Lino Printing onto Fabric – Which Inks and Rollers to Use

We love printing with lino onto fabric – it can take your designs into loads of fun new places like t-shirts, homewares and bags!

Back in 2016 we wrote a blog post about how to block print onto fabric and it’s still one of our most popular posts ever! Since then, we’re continued to refine our methods and materials and are now bringing you an updated look at lino printing onto fabric.

Below we look at our four choices of ink for lino printing onto fabric.

Each print was taken from the same traditional lino block, printed onto cotton which was pinned down onto a padded surface. Printing onto a padded surface is a great way of ensuring your fabric prints are even.

Each print was washed in a 30′ wash one week after printing. Each type of ink showed good washability with very little fading. When printing onto fabric with any ink, test prints and test washes are recommended before embarking upon a large project.

See the chart below for a summary of our findings or read on for more details:

Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink

Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink is an oil-based ink. It’s water-washable so can be cleaned up with soap and water. It comes in two sizes with a wide range of colours to choose from.

The prints are bold and strong with crisp edges. The prints leave the fabric feeling very slightly stiff.

This ink should be used with a standard inking roller. We found that a slightly softer rubber roller (such as this Speedball Roller) produced better results than a very hard one.

The ink takes about a week to air-dry – no heat setting. After a week, the prints can be washed in cool water with a mild detergent.

Fabric Screen Printing Ink

Using Fabric Screen Printing Inks for lino printing onto fabric is one of our favourite methods. The ink leaves the fabric feeling really soft.

We like to use both Speedball Fabric Screen Printing Ink and Permaset Aqua Textile Ink. The consistency of the different colours tends to vary so some may prints stronger than others. We wouldn’t recommend using inks mixed yourself from pigment and binder as the colours tend to come out weaker and the consistency is trickier to use for block printing.

Standard relief rollers won’t work well with screen printing inks and they’re too slippery. A Textile Roller is perfect as it has a little grip for rolling the ink evenly but it’s not absorbent so won’t waste a lot of ink of cause blobs.

A Sponge Roller can also be used (see below) but the texture is more bubbly and it’s more likely to pick up noise from the carved areas of your block.

Prints made using screen printing inks tend to be a little more textured than those made with block printing ink. However, screen printing ink is more economical (once you’ve bought a separate roller!) per ml of ink compared to block printing ink.

Versacraft Ink Pads

Using Versacraft Ink Pads eliminates the need for any rollers at all. The blocks can be loaded up by dabbing them all over the surface – you can even use the small ones.

Versacraft prints on fabric are very soft and can be heat set to be washable.

Prints made from ink pads tended to be paler than the other methods we tested. The prints have a slightly more faded look. The ink pads also print paler and paler the longer you use them as the ink runs out. Below, you can see where an older ink pad has been used on the left and a new pad on the right.

Caligo Safewash Relief Printing Ink

Caligo Safewash Relief Ink is an oil-based block printing ink that can be cleaned up with soap and water. It is designed for printing onto paper but has had success on fabric too! Cobalt Driers needs to be added (just a tiny drop) to help with drying ability.

It is used with a standard roller and the prints are crisp and bold. However, it can take several days for the ink to dry fully.

Meet the Maker: Maarit Hänninen

My name is Maarit Hänninen. I’m a Finnish printmaker and artist living in the Netherlands. I love traditional/folk art, nature, plants and animals, and all these elements are all strongly present in my work.

Describe your printmaking process.

I work mainly with linocuts. After sketching a design (either with pen and paper, or a digital tablet) I hand-carve, print and dry all my prints with minimal equipment in my tiny 10m² studio. I actively document and share my process with the online community through social media and YouTube.

How and where did you learn to print?

My first introduction to linocuts was in grade school when I was 10 or so (I made a yin yang symbol for my Mom). But much later, while studying at Liminka School of Arts in Finland, part of the curriculum consisted of intaglio printmaking and woodcut. I had enrolled in the school to improve my drawing and painting skills, and at first, I didn’t know what to make of printmaking. It took me a while before I learned to appreciate the art form.

Why printmaking?

Before becoming a printmaker, I drew. But before I started drawing, I loved making just about anything with my hands. Whether it was textiles, sculpting, baking, building or gardening, if it meant creating something new, I loved it. Through printmaking, I can combine various craft elements with drawing, thereby satisfying not only the artist in me, but the maker as well.

Where do you work?

I work at my Amsterdam-based home studio. This is an ideal place for me to work because, not only am I an introvert, but this way I don’t need to brave the rainy and cold Dutch weather.

