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What tools and equipment do you need to make a linocut print?

I often get asked where I buy my printmaking supplies from. Below are details of the tools and materials I use for my linocut workshops, online courses and as a professional artist. Links to suppliers are at the bottom of the page.


If you’d like to learn how to make a linocut print, see my linocut workshops and online courses page for links to each of my courses and workshops.



10 essential tools for linocut printing for beginners

A starter kit of linocut materials and tools for beginners
A starter kit of linocut materials and tools 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:

  1. Linocut tools: A good beginner set is the Essdee lino cutters and handle set with 5 lino cutters.

  2. Softcut lino: Essdee Softcut lino comes in various pack sizes

  3. Glass slab: I use glass kitchen workshop savers

  4. Ink roller or brayer: These Essdee rollers or similar.

  5. Printing ink: If you are making linocut prints at home I recommend using inks such as Speedball block printing inks

  6. Smooth cartridge paper

  7. Wooden spoon: For hand burnishing the inked up lino block onto the paper.

  8. Tracing paper

  9. Pencils, pens and rubber

  10. Photocopy paper: For drawing and printing proofs or test prints


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 relief printing presses, and Barry, an ex-chemist, makes all their printing inks. I love learning about how things are made, so it's never a quick visit once we get chatting.


Which type of lino is best for linocut printing?

Pfeil linocut tools

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.


Japanese Vinyl

Japanese vinyl is slightly firmer than SoftCut lino. It’s usually black and dark green in colour. As it’s firmer it is better for use with a press. Artists such as Angela Harding use this.


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 this Handprinted blog which tests the difference between types of lino blocks.



What are the best linocut tools?

Pfeil linocut tools LSC set. 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
Pfeil linocut tools LSC set. 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

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 above 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’ on 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.

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 YouTube video demonstrating how to use the Flexcut SlipStrop. Watch halfway 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

If your lino cutting tools have become blunt over time. 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 offers a linocut tools sharpening and regrinding service. If you know of anyone in Yorkshire that also offers this service I’d love to know. Laura Boswell’s YouTube channel has some useful tutorials on how to sharpen your lino cutting tools. 


Note: Entry level Essdee type tools can't be sharpened.


What are the best printing inks for linocut printing?

Hawthorn Printmakers Stay Open oil based inks

Water-based inks

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. Prices start from £6 per tube. The following are good entry-level water-based inks:


Oil-based Inks

Hawthorn Printmakers Stay Open oil-based inks. These are the inks I use. 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. The inks are stay-open and non-skin. This means I am able to use the ink on my glass slab all day without it drying on the surface. Hawthorn also makes Say Open Opaque Inks for relief printing.


Hawthorn inks can be cleaned up with soap and water, vegetable oil, citri wash or lincoln wash. Lincoln wash is solvent-based and I only use this occasionally for a last clean-up on highly pigment colours such as red. It’s miscible with water and I dilute approx 50%.


Cranfield Caligo safe wash relief printing inks. I'm a member of Linocut Friends on Facebook and they seem to be very popular in the group. The oil-based and washable ink can be cleaned up with soap and cold water.


A traditional oil-based relief ink. Clean-up needs to be with a mineral spirit.


What are the best rollers or brayers for linocut printing?

Rollers or brayers are available with rollers that vary from hard to soft. These are measured in Shore. There are different Shore scales for measuring the hardness of different types of materials. The scale measures the hardness of the rubber ranging in hardness from soft and flexible, to hard and inflexible.


Essdee rollers are good to start with for beginners. Esdee red handle rollers are 70 Shore. Esdee blue handle rollers are 40 Shore. I prefer using the 40 Shore blue handle roller. Soft blue handle Essdee rollers start at £6.90.


I use Hawthorn Printmaking Supplies 6” and 3” ‘student’ medium rubber rollers. The rollers are 38 Shore. A 6" roller is approx £40.


Ideally, choose a roller that is wider than your lino block. This will make it easier to get an even coverage of ink. It’s not the most important thing. My lino blocks are often wider than my rollers.


Hawthorn Printmakers student rollers


Essdee relief printing roller

How to print a linocut print

Linocut print made using easy carve or soft cut lino

Wooden spoon

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.


Baren

A baren is a disc-shaped tool, often with a handle on the back. Like a wooden spoon, a baren is used to apply pressure and transfer the ink from a lino block to the paper.


Glass artist Thomas Peitit Glass makes glass printers' barens. Each baren is individually handmade in Derbyshire and available in 12 beautiful colours and 3 sizes. I’d recommend the medium size barren. Approx £48.


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.


Hawthorn Etching Press 405 model

Printing Press

I use a Hawthorn Etching Press. I have the 405 model that will print up to A3. They make larger and smaller presses.


