How to Start Printing on Linoleum Blocks
Updated: Nov 16, 2022
All the tools you need for linoleum block printing
Getting started with linoleum (AKA lino) printing doesn’t have to be expensive, there are a few things you can save on but there are also a few things you definitely can’t skip out on buying.
Your list of tools you need to get started with lino print:
Paper (this is my absolute favourite paper for printing onto!)
Pencil (I recommend 6B because it transfers really easily)
Something to sketch your design onto!
A baren, or a wooden spoon!
Brayer (a roller to roll your ink with)
A flat surface to roll your ink onto (I use a glass picture frame)
This set has everything you need to get started and saves you buying all those items individually.
Lino printing process.
First, you need a design. This could be a drawing that you have done. Then, you need some sort of way to transfer that image onto the lino print. Remember, you will always carve the mirror image onto the lino print so that when you print it comes out the right way. See my picture above to see what I mean.
I started with a sketch I did of a bear and Bella Coola. I then traced my drawing onto the tracing paper using a 6B pencil. I find that any soft pencil from 3B to 6B is great for transferring because often the residue that is left on the tracing paper is enough to transfer without having to rub very hard.
Get the lino block you am going to carve into, and put the tracing paper graphite-side down. Then, rub the back of the tracing paper onto the lino with a wooden spoon or anything that will move over the surface of the tracing paper smoothly.
If you peel back the paper carefully, the image is starting to transfer. Once you’re happy with the transfer, remove the tracing paper. You might need to go over the lines with a pen or a pencil to make them clearer.
Now for the fun part! You will need your carving tool for this. Depending on the level of detail in your print, it dictates the size of the tool that you use. My prints are quite detailed and I always like to start with Speedball number 1. This part does take time, so get a cup of tea and put some good music on. I like to work in a room that has good lighting.
You want to think about it in terms of light versus dark. You are carving out the areas that you want to be white.
Once you hare happy with the bits you've carved away (remember, you are carving away anything that you want to be white!) it's time to get inky!
When you link up the print, only the raised lines will take the ink. When you are done, it’s time to do a test print.
Choose your ink colour and a flat surface to roll it out onto that will not absorb it. You can get proper acrylic sheets especially for this, but I found them to be quite expensive and they don’t always last. At the moment, I am using a glass picture frame. I just, roll my ink out onto the glass.
Get an even layer of ink. If you can hear it "sticking" to the roller, that’s too much! Keep rolling until you can't hear that sticking sound anymore.
Now roll the roller across your linoleum block I then like to leave the linoleum where it is and put my blank sheet of Yasumoto paper over top (smooth side down!). But some printmakers like turning the linoleum upside down onto the paper—up to you!
I'm gently rubbing the back of the paper with the back of a wooden spoon to transfer the ink onto the paper. The 'proper' tool to use is a baren. It is worth the investment, but not 100% necessary.
Carefully peel back your paper to reveal your first print! Congratulations. You will be able to see any areas that didn't take the ink (meaning you will need to rub those areas a bit more next time), and you will also be able to see if there are any areas that still need carving into.
Repeat this process for each print you do. Be sure to store your unused blocks flat, preferably with sheets of acid-free tissue paper between them. And wash your tools and linoleum blocks once you're finished - if you try and print again using dried ink leftover on the roller, then the next round of prints won't take as well.