Describe a typical day in your studio.

No two days are alike, but I always try to start working by 9 am and be done by 6 pm (though I often find myself working later). Before I begin working, I usually start my days by sitting down at my desk to eat my breakfast and stare out of the window, just to relax for a moment. I run an online store where I sell my prints, so much of my time is spent on the business side of things: packaging orders, administration, content creation, etc. The days I’m fortunate enough to dedicate just for the creative work, I usually have a schedule in place. One day might be for sketching, the next day carving, and some days are all about printing.

How long have you been printmaking?

Outside of the one year at art school, I’ve been printmaking for nearly three years.

What inspires you?

My biggest inspiration is nature. I love plants and animals, and so it feels natural to use them in my work. I love the strong design and illustrative qualities often used in folk art and old school tattoos, and I seek to create my own, contemporary interpretation of them.

What is your favourite printmaking product?

There are so many great ones that it’s hard to choose just one, but probably the biggest game changer for me has been my press. It’s an A3 tabletop etching press, and I don’t think I could keep producing the volume and quality of work that I’m currently making without it. It’s just the right size for my studio, mobile enough to be stowed away when not in use, works great for my A3 size (and smaller) linocuts, and is just an overall solid and affordable piece of equipment.

Second place would go to Cranfield Colours gold (and recently also their copper) ink.

What have you made that you are most proud of?

My recent linocut “Lady in Black” is my largest and most intricate project so far. Not only did it take the longest to design and carve, but I filmed the entire process of carving it, keeping the block still the entire time – something that is quite challenging for someone who’s used to turning the block every few seconds. I compiled the footage into a one-minute time-lapse video that you can watch on my Instagram page.

Where can we see your work? Where do you sell?

I’m most active on Instagram, but you can also watch videos of my printmaking process on my YouTube channel. My prints are available for purchase on my website.

What will we be seeing from you next?

I will be focusing on more floral linocuts in my signature style. I’m also planning on producing more content for my YouTube channel, and I’m hoping to expand my catalogue to other products as well in the future.

Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?

Be patient, love your work, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

To see more from Maarit check out her website, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

Meet the Maker: Sunbul Akhtar

My name is Sunbul Akhtar and I run Night Press from my bedroom studio. I work in publishing during the week, ordinarily cooped in an office on the 41st floor of a building in London, and I love my job. I sometimes wish I was born half a century earlier to experience what publishing was like in its post mid-century revival – cigarette smoke and typewriters.

Describe your printmaking process.

I don’t have a static style of printing so each print I produce has a unique process of production. My blocks are always transferred from tracing paper. For larger composition prints, I use small pieces of tracing paper which gives me the opportunity to move the images around on the block before committing to transferring it.

My favourite part of the printmaking process is the carving. It is therapeutic and calming (even when I’m holding my breath getting into the intricate details of the print). A helpful tip, if you’re working on a print with faces, start with the faces first, there are so many small nooks and details that if you mess it up on your first try, you haven’t wasted hours of carving. Test printing is also another favourite, it’s so exciting not knowing what your final image will be. Once I’m happy with the print, I just go like a machine – a hand burnishing machine.

How and where did you learn to print?

I started printing in school, we had an amazing art department and my art teacher was someone I really looked up to. My very first print was of Dali’s ‘The Burning Giraffe’. I just really liked Dali and wanted to reproduce one of his pieces in a different medium. After I separated from my partner in 2012, I felt like I needed to rediscover the world as a different person. I jumped into lino printing again and my first block after the hiatus was a reproduction of Picasso’s ‘The Guernica’.

Why printmaking?

Because I find every process of production thoroughly enjoyable. I run block printing workshops in schools in London. I love teaching the process to children and rediscovering the delight of producing a print vicariously through them. I really hope I have inspired some printmakers for the future.

 Where do you work?

Having a studio is a pipe dream for me, I live in a small apartment in London with my daughter and have just enough space in a corner of my room for my printmaking activities, which is entirely confined to this space. I call it my bedroom studio.

Describe a typical day in your studio.

A typical day in my studio starts at night. I try to be present for my daughter during the day, although, as she gets older, we each move towards independent activities. When she’s asleep I own the time for my printing. I’ll sacrifice sleep and work until late on whatever process of the printmaking I’m up to. Sometimes it’s carving or test printing. Sometimes that time is spent packing orders, it takes about half an hour to pack one item, I like the recipient to feel as though they’re opening a gift. Each purchase comes with a gift and a handwritten note.

