5 Tips to Improve Your Lino Print Art

August 23, 2023

If you are new to linocut printmaking you may be starting to realise that there is a lot to learn about this wonderful process and many things that need to be considered to achieve stunning lino print arts, such as: What type of ink to use? Which tools to buy? How much ink do you need to roll on your carved block? We have put together five tips that we think will help, as sometimes just a few small changes can make a huge difference.

1. Keep your tools sharp

Flexcut SlipStrop and honing compound

To create beautiful prints with varied and interesting marks you will need a good set of tools. Lino cutting tools come in a range of shapes and sizes from a very small ‘v’ shape for carving tiny details and thin lines to much larger ‘u’ shape gauges for bolder cuts or clearing large areas. Tools also come with a range of price tags, but if you’re not ready to fork out on a very expensive set just yet, the good news is there are plenty of affordable tools out there to get you started. Regardless of which tools you choose, it is essential that they are kept sharp; carving your design with blunt tools (even very expensive ones) can tear the lino, give you less control and can make you slip.

Using a strop and a polishing compound to remove the burr from your tool’s edges will keep them nicely honed, especially if you do this before every carving session. While honing your tools with a strop is something that you can easily do yourself, and there are lots of videos online to show you how, we would always recommend leaving sharpening to the experts - especially if you have treated yourself to a more expensive set. Remember when carving, cut away from your hand and always keep your fingers behind the tool, you want your lovely sharp tools to glide through the lino, not your finger!

2. Test print as you go

Rubbing taken with a graphite stick

It can be very easy to get bogged down in the detail and confused by the positive and negative space of your print during the cutting process, so it’s a good idea to do regular test prints when carving.
A quick and less messy way to do this is to take a rubbing from the surface of your block. Place a thin sheet of paper (regular printer paper will do) over the top and use a graphite stick, wax crayon or charcoal to rub over the raised areas. This will give you a really good idea of what your design will look like when it's printed.

3. Registration

Making some form of registration system to mark out the position of where you need to place your paper before you ink your lino and start printing, will prevent you from getting wonky prints! This can be simple pencil drawn guidelines, drawing round your block on to a paper template, or you could use masking tape to mark out where to put your block and paper.

To be certain that your block will print in the exact same place every time and to avoid any slippage, you might also opt for a pin and tab registration system. Any slight movement when printing will be noticeable, creating a smudge or making your precisely cut lines look fuzzy. This can be really annoying when you have spent time perfectly inking your block.

4. What is the best ink to use for a lino print?

There are two main kinds of printmaking ink to choose from, water-based and oil-based, but there are many different brands offering slightly different variations of the two, so it can become very confusing knowing which to buy. Some printmakers opt for water-based inks as they are easier to clean up and dry quickly, which is especially useful when printing multiple layers.

Oil-based inks do take longer to dry, but we highly recommend using them as they are far easier to work with and will get you better results because of their durability and pigment intensity. You can buy excellent quality oil-based inks that wash away safely with liquid soap and water, without the need for harsh solvents, such as white spirit, to clean up.

If you’re in a hurry for your prints to dry, you can speed up the drying time considerably by adding a drop of cobalt driers to your ink, but you will need to be careful as these are quite toxic and can also make your finished print shiny. It is important to remember that drying times can also be affected by temperature and humidity, the thickness of the ink and the type of paper that you use.

5. Inking Up

Inking up your newly carved lino block is harder than it looks, and a badly inked block can lead to a patchy print if under-inked, or loss of detail if you over-ink and flood the design. Getting just the right amount of ink takes a little bit of practice and you may need to do a few test prints until you get it right.

When you’re ready to print, make sure that your block and work area are free from any dirt or grease or stray bits of cut lino which will create small white patches on your print. Roll out a thin layer of ink on to a flat, smooth surface (a glass slab is ideal), until you have an even solid block of colour, just thick enough not to be able to see through it. When rolled out to the right thickness the ink should only have a slight texture with no peaks and make a sort of hiss sound when the roller goes over it, rather than a sticky sound. Roll the ink over your carved block, moving the roller in several different directions until it's covered, holding the block tilted towards the light will help you see if you have inked the whole area evenly before you print. You may find you have to do two or three test prints to build up a thin layer of ink on the block and achieve a solid transfer of ink onto the paper.

We hope you find our tips useful. Remember, cutting, inking, and printing needs to be learnt and practiced like any other skills; keep experimenting, be patient and don't be afraid to make mistakes.

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