At the weekend, I taught a one-day printmaking workshop at The Farnham Maltings to a group who all wanted to learn how to incorporate more than one colour into their linocut prints. I was so impressed with their results that I thought I would share with you in this blog article some of their work and also explain exactly what the reduction technique is so that you can try it at home or in your studio as well!

So, what is it?

Example of a two colour reduction print
Example of a two colour reduction print

The reduction technique is essentially a method used by printmakers to incorporate multiple layers of colour onto a relief print (e.g. linocut and woodcut).

As suggested by its name, this technique involves ‘reducing’ a block to create a multiple coloured print. What this actually means is that a single piece of wood or lino is used for the block, cut as normal to produce a first colour, then the block is ‘reduced’ i.e. cut into further and then this is printed over the top of the first colour. The plate can then be further reduced and printed again as your design demands. It is not unusual to have prints that have 3,4,5 or even 10 layers of colour!

Three colour reduction print – showing the three stages of the print

Advantages of The Reduction Technique

The reduction technique is a great way to produce a multiple coloured print from just one block. This means that you only need one piece of lino or wood, rather than many pieces. This will therefore reduce your materials costs. Another advantage is that the plate will always register well – i.e. the design of the second colour will always fall in line with the first due to the fact that the same block has been used. Many printmakers like this way of working as it can be quite free and progressive i.e. you can just take bits away as you develop your work and see what happens! This is personally how I like to work and I find this method suits my mindset when printing.

Disadvantages of the Reduction Technique

Two colour reduction, Phillipa 18.06.16
Two colour reduction, Phillipa 18.06.16

One very important thing to remember is that once you have reduced the plate you can’t get it back again and re-print the first colour. Some printmakers would see this as a disadvantage or restriction of the technique. Personally I think it adds to the fun! It is therefore essential to print enough copies of your first colour to work with for your subsequent colours. Another problem with the technique is that there are restrictions as to how the layers of colours work. For example if you carve out a particular area for your first layer, you cannot print any subsequent colours onto that area you have just cut out. Ink always print onto ink and once an area is cut away, no more colour can be put there. With multiple blocks you can put colour anywhere you want to! Confused! I’m not surprised, it can be a little tricky to get your head around….

How to Do a Reduction Print

reduction_janice Steele_180616
Two colour reduction (Janice, 18.06.16)

(a very simple guide!)

  1. Plan your print

Your image can be planned using an initial drawing or image and some carbon paper to transfer you image onto the block. Alternatively, the image can be created by drawing directly onto the block and just cutting out further to create the further colours. If this is the first time you have done a reduction, try just two colours to start with.

  1. Cut out your first colour

Here you are cutting away anything that will be white in the print. Always start with a light colour and layer darker colours over the top.

  1. Print colour 1
Small two colour reduction print (2013)
Small two colour reduction print (2013)

Ink and print the cut block several times using a registration method. Leave the prints to dry.

  1. Cut out your second colour

Go back to the block and cut out everything that you want to stay the first colour. Refer back to your original sketch and your printed first colour to help/

  1. Print colour 2 over colour 1

Ink and print the block again using your second colour and your registration method. Leave to dry.

  1. Repeat again as necessary until you have all your layers of colour!

Still Need Help?

I have several more resources to help you with multiple coloured prints:

  1. Learning Linocut book – try reading this book for help with techniques such as the reduction method for linocut.
  2. Workshops and Classes – if you are near to me I regularly teach printmaking classes covering methods such as the reduction technique. Sometimes nothing beats face-to-face help!
  3. Introduction to Printmaking Online Course – As part of this comprehensive online printmaking course we cover the reduction technique and show you in a video demo how to reduce a block to create a multiple coloured reflied print

Enjoy your printmaking!


More Examples of Reduction Prints from Previous Printmaking Classes and Workshops….

Two colour reduction print (2011)
Caesar | Two colour reduction print (2011)
Two colour reduction (2011)


Two Colour Reduction Linocut (April 2016)
Two Colour Reduction (2010)


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