What is Block Printing?
Block, or relief, printing includes linocuts, lino prints, woodblock prints, rubber stamping - pretty much any method where you carve into a material (a block, plate, etc.) and print an impression of the carved surface with ink. For a linoleum block you will carve an image into the block and what is left on the block is inked and printed.
Linocut Print Supplies You’ll Need: Blick Art Materials, Artists and Craftsman, McClain’s Printmaking Supplies, and Jerry’s Artama are great sources for supplies. Michaels will overcharge you for a deeply limited supply of speedball materials.
- Linoleum—Blick Battleship Grey Linoleum is my favorite and most used linoleum.
- Rubber Carving Block (DIY stamp)— Blick E-Z-Cut Printing Blocks, Soft-Kut, Speedball Speedy-Carve and Speedball Speedy-Cut. If you’re used to carving linoleum or wood, you’ll be amazed (or frustrated) at how soft and easy the rubber block is to carve. If you’re not careful, they can tear and small details can get lost. Consider yourself warned!
- Beginner Carving Tools—Speedball Linoleum Cutters (Set No. 1 is great) or Power Grip carving tools.
- Soft Rubber Brayer/ Roller—Speedball makes brayers ranging from 2 to 12 inches wide affordably.
- A Big Wooden Spoon (or Baren)—a wooden spoon is the best tool! Cheap and reliable.
- Paper—You can print on any paper, but I like printing on thicker paper like Stonehenge, cardstock, or printmaking specific paper (Strathmore sells pads of paper). You can also print on nicer delicate paper like Kitakata or Washi paper or even handmade paper or fibrous paper! Great paper makes a print POP!
How to make a Linocut Print:
Linocut Design—the process typically starts with sketching your design on paper and deciding how you want your composition to look—do you want the design to be ink heavy or linework heavy. If you are skilled at digital art, you can create your design on an app like Adobe Photoshop which might help you play around with how the print might look in different colors and/or help you tweak the composition. Remember that everywhere you carve will have no ink. After you come up with your design and sketch it onto a paper you can transfer the image onto the linoleum block using graphite transfer paper or even use a soft graphite pencil to color the back side of the paper you sketched on to transfer the image onto the block. You can always draw your design directly onto the block! One thing to remember is that your design will be reversed when you print the block. Be careful with lettering.
- HOT TRICK— use transparent paper to sketch your design and then flip it over when you are ready to transfer it and use graphite transfer paper. Doing this will ensure that your design is transferred to the block REVERSED and the block will then be printed the way you designed the image to look like in the first place.
Linoleum Block Carving—using linocut cutting tools called gouges you can care the image into the linoleum block. What is carved out of the block will not be printed in the image. Always carve in a direction away from your other hand for safety’s sake. You don’t want to stab yourself! You can use a bench hook to hold your block in place or a scrap of non-skid shelf lining laid underneath the block as well.
- Hot Tip—Use watered down acrylic ink painted onto the block or (my favorite) India ink rubbed onto the block prior to carving and after you have your design on the block. This will help you see contrast when you are carving.
- Carving Tools—Gouges come in different shapes (like “U” and “V) and sizes. Among the most popular tools and one that is affordable and accessible to beginners and professionals alike is the Speedball linoleum Cutter. This cutter comes with a range of interchangeable blades and a handle that holds all the blade nibs. I also love the flexcut tools because they are a bit higher quality and offer a wider range of gouge sizes and shapes.
- Inking the Linoleum Block—You will need a rubber brayer for rolling on the ink to the linoleum block. Brayers (rollers) come in a range of sizes, so you’ll want one that fits the size of your project as best as possible—though starting off with one brayer is good for beginners! Try to avoid over inking the block to keep ink from seeping down into the carved recesses of the block. It will take time to understand the ink you are using and your block to know how much is too much but best practice is to apply multiple thin layers of ink to the block instead of one thick layer. You will want to roll your ink out onto a flat and clean surface. I like to use a sheet of plexi glass, but you can also use a clean and flat baking sheet, plastic tray (like from IKEA), or even glass from an old frame!
- Choosing the ink—There are all sorts of different inks to choose from and one of my favorites is the Speedball Professional Relief Ink, which is oil-based but cleans up with dish soap and water or with window cleaner (to clean your ink off the plexi glass). Many people like the ease of speedball block printing ink which is inexpensive and straightforward to work with. It is water based and easily removed from clothes. Keep in mind that oil-based ink takes longer to dry than water-based ink.
Printing the Linocut—The linocut is printed by hand or by using a press
- Printing by Hand—once the block is inked it is laid on a flat surface. A piece of paper is carefully laid on the inked block and burnished onto the block with a tool. You can use a printmaking specific tool for this process called a baren, or you can use the back of a wooden spoon (my favorite). Speedball makes a popular baren that is handy in combination with a wooden spoon.
- Printing with a Press—the block can also be printed on an etching press or a hand press. Etching presses are expensive and hard to come by. Hand pressing prints is the most accessible way to print. Once you are ready to invest in printmaking you may want to invest in the Woodzilla press which uses unique engineering to provide uniform pressure using a hinge. These presses can now be purchased in the United States by way of The Netherlands through Speedball Art.
- Printmaking Paper for Linocuts—There are many popular printmaking papers out there including affordable Strathmore brand printmaking paper pads. My favorite printmaking paper include my two favorite papers—Stonehenge paper and Legion Brand Kitakata paper.
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