Posts tagged linocut supplies
Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink Review: Long-Term Test

I'm a fan of Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink and have been using it for about three years. I use it primarily for printing linocuts on kids cotton t-shirts and thought it would be helpful to give an update on how the shirts have fared through normal wearing and washing. (Here's my original ink review from a while ago). Since this textile ink isn't widely available, I've included links to Blick Art Materials and Amazon, where it can be purchased. I get a small commission if you end up buying something there since I participate in their affiliate programs but the opinions below (good and bad) are my own. You can find more details about this here.

The washability of inks on textiles is a concern for anyone who starts printing on fabric. Many of us have made a print we're pleased with only to find that it fades a ton upon washing - I know I have and it's frustrating. Some recent questions from readers (thank you!) prompted me to take a close look at a t-shirt I printed years ago and assess how well the linocut print lasted.

My daughter's dragonfly t-shirt is a good example. I printed the linocut on a Bella Baby shirt with Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink in May 2015. I pulled the shirt out of her drawer this weekend and took a picture.

T-shirt printed with Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink after almost three years of washing and wearing.

T-shirt printed with Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink after almost three years of washing and wearing.

Based on my experience, Speedball's Fabric Block Printing Ink (available through both Blick and Amazon) has performed well in the years since I originally printed the t-shirt. Especially considering that I made this shirt before I did a lot of testing in my printing process. For instance, I now always wash new fabric before printing and cure the ink in a hot dryer (I can't remember if I did either on this early t-shirt). I have a more recent shirt that I block printed after I honed my technique, which is holding up very well.

The shirts were always washed and dried with our regular laundry - no special care was taken with them. The intensity of the lino print still seems good to me. Like I mentioned in my original ink review, though, there is a little fading at the beginning. Don't be surprised when the intensity of the print's color is not as deep after you first wash it.

In my experience, after that initial fading, the ink's permanence holds up over the years. Given this, if the printed t-shirt is going to someone else, I recommend pre-washing the t-shirt once the ink sets, sort of like how companies pre-wash jeans before selling them. And, if you're looking for other printing tips, I have a whole page dedicated to the t-shirt printing process.

I hope this update has been helpful!

Choosing the Best Linocut Carving Tools for Block Printing

Over a year ago, I did a big review of the best linocut inks. So many people found it helpful that I thought I'd embark on a new project - reviewing some of the best linocut tools. Over the years, I've used a wide range of carving tools for block printing, such as those made by Speedball, Power Grip, Pfeil and Japanese woodblock carving tools. I'm going to break down my research into two categories: inexpensive, budget oriented carving tools and more expensive, superior tools. I have some specific recommendations at the end.

Some of the carving tools I use for block printing

Some of the carving tools I use for block printing

I've included Amazon, Blick and McClain's Printmaking links in this post because they're easy places to order tools - it's quite rare to find a local art shop that sells a range of good quality relief printmaking tools. Amazon and Blick also have helpful customer reviews to read and if you click on their links, I get a small commission if you end up buying something there since I participate in their affiliate programs. You can find more details about this here. But, I have no relationship with the wonderful McClain's Printmaking Supplies and the opinions below are my own.

Beginner / Budget Linoleum Carving Tools

Some of the best options in this category of tools are the classic, all-in-one Speedball Linoleum Cutter and relatively inexpensive gouges like Power Grip tools.

Speedball Linoleum Cutter

The most basic, versatile and inexpensive tool is the Speedball Linoleum Cutter. This is sometimes the first tool linocut artists use. It's cheap (under $10), dependable and comfortable.  If you're not familiar with this traditional tool, it works with six interchangeable blades that store in the plastic handle. The available cutters are:

  • (No. 1) Small "V" Gouge

  • (No. 2) Large "V" Gouge

  • (No. 3) Small "U" Gouge

  • (No. 4) Square Gouge

  • (No. 5) Large "U" Gouge

  • (No. 6) Knife

Speedball Linoleum Carving Tools

Speedball Linoleum Carving Tools

The metal blades are replaceable when they get dull, though, I sharpen them many times before recycling them. Many hobby and art shops sell their own versions of this tool but some are of inferior quality - this one is definitely worth the $1-2 more. This is a video of me carving a tree in a linoleum block with this type of cutter.



