Lino printing: getting started

Welcome to the Cosy Craft Club's lino printing month! We really want to encourage you to have a go at lino printing yourself, and we'll be sharing the key things you need to know to get started. You can find all our lino printing posts in one place here.

Lino printing is a lovely way to reproduce some unique art multiple times, for example for Christmas cards or making a set of prints to sell or give. I love the 'handmade' feel of it that you get from those little marks where the lino hasn't been perfectly cut away, or slightly wobbly lines and tool marks (or is that just my attempt?!).

In this blog post we're going to be looking at some useful things to know if you want to get started in lino printing.

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Equipment

Lino printing is pretty easy to try at home as you don't need any expensive or large equipment. You do need to have a few things before you start though, and they are listed here:

Cutting tools

Cutting tools (also known as gougers) are what you use to cut away the areas of lino that you don’t want to print. Often they come in the form of a handle and a selection of cutting blades. In practice you only need one or two blades to get started (such as a u-shaped and a v-shaped one). You can very cheaply pick up a red handle and 5 blades together in a pack.

It is important to remember to keep your tools sharp, as this will affect the cuts you make. Cally Conway says:

You can sharpen tools yourself, I use a Japanese water stone. You can also buy a sharpening block from Flexicut tools which is very easy to use.

Many more experienced lino printers use Pfeil tools, which are fairly expensive but easily available from printmaking shops (see below).

Lino

Most lino printmakers swear by the grey hessian-backed lino that is widely available. It is important to check that the lino is fairly fresh, as old lino will crumble and not carve well. Cally Conway advises:

Choose your lino carefully. If you want to use the traditional grey hessian backed lino (which I use), it should be fairly pliable, and you should be able to smell the linseed oil in it. It can be heated on a radiator to make it easier to carve.

A widely used alternative to lino is softcut vinyl, which is good for beginners as it is very easy to cut. It is a good idea to experiment with different types of lino materials to see which you prefer.

Ink

It is important to use block printing ink, as this will have the correct consistency. This can be found at printmaking or art shops. Tom Lawrey says:

I would recommend Cranfields oil based ink range, as the name suggests they are oil based but can be cleaned up with soap and water or even baby wipes.

Small lino cuts can be treated like rubber stamps, with an ink pad. Rose Agar says:

I like to use ink pads for doing test prints as they are less messy and are good for people who don't want to use a roller.

Roller

Rollers (also known as brayers) are pretty cheap and widely available. To begin with, a basic roller that matches the size of your lino print will do just fine. But as you progress, you may want to think about upgrading. Melanie Wickham says:

The first investment I made was a more expensive roller and that made a big difference to getting consistent results - I love my roller.  

Paper

For the best results, choose thin printmaking paper. It is also important (if you wish to display or sell your work) to use archival (acid free) paper since this will not yellow with time. Cally Conway suggests:

I use St.Cuthbert's Mill and Fabriano papers which are fantastic. Though if you are printing without a press, you may want thinner papers such Japanese handmade paper which is brilliant.

Other tools

Other things you may want to invest in include a non-slip mat or a safety guard to stop your lino slipping around, and a barren to press your print onto the paper - although you can just use a clean roller, the back of a spoon or your hand.

One way to make sure that you have everything you need is to buy a lino printing kit. You can find a lovely kit created by Kate Watkins in our Shop.

 

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Suppliers

There are many places to buy the lino printing supplies listed above. Your local art shop may be a great place to start, especially as you can ask the staff if you have any questions. There are also online art shops and specialist printmaking websites which have everything you could need.

Printmaking websites:

Online art shops:

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Resources

The book 'Linocut for artists and designers' by Nick Morley (who also goes by the name Linocutboy) has been recommended to me by a number of people as a fantastic resource for both beginners and more experienced printmakers, so if you're looking for a detailed guide to lino printmaking then I think that is the place to go.

There are a number of online resources that will get you started if you want to learn the basics about lino printing, such as this introduction to lino printing by ThoughtCo, and Linocutboy's top 10 tips for lino cutting. I have also written out the process of making a lino print here.

 Draw Cut Ink Press is a website worth exploring and is full of useful guides, such as linocutting exercises and a linocut step by step guide. Another place to find great printmaking tips is Handprinted's blog.

Although not really useful for learning how to lino print, I really enjoyed watching these videos which show the process of artists creating lino prints:

Other places to look for inspiration and information are the new printmaking magazine Pressing Matters, and the Facebook group Linocut Friends.

Thank you so much to all our printmakers for their input which enabled me to create this resource: Cally Conway, Tom Lawrey, Rose Agar and Melanie Wickham. Please click on the links and take a look at their amazing work.

I hope this guide is useful for you if you want to try lino printing. If you do have a go, please let me know. I’d love to see what you’ve made!

Rachel x