How long have you been printmaking?

I’d say I rediscovered printmaking after 2012. I started Night Press in order to sell my prints. I carved ‘al-Qarifa al-Cahira’, a reduction print of the city of the dead in Cairo and it gave me the confidence in the subject matter of my prints to start selling. It hasn’t been a year yet, but it’s been amazing! I’ve received commissions and I’ve made such amazing friends in the industry.

What inspires you?

I’m mostly inspired by world events. I use my prints to highlight events, like the Srebrenica genocide, arms trade, the Syrian conflict and the war in Iraq. I studied politics at university and remain interested in it all these years later. I also use printmaking to reconnect with my heritage. I am a British Pakistani woman, growing up during the tail end of the National Front and the beginning of the BNP, being Pakistani alone was enough cause for derision. I’m trying to rekindle the heritage that was so derided in my youth with my printmaking. I have been having a debate with myself, as you do, on the line between inspiration and imitation and I am trying to look at my work objectively enough to see whether that comes into play. I am definitely inspired by other printmakers, in particular, Imen Roulala, a French printmaker and Persileaud for the sheer volume of her output.

What is your favourite printmaking product?

By far it is my Pfeil tools, I only have a small collection. I started with the 12/1, and then added the 11/0.5. Whenever I reach a personal milestone I treat myself to a new tool. I have four now.

What have you made that you are most proud of?

I am most proud of my last completed print – the Anna Karenina print. I took a few chapters from the book for my print. Anna Karenina is my favourite book and the chapters I chose contain my favourite quote from Tolstoy ever. It is a quote on unconditional love and it is said between two female characters of the book. The book revolves around the male-female relationships of the characters and this quote really speaks to me, showing the bond of sisterhood that transcends societal limitations and prejudice. I’ve written about it at length on my website and I have a whole page dedicated to the print and the process of creating it. The illustration and composition of the print took the most work, the carving I managed to do over a few nights.

 Where can we see your work? Where do you sell?

I am on Instagram and I recently started my own website to write more about my work. I sell my prints on Etsy including the Anna Karenina print.

What will we be seeing from you next?

I always have a few projects on the go at the same time. At this very moment, I am carving a series of prints for the ‘About Me’ page on my website. They’re illustrations mostly of embarrassing moments I have experienced. “Waterloo”, for example, is a print on the time I was walking into Waterloo Station and a pigeon landed on my head. I have a very ‘do not make a scene’ attitude in public, and so I acted like it didn’t happen and carried on my journey.

I’m also working on a Marxist critique of Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations in print form. It makes sense in my head and hopefully it will make sense when it is printed.

I had my first showing at the Museum of London planned for April 2020, I was supposed to showcase my Urdu alphabet flashcards but it was postponed. I’m looking forward to it, whenever it can happen.

Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?

If you’re interested in taking up lino printing, my advice is to start with the Essdee cutting tool set. Build your set slowly, taking your time to get to know what tools work best for you.

To see more from Sunbul follow her on Instagram and visit her website.

Meet the Maker: Tom Frost

Print maker and illustrator Tom Frost graduated from Falmouth College of Arts in 2001 returning to his hometown of Bristol to work as an illustrator for a number of years. He now divides his time between print making, restoring his tired Georgian house in rural Wales and raising a young family. In recent years he has worked with clients including the V&A, Perry’s Cider, Walker Books, Freight Household Goods, Selvedge Magazine, Penguin, Barti Ddu Rum, The Archivist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. His work highlights a fascination for old matchboxes, stamps, folk art, tin toys and children’s books. Tom strives to produce items that people will cherish for many years to come. 

Image by Heather Bernie

Describe your printmaking process.

As a screen printer I create my positives in a number of ways. If I am doing something detailed or text heavy, then it is generally designed in Photoshop and printed onto a transparent stock. For my most recent limited edition prints I tend to work directly onto Mark Resist or True Grain with either acrylic paint, Chinagraph pencils, inks and paper cuts. My exposure unit at the moment is simply a UV floodlight beneath a sheet of glass. Very Heath Robinson! Once the screens are exposed, I use acrylic inks (safer in a house with children) and more than likely some lovely Somerset, Colourplan or Fabriano papers to print onto. No flashy exposure units, no vacuum beds, no back lit washout units, just good honest homemade printmaking which I find gives a much more pleasing result.

How and where did you learn to print?