Lino Carving Tool Video

Linoleum carving a using Josei Moku Hanga To “V” gouge.


Power Grip Carving Tools

I like these simple tools made in Japan by Mikisyo. Power Grip carving tools come with sharpenable steel blades and fit really nicely in the hand. I use a range of "U" and "V" gouges, as well as a small straight chisel (for woodcuts) and skew knife. These are a step up in quality over the Speedball Linoleum Cutter and must be sharpened with a water stone, honing block and honing compound, like all the other tools mentioned below.

Power Grip Carving Tools

Power Grip Carving Tools

Expensive / Deluxe Block Printing Tools

Tools in this category are going to cost roughly $15 or more for each individual gouge or knife. These tools will last a long time (but need periodic sharpening) and carve very smoothly, often with less effort, when sharp.

Usually, you will save some money if you buy them as part of a set. At this price level, you're having to make a bigger investment in your art practice. Therefore, before investing in a set, I recommend buying or borrowing one tool first to see how you like it. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How does it compare to what tools I already have?

  • How does it fit in my size hand?

  • Is it comfortable after a lot of carving?

  • How does it carve my particular type of lino or material of choice?

  • How well does it sharpen?

  • Is it going to last a long time?

Pfeil Palm Carving Tools

Pfeil palm carving tools are high quality wood and linoleum tools that are Swiss-made and characterized by their wooden mushroom or pear-shaped handles that fit in the palm of your hand. I have a small 1.0 mm "V" parting gouge and I think it's a really nice tool, however, I don't like the way it fits in my hand. I haven't bought any more of these and it taught me the, "try one tool before buying a whole set" lesson.

Pfeil Palm Carving Tool

Pfeil Palm Carving Tool

Flexcut Carving Tools

I'd be remise if I didn't mention Flexcut tools. I've never used them, but time and time again I hear that relief printmakers love them so you might want to give them a try. They have wooden handles that fit in the palm and are in the middle price range. This less expensive Flexcut Lino & Relief Printmaking Set with interchangeable blades looks promising.

Josei Moku Hanga To

I've had four of these Japanese relief printmaking tools for almost five years and they're sold through McClain's Printmaking Supplies.

  • Josei Maru To, "U" gouge knife, 3.0 mm

  • Josei Maru To, "U" gouge knife, 10.5 mm

  • Josei Sankaku To, "V" gouge knife, 1.5 mm

  • Josei Sankaku To, "V" gouge knife, 6.0 mm

Josei Moku Hanga To are really good quality tools for a pretty reasonable price and I couldn't be more pleased with them. One of their unique features is that you can cut the long wooden handle to fit the size of your hand (instructions on how to do that).

Josei Moku Hanga To

Josei Moku Hanga To

Futatsu Wari Moku Hanga To

Futatsu Wari Moku Hanga To are really gorgeous, top-of-the-line woodblock carving tools made in Japan and available at McClain's Printmaking Supplies. I was kindly given a few tools that are very similar to these by a friend many years ago. The gouges have a metal ferrule that slides off and allows you to take out the blades for sharpening or replacing. These are amongst the most expensive tools you can buy - most are $40 or more for each tool. If that's within your budget, they're worth considering.

Linoleum Carving with Power Grip Tools

Linoleum Carving with Power Grip Tools

My Perfect Set of Tools

My preferred set of tools is an assortment of different brands that balance cost and quality. It includes a Speedball Linoleum Cutter, a couple Power Grip "U" gouges and numerous Josei Moku Hanga To tools of different sizes.

Speedball Linoleum Cutter: While some printmakers might consider this mearly a beginner's tool, I love it and use it all the time when carving linoleum. I find the small "V" gouge indispensable. One downside of this tool is that it's best used on linoleum and soft "rubber" carving blocks (like Speedy Carve and MOO Carve), not wood.

Power Grip: you can get a nice set of Power Grip tools for between $20-$50. I prefer the "U" gouges over the "V" gouges. My favorites are the 6.0 mm and 9.0 mm "U" tools.

Josei Moku Hanga To: I think these are the best tools available for the price. My favorites are the versatile 6.0 mm "V" gouge and the big 10.5 mm "U" gouge for clearing large areas of wood or lino.

