Linocut techniques

What is a linocut?

Linocuts are a type of relief print in which the artist cuts the design into linoleum or similar materials like vinyl and floor tiles as the printing surface, using gouges and knives. The softness and lack of grain of linoleum enable the artist to cut smoothly in every direction but very fine lines can crumble.

Texture can be created through techniques like sanding and use of abrasive materials, monoprint techniques during inking and use of bleach and other etching media.

Masks can be used over portions of the image, parts of the image can be hand-coloured.

Blocks can also be rotated in different colours or tones to make abstract images.

For my linocuts in Printmaking 2 see:

Project 1.3 landscape composition

Project 3.1 Chiaroscuro: Leon

Project 5.1: Grand Arcade: Memories Revisited

I also did more experimental linocuts in Printmaking 1 that provided the basis for my work and notes here.

Bibliography of sources consulted:

  • Coppel, S., (1998) Picasso and Printmaking in Paris, London, South BGank Publishing.
  • D’arcy Hughes, A. & Vernon-Morris, H., (2008) The Printmaking Bible: the complete guide to materials and techniques, San Francisco, Chronicle Books.
  • Stobart, J., (2001) Printmaking for Beginners, London, A&C Black.

For approaches by other printmakers and artists see also linocut inspiration

Linocut Process

Choosing or planning the image

Strong tones, simple shapes, patterns and textures are important.

Lino is a direct printing process so the image will be reversed when printed. It is useful to check the design through using a mirror.

It is likely that any sketch will need to be adjusted or simplified to make a good linocut image. To simplify the shapes, adjust the edges and clarify the movement of the eye though the image. It is very useful to do Notan structure drawings to check the underlying tonal structure and dominant shapes. It is particularly useful to do this digitally using a programme on the iPad like Procreate. This enables you to design specific brushes that mimic linocut tools and freely and quickly experiment with different versions, interpretations and colours of a design.

Images can be constructed through positive and/or negative shapes. Linocuts can be mostly cut away to leave lines on paper background, or mostly the colour of the ink. Or a combination of the two. It is worth experimenting with  digitally reversing the tonal values to explore different interpretations of an image. It can also be done using white chalk on black paper, experimenting with different marks to simulate linocut marks. Black and white collage can also be useful.

2) Transferring the image onto the lino

Tracing paper or a lightbox can be used to help reverse the image.

This can be done using tracing paper and a soft pencil, or carbon paper. Or simply drawing on.

It is useful also to go over the black areas with pencil or ink and brush so that the cuts will be clearly seen.

3) Cutting the lino

Cut marks are part of the identity of a linocut. These can give a sense of movement and life. They can also give a wide variety of textural contrast. Sometimes a clean area with no cut marks is required.

Cut along the surface of the lino – you don’t need top cut deep. Even pressure can create a smooth line.

Varying the pressure and angle of the tool and/or speed of cutting gives a more varied and expressive line.

If using a large lino block, or cutting away large areas, it is best to mount the lino on a solid surface like hardboard with glue. This will keep the plate rigid through repeated use. This is particularly important in reduction or combination prints.

Tools

  • Veining tool: to cut an outline around the largest shapes so that they are easier to cut out. And for the finest lines and smallest areas.
  • Gouge: has a rounded blade that cuts into the lino first and leaves a round end to each cut.  The gouge can be pushed into the lino and make a long smooth stroke. Short stabbed cuts can also be made as textural marks. Rough-edged marks by rocking from side to side. They come in a range of different widths and vary from shallow C-shapes to deep U-shapes.
  • V-tools: have a triangular blade that will leave a neat v-shaped cut. Longer cuts can be made and then tapered by reducing the pressure on the blade as it reaches the end of the groove. Short stabbed cuts will be triangular in appearance. A square end to the cut can be made by suddenly stopping the movement and levering the lino shard away from the block. They come in a range of different widths.
  • Blades: Angled and flat-end blades are designed for cutting a line around a shape before using a gouge to make the edge sharp, particularly if you want this to make a corner or a point. They can also be used to remove the top edge of the scoop marks or the ridges of cut marks if a clean area is required.
  • Scoops: ?? not quite worked out what to do with these.

Safety

  • Use a bench hook and steady the image, cut away from you. Turn the lino if you need to change direction.
  • Warm the lino to make cutting easier and prevent strain. This is easily done with a hairdryer or on a radiator.
  • Keep plasters handy in case of slips.

Proofing

It is useful to check the image as you go along by lying a thin piece of paper over the lino and using pencil or a graphite stick. This helps avoid over-cutting and better judgement of shapes. At a later stage it is useful to do proof prints.

4) Printing the image

Inking the plate

Use relief inks – water-based or oil-based. Relief inks are stiffer than etching inks.

Mix the ink into the colour you want with a palette knife. Use thinner ink if you have a lot of fine cuts.

