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Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Ink for Linoprinting: Why can't I use Watercolour for Linoprinting?!

If you're new to linoprinting, you may be wondering what kind of ink you should use. There are two main types of ink used in linoprinting: oil-based and water-based. So, which is better? Keep reading to find out!

Water-based linoprints drying. Normally prints like these will be completely dry in a few hours.

Oil-Based Ink

Oil-based ink is made from a combination of oil, pigment and resins. It's thick and viscous, and it requires linseed oil or another solvent to thin it out. Oil-based ink has a longer drying time than water-based ink, which means you have more time to play around with blending and manipulation. It also means that smudging and accidental fingerprints are more likely. Oil-based ink is waterproof once it dries, so your print will be durable and long-lasting.

However, one downside of oil-based ink is that it can be difficult to clean up; you'll need special solvents to remove it from your tools and surfaces. It is also generally more expensive than water-based ink.

Water-Based Ink

Water-based ink is a newer type of ink that was developed specifically for use with linoleum blocks. It is made from a mixture of water-soluble dyes and resins so it is thinner and less viscous than oil-based ink. Water-based ink is easier to clean up than oil-based ink - simply wash it off with soap and water.

However, it is not as durable as oil-based ink and may fade over time if exposed to direct sunlight or other strong light sources. Water-based ink also dries quickly, so you need to work fast if you want to blend or manipulate your print.

an image of a block print showing a boat and the night sky, the sea and some cliffs.
Water-based ink lino block - ready for printing onto!

Why Can't I Print With Watercolours?

Watercolor paints are not ideal for monoprinting, as their thin viscosity will bead up on the plate. However, we have seen prints done with watercolor with beautiful results. Gouache may be easier to work with if you're wanting to try this technique. I suggest experimenting if you wish to use watercolours.

Watercolour paint is not great for linoprinting as it tends to dry too fast and it isn't as viscous or tacky as is needed to stick to the block, and then to transfer to the paper. Some artists colour their prints using watercolour after they have made a print using regular block printing ink.

Generally, this is what happens when you try and block print with watercolour. Still a nice print, but the paint isn't thick enough to stick to either the stamp or the paper.

What Ink Should I Use Then?

So, which type of ink should you use for linoprinting? The answer depends on your needs and preferences. If you want a durable print that will resist fading, oil-based ink is a good choice. However, you're just starting out, or if you want an ink that is easier to clean up and won't stain the bathtub, sink, clothes, pets etc, when you go to clean your materials, water-based ink may be a better option.

If you want a print that's durable and long lasting, go with oil-based ink. And if you're undecided, why not experiment with both and see which one you like better?

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