There is a certain amount of subjectivity when choosing carving tools because everyone's hand is a little different so what's comfortable for one person might not be for another person. Please let me know if you've found something that works great for you!

Best Linocut Inks for Block Printing on Paper and Fabric

I'm not sure what it says about me but I'm always experimenting with inks for block printing, wondering if there is something else out there that I'm missing. So with that in mind, over the last couple years I've been experimenting exhaustively with inks made by a wide variety of manufacturers from around the world. I've printed on all different sorts of paper from thin Japanese paper to Rives BFK, as well as fabric, mostly on a Blick etching press. These are the inks I tested:

  1. Caligo Safe Wash Relief Ink

  2. Charbonnel Aqua Wash Etching Ink

  3. Daniel Smith Oil-Based Relief Ink (now discontinued)

  4. Gamblin Oil-Based Relief Ink

  5. Schmincke Aqua Linoldruck Ink

  6. Lukas Linol Ink

  7. Akua Intaglio Ink

  8. Graphic Chemical Water-Soluble Relief Ink

  9. Blick Block Printing Ink

  10. Speedball Block Printing Ink

  11. Permaset Aqua Textile Screen-Printing Ink

  12. Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink

  13. Gamblin Drive by Black Textile Ink

  14. Versatex Screen-Printing Ink

  15. Jacquard Screen-Printing Ink

  16. Speedball Fabric Screen-Printing Ink

  17. Blick Fabric Screen-Printing Ink

Some of these inks are fantastic, others not so much.

Inks reviewed for lino printing.

Inks reviewed for lino printing.

Update: Some of these inks are a little tricky to find and people have asked where to get them, so I've included links that will take you to Blick Art Materials and Amazon, where most can be found. If you click on those links, I get a small commission if you end up buying something there since I participate in their affiliate programs. You can find more details about this here. But, the opinions here are all my own and I bought all these inks with my own money. McClain's Printmaking Supplies is a smaller company that also sells relief printing materials. 

Best Oil-Based Ink for Printing Linocuts on Paper

Winner - Caligo Safe Wash Relief Ink

Hands down the best overall ink on the market for lino printing, in my opinion. It's the ink that I've gone back to time and time again over the years. It has all the benefits of traditional oil-based ink but because of its special formulation, it comes without the cleanup hassle. Here's how to clean your inked brayer. Hold the brayer over the sink and squirt a fair amount of dish soap on it (no water, yet!) and rub it all around until the ink is completely coated with soap. Then rinse it all under warm water, rubbing it off with your hands. Done. Let it dry.

Caligo inks come in a variety of colors and are widely available online. I recommend starting with tubes of black, white and their process colors (red, yellow and blue). With this color palette you can pretty much get any color you want. I prefer the tubes to the cans of ink - avoiding problems with the ink skinning over. After you get used to the inks you can try the different ink modifiers that they sell. I sometimes use the extender to make the inks more transparent.

Unlike water-based inks, oil-based inks take longer to dry and Caligo is no exception. Expect at least a couple days in my experience but it often is longer, particularly if you've stacked a lot of layers on top of each other. Drying time can be affected by the temperature and humidity of the studio, how thick the ink was applied, the type of paper, as well as the number of layers of ink.

Honorable Mention - Charbonnel Aqua Wash Etching Ink

Yes, it's an intaglio ink but it works just fine for relief printing right out of the tube. Similar to Caligo but a little more expensive and smelly.

Least Favorite - Traditional Oil-Based Inks

Not sure I see the point of using using traditional oil-based inks anymore, given the availability of much easier to work with inks like Caligo and Charbonnel, but Gamblin's line of relief inks are reliable.

Best Non Oil-Based Ink for Lino Printing on Paper

Winner - Schmincke Aqua Linoldruck Ink

Linocut Printed with Schminke Linoldruck Ink

Linocut Printed with Schminke Linoldruck Ink

This was probably the biggest surprise of all because I don't think it's widely used, particularly here in the US. However, I really, really like it! Schmincke doesn't dry too fast while you're rolling it out like other water-based inks do, but it dries to the touch on paper quite fast. It also doesn't require any modifiers and works fine straight out of the tube. I used this ink on my anglerfish print, which I recently finished.

