Friday, April 29, 2011

Linocut Carving and Block Printing: Inks, Surfaces, Suppliers and Blocks-Oh My!

As anyone who follows me knows, when I first started writing this blog, I did a two-part tutorial on how to design, print and carve a basic linocut (basically a rubber stamp of your own design).  Part one can be found here and part two can be found here.   Today I am going to add a little bit of information to that, getting more into the kinds of inks and blocks I prefer to use as well as a few more tips and tricks on how to pull a good print.

INKS: Oil versus Water Based.
Technically, you could print with whatever type of ink/liquid you could find. You could use a stamp pad, color on your linocut with a marker (though you'd probably have to move fast), stamp it in beet juice, paint it with india ink, whatever.  However, traditionally, either an oil-based or water-based block printing ink is used.  These tend to be heavier, almost a gluey consistency and give a  very slightly raised texture to your printing due to the thickness of the ink. This makes it easy to roll them right on to the block with a brayer (harder to do with thin liquids).  The big difference is oil-based will be permanent and waterproof and is harder to clean p (you'll have to use mineral spirits or turpentine).  Water-based will wash off your block, your hands, your brayer and whatever else you got it on with water.  I personally use water-based because I love easy cleanup and hate chemicals.  The main reason I could imagine using oil-based is to print on textiles, in which case I would use a screenprinting ink, which are easily cleaned up with soap and water.

SURFACES: Not Just Paper....
Like with inks, I highly recommend experimenting.  As mentioned above, you can use textile screenprinting inks on fabrics.  You can print on cards (as I do).  There are a variety of block-printing papers, but you could use anything you can get your hands on, from good old computer paper to handmade paper you put together yourself.  The key thing to remember is, the more textured the paper, the more speckled your print will be, as the ink will have a harder time getting into each nook and cranny.  I personally like this look and the cards on which I print and slightly textured, making each print truly individual.

I even had one person ask me if it would be possible to block print on her walls as a wallpaper-replacement. I really believe it would, using a large block, housepaint and a lot of patience.  Once again, the possibilites are limitless.

BLOCKS: Things You Need to Know
Okay, obviously I'm running out of creative ideas for section titles, but aside from that there are basically four different kinds of blocks: Unmounted, mounted, easy-cut and regular linoleum.  These kind of overlap, as you can get regular linoleum either mounted or unmounted on an plywood block, though I've never seen easy-cut mounted, you can often get it in thick (for carving both sides) or thin for just carving one.  If I am doing a more intricate design that I want to print in a long series, I carve it on mounted linoleum.  The mounting makes it easier to grip when picking up and printing and (I believe) helps the carving last longer since it has a firm backing.   The regular linoleum is harder to carve (that's where the hair dryer mentioned in my tutorial comes in), but it's going to hold a finer detail, and won't bend, crack or crumble as easily.  The soft-cut has a rubbery consistency but is good for simple designs that you want to carve quickly.  Your blade will run through it like butter. On the downside of that, you can also accidentally cut right through it and if you fold it in half, it might very well break.

Chances are, if you wandered into your local chain craft store, you did not find diddly-squat, except maybe maybe a brayer in the one or two aisles of actual art supplies.  If you're lucky enough to have a local store devoted solely to art, awesome.  If you live in the Charlotte area like me, I personally recommend Binders as they have a decent supply of block sizes, carving tools, blade refills, and ink colors.  I wish I could recommend Cheap Joe's Art Stuff for block printing, as they are a great local store, but sadly, I have never found any such supplies there.  However, if you live in NC and are into any other branch of art, I highly recommend them.  I get almost all of my other art supplies there and they have amazing prices and a store brand that is still high quality.  If you really want options or live somewhere without easy access to a true art supply store, I recommend ordering from Dick Blick, which is basically your Amazon of art supplies. If you want it, they have it, and probably at a great price.

Well, folks, that should cover all the basics of what which weren't covered in the how-to's.  As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments or send me an email and I'll respond as quickly as possible.


  1. What type of ink would you recommend for printing onto a piece of stone? The stone is unfinished slate, not smooth like polished marble. I intend to coat it with a waterproof sealer, so the texture is not really a factor.

  2. That's not a surface I have much experience with but I would think that oil based block printing ink would probably work well (my only concern with waterbased is it might smear when you go to seal it). Oddly, depending on the size of what you're stamping, a good old ink pad might have some really neat effects as well.

  3. And out of curiosity, why are you stamping on slate? Possibly some really cool bathroom redesign?

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this info with us. FYI a note of interest for you I'm looking to use oil based inks (clean up with vegetable oil and 'simple green' envirofriendly cleaner available at Cdn Tire per printmaker at artcamp i went to last year)because i want to be able to go back in and hand-color with colored inks etc without disturbing the relief print ink. will see how it goes! Jan Jenkins - River West Artworks :D

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