Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Have you ever seen a print with multiple colours and wondered how it was made? The process is called reduction printing, and in this blog post, we'll walk you through the basics of how to make a multi-layer linoprint.
Reduction printing is a printing technique in which each successive layer is printed using a portion of the previous layer's block. This means that the block must be carved away as the layers are printed, until only the final layer remains. Reduction printing can be used to create prints with multiple colors, as well as gradients and other effects.
Tools & Materials
To get started, you will need the following materials:
- A piece of linoleum (there are many brands, but the one I've linked is my favourite and is the one I use - it's soft and it carves really well)
- A linoleum cutter
- A brayer (this is basically just a roller for inking your stamps—you can find one at an art supply store or online)
- Ink (linseed oil-based ink works well for linoleum stamping)
- Paper (but thicker papers work best so that they don't rip when you are applying multiple layers of ink)
- A baren (optional, but it helps to evenly apply pressure when you are printing)
- A cutting board (optional, but it provides a solid surface for carving your linoleum block).
Reduction Prints 101 - How to Line Up the Images When You're Printing Multiple Layers
First, start with a picture that you want to create a print of. Decide how many colours you’d like it to have. Each colour will be a different layer – if you’re just starting out, maybe two layers would be a good place to start and practice. When I’m printing reduction prints, I use about 4 colours. Let’s just say my colours will be white, light blue, cyan and black.
How Do I Line Up My Layers? What Is A Registration?
When printing multiple layers, you'll need to line up the images so that they register correctly. To do this, use registration marks on each layer of your print - registration marks are simply small crosses or dots that you place in the corners of your image; they help you line up the layers correctly when printing.
Once you have transferred your picture or drawing onto your lino block (see this blog on how to do that!), the first layer you will carve is anything that you want to stay white – with reduction prints, you always work from light to dark. The raised parts of your carving will be what transfers the ink onto paper later. The darkest colour will be the final layer. So, if I’m printing a seascape, I’ll carve out maybe the crests of the waves, or a moon, or some speckles on the water.
Printing Your Layers
Now comes the fun part—it's time to start printing! Begin by inking up your brayer with whichever color ink you would like to use for your first layer. Then roll the brayer over your carved linoleum block until the entire surface is covered in a thin layer of ink. Use even pressure as you roll so that the ink coverage is consistent across the entire block. Once you are satisfied with the amount of ink on your block, position your paper atop the inked surface and use either your hands or a baren to apply pressure evenly over the entire paper. Slowly peel back the paper—ta da! You've just printed your first layer! Repeat this process for each additional layer until all of your layers are printed.
Make sure to let each layer dry completely before moving on to the next one; otherwise, you risk smudging or otherwise ruining your work.
When you’ve done this, roll out your second-lightest colour – for me it would be light blue – then roll this onto your lino block. line up the linoleum block onto your registration marks, then align the paper over the top, again, following the registration marks. Print onto your paper – voila! Your first print is done.
Next, carve out anything you want to STAY light blue. For me, it would be most of the sea, some of the sky, and some more detail in the crests of the waves. Roll out your third-lightest colour – for me it would be cyan – line up the linoleum block onto your registration marks, then align the paper over the top, again, following the registration marks, and allow your paper to adhere to the block. Rub it with your baren, and peel back the paper.
Now, carve out anything you want to stay cyan. For me, this would be the majority of the remaining linoleum, I will LEAVE the areas that I want to be black for my next layer, which probably won’t be a lot – just some general outlines, maybe a few birds on the horizon.
Last layer – ink up with black now, aligning both lino and paper to the registration marks. Rub the back of the paper one more time and you are finished! Allow to dry thoroughly between each layer.
We hope this blog post has given you a better understanding of reduction printing and how to make a multi-layer linoprint. If you're interested in learning more about printmaking techniques, be sure to check out our other blog posts or sign up for one of our classes!