On the downside, it is sort of expensive and you need to roll the ink on your block carefully to avoid leaving lap marks. It isn't widely available (in the US) but you can order it through Blick. If cost isn't a factor for you, it's the logical ink to replace the inferior Speedball and Blick Block Printing Inks.

Honorable Mention - Akua Intaglio

When applied in very thin layers, this ink works alright with linoleum. They also sell an extensive array of ink modifiers (transparent base, mag mix, etc.) to work with. I could see using this on a case-by-case basis, but it wouldn't be me goto linocut ink.

Honorable Mention - Graphic Chemical Water-Soluble Relief Ink

I'm pleased with the printing results of this ink. However, I found the water-soluble vehicle very sticky and messy to work with. Other downsides are that it's not distributed by major retailers here in the US and I wish they'd provide lightfastness ratings for their range of inks.

Least Favorite - Lukas Linol Ink

I'm sorry, but it worked terribly for me and I tried several different colors. Thankfully, it's very hard to buy for those of us in the US.

Now, onto printing on fabric.

If you've gotten this far and want to learn more about the linocut process, I've got the lino printing method broken down step-by-step. Now, onto printing on fabric.


Best Inks for Block Printing on Fabric

Testing fabric inks for relief printing is a whole different animal. There are two schools of thought when printing linocuts on fabric: using screen-printing ink vs. block printing ink. The benefit of screen-printing textile inks is that they're washable when heat set and there are lots to choose from. In contrast, there aren't a lot of relief textile inks on the market.

I did extensive testing on these inks with copious amounts of notes and numbered fabric all bordered on insanity! Some of the testing I did included:

  • Washing the fabric before printing vs. not washing it

  • Mixing brands of inks in different ratios

  • Adding modifiers to some inks to thicken them, increase tack or prolong the working time of the inks

  • Using foam vs. rubber brayers

  • Heat setting vs. not heat setting

  • Heat setting by ironing vs. in the dryer

  • Pre-washing quality of the print vs. post-washing quality

This post is all about choosing the best ink but I've got lots of information if you want to learn some specific techniques and tips for lino printing on fabric.

Okay, so this is what I think. You'll notice that I have two winners here: Gamblin and Speedball. Though I like Gambin's textile ink, it only comes in black and I like Speedball for its wide range of colors.

Block Printed Anglerfish T-Shirt Using Gamblin's Drive by Black Ink

Block Printed Anglerfish T-Shirt Using Gamblin's Drive by Black Ink

Winner (Black) - Gamblin Drive by Black Textile Ink

This is a traditional oil-based ink, which means it's a real pain to work with and clean up (unlike the Caligo I mentioned above). I wouldn't recommend Drive by Black if you're printing in your kitchen or something. However, it's a really rich ink, rolls out beautifully and prints nicely on fabric. Once dry, it holds up to washing quite well. Cleanup is best done with vegetable oil and/or Gamsol odorless mineral spirits.

Winner (Non-Black) - Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink

While also oil-based, it's made to clean up easily (like Caligo's ink) and comes in a wide spectrum of colors. Speedball rolls out nicely and produces crisp images on t-shirts and other fabrics. On the downside, I find the smell a little unpleasant while I'm working with it. After it dries (up to 7 days), it washes well but there will be some slight fading over time.

*2018 Update - I posted about the long-term permanence of Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink.

Honorable Mention - Speedball Fabric Screen-Printing Ink

A lot of people use textile screen-printing ink for block printing on fabric, my favorite among those is probably Speedball Fabric Screen-Printing Ink. A couple tricks for using this ink: 1) let is sit on the slab for a little while to dry/thicken before rolling it out, and 2) use a foam brayer instead of a rubber brayer. Versatex Screen-Printing Ink showed promise too.

Least Favorite - Permaset Aqua Textile Screen-Printing Ink

This might be my most controversial pick. I really wanted to like it, I promise! Many people who print on fabric swear by it, but its results trailed far behind every other fabric ink I tried. I can't recommended it. Jacquard's ink didn't do itself any favors either by drying so fast on the slab making it difficult to work with when doing a print run of more than one item.

If you've made it this far, I'm impressed :) Please let me know if you have any questions or thoughts!