An etching press is a machine with two metal rollers. The inked up lino block and paper are placed on the flatbed of the press. When the handle is turned, this slides between the two rollers under pressure. I call it my glorified mangle. Obviously it's a lot more refined than that!


Presses that exert a downwards pressure are also used. An Albion press is the dream! It’s a model of an early iron hand printing press used for book printing. Smaller bookbinding presses can also be used.


Registration multi-coloured prints



There are different ways of lining up your lino blocks and paper for multi-coloured lino prints. For the reduction print and multi-block method I make a registration jig from card. Ternes Burton registration pins and stripping tabs ensure the most accurate registration. I explain in detail on my How to make a multi-block linocut print online course.


Ternes Burton registration pins

Ternes Burton is a small company in Minnesota USA and is widely known for making register pins and stripping tabs.


Ternes Burton register pins are buttons welded to a stainless steel base.

The register pins work with stripping tabs or can be inserted directly through holes made by a hole punch. To limit movement, there is a hole in it so that as you tape the pin down you have adhesion on either side as well as the centre.


More widely available in two pin heights: 0.085in and 0.055in.

This means that the button is:

  • 0.085in register pin: 1/4” diameter and 0.085” (2.16mm) high

  • 0.055in register pin: 1/4” diameter and 0.055”(1.397mm) high


The pin needs to be lower than the depth of the lino. The 0.085in pins are slightly lower than the depth of traditional lino and suitable to put through a press. These are the ones I use.


Ternes Burton striping tabs

Ternes Burton stripping tabs are made from mylar, a type of plastic. The round hole clips onto the pin of the register pin. The tabs are attached to the back edge of the printing paper. They can be bought in bags of 100 plus. ST1 has a 1/4” hole,


An office hole punch can be used to punch holes in the printing paper instead of using tabs. Sizes vary. My UK hole punch is slightly smaller and so a snugger fit.


Both are available from Handprinted in the UK and Ternes Burton in the USA.

Resources


Hawthorn Printmaking Supplies (Based in York (ring first) and online)

York-based family company where I buy most of my supplies. 


I use their 405 etching press, stay-open oil-based inks, 6” and 3” ‘student’ medium rubber rollers. I buy my traditional grey artists' lino and Essdee Softcut lino there.


Specialist printmaking supplies, selling everything from tools and materials for beginners through to professional level. Extremely helpful on the phone and lots of advice and buying on their website.


I buy my Ternes Burton registration pins and water-based block printing ink from them. Supplier of Slama Press’s. They sell Essdee lino tools, rollers, lino and a wide selection of relief printing inks from water-based inks to professional inks such as Caligo Safewash inks.

Jackson’s Arts Supplies (Shop in London and online)

Paper, printmaking and art supplies.

Where I bought my Pfeil lino cutting tools from.

Intaglio Printmakers (Shop in London and online)

Specialist printmaking supplies.

They sell professional inks such as Caligo Safewash inks, which are water soluble.

Fred Aldos (Shops in Leeds, Manchester and online)

They often have a selection of beginners lino printing tools.


Ternes Burton registration pins and stripping tabs.


Where can I buy lino printing kits online?

These are a few links to lino printing kits and block printing kits. They contain everything you need to start making your very own hand carved and hand printed lino prints. Bear in mind that the block printing inks within kits are often cheap and cheerful. At the time of writing these are some kits I would recommend.


Lino printing kits and bundles


Lino printing ink sets



I hope that helps get you started. If you need any more hints and tips get in touch.


You may also find this blog useful:


Printmaking and Linocut Print Books

Find out more about my favourite printmaking books and magazines in my Printmaking and Linocut Print Booksblog.

Michelle

 

Would you like to learn how to make a linocut print?

Online courses

Online self-paced learning. Full access for one year, so that you can study at your own pace and home. Instructional videos and step-by-step guides.

  • Beginners guide to linocut printing

  • How to make a multi-block linocut print

Linocut workshops

My linocut workshops are all held in my York print studio. I teach in small groups of no more than four people, so that everyone gets lots of one to one tuition.

  • Introduction to linocut printing workshop

  • Follow on 'jigsaw' linocut printing workshop

See my linocut workshops and online courses page for links to each of my courses and workshops.


See step-by-step how I make my linocut prints

See examples of how I make my linocut prints in the Studio Diary section of my blog.


To be first to hear about my latest designs, online courses and workshops please join my mailing list.


Happy linocutting!

Michelle


 

About the author

Michelle Hughes is a North Yorkshire landscape artist. Much of her work depicts the Yorkshire landscape and Yorkshire coast, including the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.


Michelle loves exploring the British countryside by bike or on foot, camera in hand, capturing ideas for her next prints. Back in her garden studio, Michelle creates simple but stylised silhouettes based on her photographs, and hand carves these shapes into lino. She hand prints with an etching press, using oil-based inks to create tonal blocks of colour.


Michelle’s original linocut prints are limited editions.

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