me proofing part of a linoleum block with black ink.
- Relief / Block Printing Ink - There are all sorts of different inks to choose from and one of my favorites is Caligo Safe Wash Relief Ink, which is oil-based but cleans up with dish soap and water. Though I prefer Caligo, a lot of beginners use Speedball Block Printing Ink, which is inexpensive and straightforward to work with. However, in terms of water-based inks, I've found that Schmincke Aqua Linoldruck ink is superior. I've done an exhaustive review of the best (and worst) linocut inks and summarized my findings in a blog post.
4. Printing the Linocut - When printing, the paper is carefully laid on the inked block and burnished on the back with a tool called a baren - the back of a wooden spoon works too. The block can also be printed on an etching press (or similar press), which is how most of my work is printed. This video shows me inking the lino block and pulling the print with a press. I find that the block typically prints better after a couple prints have been pulled.
- Etching Presses - Here in the US, Conrad and Takach presses are amongst the best available. Richeson / Dick Blick etching presses (I believe they're the same presses marketed under different names) offer excellent bang for the buck in comparison, though they lack the refinement and build quality of the higher end brands. Here is one of my presses, a Dick Blick 999 Model II press.
- Printmaking Paper for Linocuts - Popular types of paper for relief printmaking include Rives BFK, Stonehenge and Japanese washi paper. Lighter weight paper is particularly well suited for printing by hand as it doesn't require as much pressure to get a nice, crisp impression. I often buy my paper in large 22" x 30" sheets and then cut it to size. I do this by carefully tearing it along the edge of my 36" metal straightedge or using one of my paper trimmers. Finally, I let the ink dry keeping in mind that oil-based ink takes longer than water-based ink.