When people come along to my linocut workshops for the first time, or are considering the online Introduction to Printmaking course, one of the most frequently asked questions is ‘what materials do I need?’ Following swiftly on from that I also get asked ‘where do I get them from?’
So in this handy little guide I want to answer these two burning questions for all you budding printmakers.
The good news is that linocutting is one of the most accessible forms of printmaking and you just need a few simple materials and tools to get started. It can all be done at home as well without the need for a printing press.
Feel free to read the full list below, or you can download this in a pretty PDF that you can save to your computer by clicking here.
1. Linoleum (or alternative)
Linoleum is a composite sheet material (originally used for flooring) made from a mixture of powdered cork and linseed oil that has a hessian or burlap backing. The linoleum that printmakers use is specially prepared for the purposes of relief printing and usually comes in thicknesses such as 3mm or 5mm and can be a variety of colours depending on the supplier (e.g. grey or brown).
Printmaking suppliers will either supply the lino in rectangular blocks of different sizes or a large roll. Due to its flexible nature these blocks and rolls can be cut to the desired size using a Stanley knife and metal ruler or even a pair of scissors if an unusual shape is required.
There are also some softer alternatives to lino available such as Japanese vinyl, which is blue on one side and green on the other. Other alternatives include speedycarve and softcut.
2. Linocutting / carving tools
There are several different V-shaped tools, gouges and knives that can be used to cut into the lino and each different tool will make a different mark.
Some tools will make thin detailed lines and others are used to remove large areas of lino when flat white space is needed. Woodcut tools will also work with lino. Always work with sharp tools to avoid tearing your lino and cutting your hands.
There are generally two different types of tool that you can use for linocut:
1. Lino cutting sets – consisting of a plastic or wooden handle with cheap replaceable blades that you throw away when blunt. This is a fairly inexpensive way to start and will allow you to get used to the different type of blades and gauges available. I would recommend avoiding the set you see with red plastic handles as these are really not nice to use. Great art do a good set for around £6 which have a wooden handle – I use these in my workshops and are an affordable place to start.
2. High quality linocut (or woodcut) tools – with a fixed wooden handle and blade that will last many years but require sharpening regularly to keep them sharp enough for cutting. I recommend the Pfeil brand of cutters, which can be bought for around £15 per tool.
Whichever tools you use, make sure that they are stored properly in a clean dry place. Never throw them together in a drawer or pencil case as this will damage the metal blades.
I would generally recommend buying a small selection of high quality tools. If well looked after, these will last you for years and make your cutting a much more pleasant experience.
3. Printing ink
For linocutting you can print using water-based or oil-based inks. Always look out for inks that are created for ‘relief printing’ (it will say this on the bottle, tube or tin).
The water-based inks I use in workshops are here:
Some good oil-based inks are found here at Intaglio Printmaker
The Caligo Safe Wash inks are also really good:
You will also need printing paper to create your prints. Always go for a smooth surface paper to show off your carving. The thickness and brand of paper is very much personal preference. If hand printing, you don’t want a paper that is too think as it may move when burnishing. Something between 120gsm – 250gsm is about right. I like Somerset Satin paper and Fabriano. Japanese papers are also really good for hand-burnishing as they are thin and strong due to their long fibres. When starting out you can even use cartridge paper or newsprint paper to print on. Although do bear in mind that something like newsprint will turn yellow with time so it is good for proofing and experimenting but if you want your prints to last longer you will need to invest in some higher quality paper.
Paper for linocutting can be bought from the general printmaking suppliers listed at the bottom or specialist paper suppliers such as John Purcell Paper or RK Burt (bulk only).
5. Roller (or brayer)
Rollers (or brayers) are needed to roll your ink out on your smooth printing surface and then transferring it onto the lino. Always choose a roller just slightly larger than your lino block. It is a good idea to have several rollers of different sizes to suit all of your printmaking needs. Rollers come in a number of materials and can be soft or hard. The softer the roller, the more likely it is that the ink will go into the little dips and pits in your lino.
The ones I use in workshops can be found here:
6. Burnishing tool
When printing linocuts from home and by hand you will need something to burnish with i.e. rub the back of the paper to transfer the ink onto the paper. Many people choose to use a wooden spoon with a smooth back or a Japanese baren (a circular tool with a handle). Any tool that you can find that you can use to run the back of the paper with is perfect!
7. Pencils, pens, ruler and eraser
Handy materials to have around when linocutting are pencils, pens, a ruler and erasers. These will be used for drawing onto your lino or transferring your design onto the lino.
8. Tracing and carbon paper
Many people will have a sketch or design all prepared before starting lino cutting. To transfer this onto the surface of the lino tracing paper and carbon paper can be used. You can also buy a substance called Tracedown which is like carbon paper and comes in different colours so that your lines can be seen on the lino.
9. Bench hook – This is a very useful item to help with cutting wood blocks and lino blocks. It will stop the block from slipping when you put pressure on the cutting tools down onto the block and therefore help to prevent too many cut fingers. These can be bought or you can make one yourself!
10. Palette Knife
When printing you will also need a palette knife to spread out your ink or mix up different colours of inks.
Recommended Printmaking Suppliers
http://www.greatart.co.uk – good affordable printmaking supplies. 5 day delivery times.
http://intaglioprintmaker.com/ – specialist printmaking supplies
http://www.lawrence.co.uk/ – general art supplies including printmaking.
http://www.johnpurcell.net/ – paper supplier
http://rkburt.com/ – bulk paper supplier only
To request the PDF version of this information sheet please click on the link below (please note that we will request your email address to email the fact sheet to you)…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan Yeates is a printmaker, tutor and author at Magenta Sky Arts and Crafts. She has written three art/craft books including Learning Linocut, an Amazon no. 1 best-selling printmaking book providing a comprehensive introduction to relief printing. Her other books include Amigurumi Animals and Make Your Own Christmas Tree Decorations.
In 2015 Susan launched a new and unique online printmaking course ‘Introduction to Printmaking’ providing printmaking tuition via online demonstration videos to students across the world. This can be found online here: www.introductiontoprintmaking.com. Susan lives and works in Woking in Surrey (UK) and continues to teach printmaking to anyone wanting to learn!