What tools and equipment do you need to make a linocut print?
Updated: Feb 28
I often get asked where I buy my printmaking supplies from when I run my linocut workshops. Below are details of the tools I use on my beginners linocut workshops and as a professional artist. Links to suppliers are at the bottom of the page.
I mainly cycle over to Hawthorn Printmaking Supplies in Murton, near York. They're a lovely family run company and are always extremely helpful with advice. They make their own presses and Barry, an ex-chemist, makes all their inks. I love learning about how things are made, so it's never a quick visit once we get chatting.
10 essential tools for linocut printing for beginners
Everything you need to start making your very own hand-carved and hand printed lino prints.
A starter kit of linocut materials and tools for beginners:
Linocut tools: A good beginner set is the Essdee lino cutters and handle set with 5 lino cutters.
Softcut lino: Essdee Softcut lino comes in various pack sizes
Glass slab: I use glass kitchen workshop savers
Ink roller or brayer: These Essdee rollers or similar.
Printing ink: If you are making linocut prints at home I recommend using inks such as Speedball block printing inks
Smooth cartridge paper
Wooden spoon: For hand burnishing the inked up lino block onto the paper.
Pencils, pens and rubber
Photocopy paper: For drawing and printing proofs or test prints
Which type of lino is best for linocut printing?
Traditional grey artists lino
I now use traditional hessian backed grey linoleum. Some people call it 'battleship' lino. Traditional lino is made from linseed oil, pine resin and cork dust. It's harder to carve with cheaper cutters.
Soft cut or easy carve lino
When I first started teaching myself linocutting I used soft cut lino. When I teach linocut workshops in my York studio I use soft cut lino or easy carve lino. This is made from plastic. As the name implies it is softer to cut so better for cheaper beginners tools.
What are the differences between traditional grey lino and easy carve lino?
Traditional grey lino
Pros: The end of a carving line snaps off meaning you can create different lines and marks easier.
Cons: Harder to carve. Goes brittle over time and needs to be used fresh. I would recommend using professional lino cutting tools.
SoftCut or easy carve lino
Pros: Easy to carve. You can cut shapes out of the lino easily. Easy to use with beginners lino cutting tools.
Cons: You need to ensure that you carve up slightly at the end to ensure the scrap lino is cut away. It will distort in an etching press. Essdee SoftCut is made from PVC.
Read a blog that explains about the different types of lino on the Handprinted website blog here.
What are the best linocut tools?
Beginner lino cutting tools
As a beginner, Essdee tools are good to start with as they are cheap to buy.
The downside is that Essdee say they not to be sharpened once blunt. They are better for carving SoftCut lino and I find them harder to use on traditional grey lino.
Professional linocut tools
I use Pfeil linocut tools. I bought the LSC set which I love and I use all of them. The best present you could ask for! Really worth the investment.
The images below are my LSC Pfeil tools.
From left to right they are L 8/7, L 8/3, L 9/2, L 12/4, L 15/2, L 11/0.5.
L 8/7, L 8/3, L 9/2 are U-shaped. L 12/4, L 15/2, L 11/0.5 are V-shaped
I tend to use V-shaped gauges L 12/4 and L 15/2 for most of my carved lines as I like the organic variation in line you get with a V shaped tool. I use L 11/0.5 for fine details. I use U-shaped gauges L 8/3 and L 9/2 for clearing smaller details. L 8/7 I use for clearing large areas.
Lino cutting tools for use by children
Essdee makes a set of safety lino cutters suitable for younger or less experienced users. These have ‘wings’ to each side of the cutting blade to allow for safer cutting of lino. I have no personal experience of using them. See the Essdee website for details.
Linocut tools demo
For a more in depth comparison of linocut tools see my Best linocut tools for carving lino blog.
I've compared a selection of lino cutting tools available in the UK. I've chosen 3 beginner linocut tool sets and one professional set.
Along with a brief description, pros and cons of each set, I've created a video showing each of the tools being used on different types of lino.
How to sharpen linocut tools
There are various methods to sharpen your tools. The best way is to maintain the edge by stropping or honing your tools each time you use them.
If your lino cutting tools have become blunt over time. Lawrence art supplies offer a sharpening and regrinding service. If you know of anyone in Yorkshire that also offers this service I’d love to know.
Note: Entry level Essdee type tools can not be sharpened.
How to use Flexcut SlipStrop
The Flexcut Slipstrop is used for stropping or honing your linocut tools. It’s a method to maintain a sharp edge on your tool by polishing and deburring the edge. I bought mine from Handprinted.co.uk
This is a useful Tube video demonstrating how to use the Flexcut SlipStrop. Watch half way through for sharpening your V and U shaped lino tools and gouges. Sharpening carving Tools with Flexcut SlipStrop
Re-grinding and sharpening your linocut tools
I'm quite adept at DIY etc but sharpening such fine tools is quite an art. If your linocut tools have become too blunt I would recommend getting them sharpened professionally. Lawrence art supplies offer a linocut tools sharpening and regrinding service.
What are the best printing inks for linocut printing?
If you are making linocut prints at home I recommend using water-based inks. They are quick to dry and easy to clean up with soap and warm water, so ideal if you are printing on your kitchen table.
Very cheap inks can result in patchy coverage. For beginners I recommend paying a little bit more for ink if you can. In my online courses I have used Lucas water soluble relief printing ink. These are a good entry level water-based inks. Speedball block printing inks are also good water-based inks for beginners. Prices start from £6 per tube.
I use Hawthorn Printmakers Stay Open oil-based inks. The inks are semi-transparent which means the colours can be layered to create other colours. They also have a luminosity and depth to them which I love. Hawthorn’s also make Say Open Opaque Inks for relief printing. Hawthorn inks require clean up with vegetable oil, citri wash or lincoln wash (Miscible with water. I dilute approx 50%).
An alternative is Cranfield Caligo safe wash relief printing inks. These are oil-based inks that clean up with soap and water. I'm a member of Linocut Friends on Facebook and they seem to be very popular in the group.
What are the best rollers or brayers for linocut printing?
I use Hawthorn Printmakers 'student' rollers. I have the 6" and 3' rollers.
Essdee rollers are good to start with. I use these for quick test prints with water based inks.
How to print a linocut print
Before I could afford my etching press I used my trustee wooden spoon, with lots of rubbing and elbow grease!
I still use it for cut out designs that would move and shift in my etching press. For example a print like this, using easy carve lino.
A barren is a disc shaped tool with a handle on the back. Like a wooden spoon, it’s used to apply pressure.
The Slama Press is a type of baren designed for hand printing. The pressure of rotating steel balls in it's base transfer pressure. There are far more points in contact with the paper, so the ink will transfer onto the paper a lot quicker. They are quite expensive, starting at £165 but a far cheaper alternative to buying a printing press. They come highly recommended from several members in York printmakers.
Another option is a glass barren by Thomas Petit Glass, which have been recommended by a friend. These barens are about £48.