Use a hard roller to get sharp outlines. A softer roller will go slightly inside the cuts and give a softer image. Ideally the width of the roller should be bigger than the block. Use a small roller to go over finer areas if necessary – check the corners and edges in particular.

You need an even coating of ink that is not thick or lumpy. The ink on the roller should look like fine suede and make a very gentle swish when rolling out. There should be no spots or marks in the ink because these will be transferred to the block, and probably to the paper. It is much better to apply several layers of thin ink than one thick layer – ink that is too thick may ooze down into the cut marks and loss of detail will occur.

You can re-ink the lino several times for the same colour, or to mix colours.

Papers

Relief prints are usually printed onto smooth dry paper, but can be printed on dampened paper.

Thinner more sensitive papers can be used, particularly if printing by hand.

Registration

Registration enables you to print an edition with every print being positioned in the same place on each sheet of paper. It also enables you to over print a new layer of colour over a previous print.

Registration methods include:

  • drawing frames of two sizes on a large sheet of paper – a smaller one for the block and a larger one to position the paper
  • putting tape supports or marks at one or more corners on the bed of the printing press for the block and paper eg marks for the block and tape supports for the paper (my preferred method)
  • mounting the block on a hard board that is the size of the paper.
  • using a thick cardboard jig the same height as the surface of the lino and the same size as the paper, with a hole for the lino plate cut out in the appropriate position. Or a simple L-shape can be used.

In all these cases the top left hand corner of the back of the paper should be marked to ensure it is placed the right way up.

Printing

The linocut can  be printed in a simple screw or lever press or by hand, by rubbing the paper against the inked block with a spoon, rolling pin or baren (a slightly concave disc sheathed in bamboo), or by laying the inked linoleum on to the paper and hammering the back of the block. These hand-printing methods can also be used to print on to textiles, or the inked block can be turned on to fabric stretched on the floor and trodden on by the printer. Hand printing can give a more sensitive image.

If using a printing press, the paper can be put on top of the block if you want some embossing. Also if you want to selectively dampen the paper to give texture to the inking. If you want easy registration by eye then put the paper down first and place the block on top.

If corners have been cut back, or to avoid ridge marks at the edges of the lino block on the paper, use lino runners along the edge to stop the rollers sinking onto the paper.

Editioning (single colour or multi-block)

Number the prints in the order you take them. Marked Print No/Total prints.

The edition is only true if the block or blocks remain true without any additional cutting during the print run. It is usual to print all pages of the first colour together, then the next etc. (But not if you are changing the colours of ink on the blocks). The first print is labelled the artist’s proof.

Multiblock Linocuts

A multi-block linoprint is where each colour is printed from a separate lino block, cut to match the original design.

To begin you need to create a design that can be printed in two or more colours (often 3 colours is good). In some cases a black registration block is used containing the finished design to help cut the different layers and also unify the image at the end.

When you have drawn your design outlines and solid dark areas you can colour in areas of your design with pens.

Printing is generally done light to dark, using light colours for the largest areas on the least-cut block. This enables layering of colours to produce a range of different tones and hues as the inks mix and overlay each other.

Block 1: lightest with only the areas that will remain white cut out. This image then needs to be transferred from the paper to Block 2 while the ink is still wet.

Block 2: darker colours with colour of block 1 cut out. This image then needs to be transferred from the paper to Block 3 etc if more colour blocks are used while the ink is still wet.

Blocks 3+ and so on.

Registration block goes last.

REGISTRATION IS KEY!!!

Reduction Linocut (also known as ‘suicide print’)

A technique that creates a multiple colour print from one block.

First prepare a coloured design and transfer it to the block as in other methods. It is useful to have a master tracing to work from as successive layers will disappear. Colouring areas to be retained helps prevent mistakes.

The first cuts are the colour of the paper to be printed on. The surface is then reduced for each successive colour, usually working from the lightest to the darkest. Remember ‘CUT TO SAVE’ previous colour. Some cuts can also be masked if you make a mistake.

As you cannot go back, a batch of prints large enough for the print run should be done at each stage.

Reduction prints are usually printed in opaque inks as you want each successive colour to sit on top of the previous layer (is this true?? Or do you want mixing???)

3 Replies to “Linocut techniques”

  1. Thank you! I found the answer awhile back and implemented it on my etching press. BTW, just viewed the June Wayne videos. Thanks for posting! Eerily, and unbeknownst to me, she investigated some of the ideas I am currently exploring. Serendipitous.

  2. Sorry Mira, I only returned to this blog now. A lino runner’ is a thin strip of lino placed alongside the linocut plate in the direction that will go under the press roller – use two strips one on each side. You can also put four strips all around if you want. This lifts the press roller to the height of the linocut plate before it hits it. Helping keep the plate from slipping, and stopping the paper from being embossed around the edge if the plate. This is if you use an etching press. Probably a relief press you dont need it. Nor for hand burnishing.

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