I learnt to print in my hometown of Bristol at a small print workshop, gallery and studios called Snap around ten years ago. I was sitting in a pub chatting with one of the studio members who said I should give screen printing a go. A week later I had done the one-day introductory course and had instantly fallen in love with the process. A month later I was part of their mini print show and another month or so later I became one of the eight members of the studio and had 24-hour access to screen printing. My future (fate) was sealed.

Why printmaking?

It was a chance to try and step away from the digital. I had been working as a commercial illustrator for a number of years and felt I was treading water. Printmaking gave me the inspiration I needed to move my work forward, to get my hands dirty and inspire me to be a creative artist again.

Where do you work?

At the moment you will find me working out of a slightly chaotic, overly small space in our crumbling Georgian house in rural West Wales. Over the past few months, we have been moving ever closer to finishing the renovation of our barns that will become the first proper studio space we’ve had in the seven year since moving. Upstairs in the barn will be the main studio space and downstairs will be the workshop. It will be bliss!

Describe a typical day in your studio.

There tends to never be a typical day in the studio, and I like it that way. Some days it might be printing, others spent in the workshop making something out of wood, another day doing illustrations for a book and another might see me visiting clients up and down Wales for a branding job. With a liberal sprinkling of kids, cooking, emails, Instagram, a run here and a walk there, no day is the same.

What inspires you?

Nature, architecture, music, film, children’s books, folk art, old toys, old books, match boxes, our house, our kids, food, other printmakers, antiques. Everything! 

What is your favourite printmaking product?

Not a product as such but I have a little old wooden Dryad squeegee I found at a car boot sale for 50p. It was well used when I bought it and has been well used since with many happy years of printmaking left in it.

What have you made that you are most proud of?

It would have to be the body of work I created a number of years back for Yorkshire Sculpture Park as part of my first large solo show. I’d not long been a printmaker and for a gallery to invest their trust in me to produce a show for them meant a great deal. After eight months of hard work I’d managed to produce about forty new pieces of work ranging from limited edition prints, wooden toys and even a bit of marquetry. 

Where can we see your work? Where do you sell?

The best place to find my work at the moment is in my online shop. Over the past number of years my work has pointed me more in the direction of book illustration and design work. This has meant my print drawers have become rather empty and the number of galleries I supply has fallen away somewhat. I’m hoping that this will soon change with many new prints in the pipeline.

What will we be seeing from you next?

I was lucky enough to work on a recent book with Ladybird just as lockdown started which will be out next year. I was also due to have two solo shows this year which Covid-19 has obviously had other ideas about. The hope is these will happen early next year so I’m planning lots of new prints and handmade goods over the coming months.

Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?

Have fun, make mistakes and do what you love.

To see more of Tom’s work check out his Instagram.

We are very excited to have Tom teaching two courses for us at our Bognor Regis studio on Saturday 26th/Sunday 27th September and Monday 28th/Tuesday 29th September.

Drypoint with Enviromount

Enviromount is a brilliant paper-based drypoint surface. It can be scored with a sharp tool such as a drypoint needle, and the top surface can be peeled away. We were keen to try it out in the studio.

A drypoint print is an intaglio technique in which lines are scratched into a plate, creating a burred edge that holds ink. Ink is applied to the plate and excess is wiped from the surface. The plate is printed, usually using an etching press but not always, and the positive marks appear on the paper.

Use soft pencil to lightly draw out the design, being careful not to press too hard and dent the surface. Use drypoint needle to score the design into the surface (we used a 2mm needle).

We used hatching and cross-hatching to build tone in the line work.

Enviromount has a top surface that can be peeled away to reveal fluffy insides that will hold onto ink and print densely dark. Score the edges with a scalpel and then use the point to lift the edge of the section you with to peel away.

Before inking up, soak your printing paper in a tray of water. We are using Snowdon. Ink up the plate by dabbing it on with a wad of cloth. Akua Intaglio Inks work especially well with Enviromount, and are easy to clean up.

Scrape excess ink from the plate whilst working it into the lines with a small piece of mount board.

Use a twisting motion with scrim to work the ink into the lines and away from the surface.

Polish the top surface with a piece of tissue held flat between the fingers.

Place the plate on the surface of the intaglio press. Blot the soaked paper until it feels damp to the touch but not wet. Lay the paper on top and roll through the press with a fairly tight pressure. Alternatively, read our blog post about intaglio printing without a press.

We found that, although the surface of the plate looks very grey with ink, this did not transfer to the print, which shows very little plate tone. This makes it a lot easier to get clean prints!

The quality of line in these prints has the lovely fuzziness that is typical of drypoint prints.

For this project you will need: