Using an Etching Press to Print a Linocut

Etching presses aren’t just for printing etchings. They have a bed that is rolled between two rollers, the top of which is adjustable in height. This makes it great for printing from lots of different surfaces as the tension is customised for each print! Printing a linocut with an etching press is easy with a few adjustments.

Scroll to the bottom to watch a video or read on.

One of the presses we use in the Handprinted Studio is the Abig geared 50 x 70 press but you can print linocuts on any etching press.

The most important thing to amend when using an etching press for lino printing is to use a pair of runners. These are strips of lino that run down the edges of the press bed. They are the same height as lino (3mm) and help keep the roller in contact with lino the whole way along the bed. This means that your top roller will turn easily at the right height. It will not get stuck on the edge of the lino block, which would cause smudges and jumps.

To set the press height, first establish whether or not you will be using a press blanket (read on for more information on that). Raise the top roller up. Lay the runners either side of the press bed. Lay the blanket(s) on top (if using) and lower the top roller so that it sits on top of either the blankets or the lino runners. If you like, you can put an un-inked piece of lino and a blank sheet of paper through the press. You should be able to tell the correct pressure from the paper as it comes out – too much of a dent from the lino and the top roller is too low, absolutely no mark at all and your top roller is probably too high.

Most etching presses are used with blankets. Some have just one, some two or three. Printing linocuts with the blankets will result in the paper being presses into the lino more. This is likely to pick up lots more of the ‘chatter’ background lines. Whether or not you would like this is an individual design choice for your print. Printing linocuts without blankets will result in less chatter.

You may want to use a registration sheet under the lino to help position the paper in the correct position for your print.

Lay the inked lino face up in the centre of the press bed.

with a blanket
without a blanket

Gently lay your paper on top of the lino.

with a blanket
without a blanket

If using blanket(s), carefully lower down on top.

with a blanket

Turn the handle on the press to wind the bed through the rollers and take your print.

without a blanket
Top: print taken without a blanket
Bottom: print taken with a blanket

You will need:
An Etching Press
– A lino block, inked up
Paper on which to print

Introduction to Linocut for Beginners

If you are completely new to linocut and would like help getting started, you are in the right place! Read on or scroll to the bottom to watch a video.

Start with a piece of lino. There are several to choose from, from traditional Lino to Easy Carve to Softcut. You can learn more about which may be right for you, here. We will be using traditional grey lino for this project. If you have memories of using hard, crumbly lino at school or college don’t worry – it only goes like that when it’s old! fresh sheets should be flexible and not crumbly at all.

Traditional Lino

You will need some lino carving tools. There are lots of cutting tools available to choose from. We are using a set of Japanese Cutting Tools for this project. They’re inexpensive and carve beautifully. You can also keep the blades sharp with a Slipstrop.

Japanese Cutting Tool Set

Pfeil Tools are another one of our favourites – the quality is fantastic. They’re more expensive, come in a range of sizes and shapes and can be bought individually.

Pfeil Tool

A roller is needed to transfer the ink to the block. A little Abig Roller is a great one to start with as they’re inexpensive and lovely to work with.

Abig Roller

There are lots of different rollers to choose from, with hard or soft rubber, in various weights and sizes for all budgets. For a wider option, these Soft Rubber Rollers are a great option. Hawthorn Rollers are fantastic if you would like something a bit special.

Hawthorn Roller

When choosing ink, there is one main factor to contemplate: oil-based or water-based. Water-based inks dry quickly – Schmincke and Speedball make lovely ones.

Schmincke Ink (water-based)

Oil-based inks dry slowly – Caligo Safewash Relief Inks are a great option. We are using Schmincke water-based ink for this project.

Caligo Safe Wash Relief Inks (oil-based)

When you’re ready to make a print, the first thing to do it to draw a design on the lino. You can do this with a pencil (or permanent pencil) directly onto the surface, use tracing paper or carbon paper (red or blue).

The next step is to decide which areas will print and which will be carved away. We are starting with a single colour block. This means that the design will be binary – the areas of the lino will either print or not. Print areas will be left as raised lino, the rest will be carved away. It can help to mark them on the lino, for example, drawing an x on areas to be carved.

When carving, you are likely to want to choose a few different shapes and sizes of tools. A V tool will be great for edges and detail. A small U tool can be good for thin lines and a large U is good for clearing away unwanted areas of lino. You may want to start by going around the edges of your main shapes with a V tool.

Make sure to hold the tools in your hand correctly. We want the handle in the palm of our hand, not like a pencil. You can use your forefinger to guide the tool by placing it further down the tool. Keep your other hand behind the tool at all times.

For carving curves, it helps to rotate the lino instead of the tool. We want to always be carving away from ourselves.

Use a large U tool to clear away large unwanted areas of lino. Try to get the surface as smooth as possible so it doesn’t pick up unwanted ink. This is called chatter (which can add interest to the print – some printmakers choose to include it in their work whilst others prefer to remove it all). Clearing areas in a direction that suits the print will help the design. The chisel in the Japanese Cutting Tool set can be used to skim off peaks if desired.

Pfeil Tools are excellent for carving tiny details – try the 12/1, 11/1 or 11/0.5 tools for the smallest details.

When you’re ready to print your block, roll out a little ink onto an inking plate. You only need a little. Roll out a square that is the size of your roller in height and width. The ink should make a slight zzzz sound and not be too squelchy. Water-based inks will dry quite quickly on the plate, roller and block so it’s best to just use a little ink at a time and to work quite quickly.

Roll the ink onto the block, taking care to cover all the areas of the design. Top up the roller with ink if necessary. Try to avoid areas of background if possible.

To take a print, place the block face up. Lay a piece of paper on top of the block, being careful not to move it or the image will smudge. You can take the print using a baren, spoon or just your hand. Rub all over the back of the design. Lightweight papers will usually give the most even results. Starting off with plain 80gsm copy paper will be fine for test prints while you learn.

Peel off the paper to reveal the print!

To take another print, re-ink the block and repeat. When you have finished printing, remove excess ink from the block with a damp cloth. Water-based inks can be cleaned with just water, Caligo inks need washing up liquid, some oil-based inks need oil to clean them or Zest-it Printmakers Cleaner. If water-based inks have started to dry on your plate or roller, you can use Zest It Printmakers Washdown to remove it.

You will need:
Lino (or other carving surface)
Lino Cutting Tools, we used Japanese Cutting Tools and Pfeil Tools
– A roller like this Abig Roller, Soft Rubber Rollers, or Hawthorn Rollers
Ink (like Schmincke, Speedball or Caligo)
– Pencil, permanent pencil
Tracing paper, blue carbon paper, red carbon paper (optional)
Inking plate
– Baren or spoon (optional)
– Paper on which to print (you can start with just 80gsm copy paper)
– Cleaning supplies like rags, washing up liquid (plus oil or Zest It Printmakers Cleaner for oil-based inks or Zest-it Printmakers Washdown for dried on water-based inks)

Meet the Maker: Buff and Blue Prints

My name is Hayley Anderson and I am a printmaker and artist from Lossiemouth in the North East of Scotland working under the name Buff and Blue Prints.

Describe your printmaking process.

I mainly work in linocuts and really enjoy the whole preparation process of the medium.  My inspiration usually comes from a single image which is then built and layered as the drawing stage develops.  I tend to start carving before I’ve drawn a final image onto the lino as I find that the pieces almost have a mind of their own when I’m in the process and other elements will start creeping in.  I’ve never really gone for a minimalist look and my prints tend to have several different shapes and patterns included in the composition. 

How and where did you learn to print?

I’m mostly self-taught although I was first introduced to the medium at college 20 years ago.  I remember thinking at the time it was far too complicated and time-consuming and basically didn’t try it again until I bought myself a beginner’s kit a few years ago.  Since then, it’s been a case of trial and error, plus obsessively watching other linocut artists process videos to try to pick up tips.  I’m still learning and really hope that I never get over the joy of managing to pull off a new technique.

Why printmaking?

I really enjoy the physical aspect of printmaking and that you can create something wonderful from very little.  I find carving lino an almost meditative practice and love to see the image develop from the tiny cuts and markings I make.   There’s also the added surprise element of pulling that first print, hoping that all the hours of carving have created the image in your head.  It’s probably my most favourite part.

Where do you work?

I work from my kitchen table at home in Lossiemouth, which tends to have mountains of different printmaking materials covering it.  I am a very messy worker but can still manage to create amongst the chaos.  Last year I made the decision to return to University to complete my BA Hons Fine Art and have just concluded year 2 at Moray School of Art which is part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.  When I return in September, I will have a dedicated studio space to work from so finally my kitchen will be free of inky equipment for the first time in ages!

Describe a typical day in your studio.

There really isn’t a typical day – as well as my own print projects and Uni work during term time I also take commissions to create brand stamps and printed bags for other businesses.  I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing independent businesses from a hand-poured candle company in Wales, a cruelty-free skincare brand from Australia and a local sustainable luxury cashmere bedding firm in Scotland.  I also teach Lino Printing workshops in my local area which I absolutely love.  It’s a joy to watch people create their very first prints and I’m always amazed by the gorgeous results.  I love that I have the mix of projects to keep me busy and it means that it never really feels like work.

How long have you been printmaking? 

I bought a kit around 4 years ago and starting experimenting.  I started small and to be honest, they were really terrible!  My very first stamp was a tiny cactus that was barely recognisable and took around 10 minutes to do.  My latest completed project took over a month of serious carving so I could say I’ve definitely improved in both patience and technique.  Like anything else, printmaking is all about practice and it’s lovely to look back on how far I’ve come.

What inspires you?

I love botanical shapes and have around 19,000 photos on my phone which are mostly of leaves and trees!  Most of my work will feature plants and leaves but recently I’ve started adding figures after taking part in some online life drawing classes.  I’m not a confident portraiture artist so it’s been a massive challenge to create faces that I’m happy with and I’m always scrolling through Instagram to look at how other artists create shading on lino portraits.

What is your favourite printmaking product?

Changing over to Cranfield’s Caligo Safe Wash inks was a game-changer for me.  Beforehand I was using water-based inks and had struggled to pull a decent print but now my work has vastly improved in quality.  Their metallic inks are a dream too and give gorgeous results.

What have you made that you are most proud of?

My most recently completed work The Forest Queen was a huge step up in size and style for me.  She’s a 76 x 76cm lino which is more than 4 times bigger than anything else I’ve done.  I did masses of research for all the different elements contained in the composition; from the crown she wears taken from a 1930’s stage production of Midsummer’s Night’s Dream to the trees in the background which was based on the Alders described as being magical in George MacDonald’s book Phantaste published in 1858.  I tried to emulate the style of classic botanists for the foliage surrounding the figure and create depth which was a departure from my previous two-dimensional compositions.  

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

I post regular updates on my Instagram and Facebook and show what I’m working on.  I love a time-lapse so quite often pop these up to show my progress.  I sell through my website which contains a variety of prints and linens within the collections.

What will we be seeing from you next? 

I’m currently working on a portrait of Hedy LaMarr who as well as being a 1940s movie star was also the inventor of frequency-hopping technology that was a precursor to the secure WI-FI, GPS and Bluetooth that we all take for granted now.  I’m trying to challenge myself to work on pieces with more fine detail over the next few months before returning to Uni in September.  I’m also hoping to return to holding classes locally now that meeting restrictions are starting to lift, I’ve really missed getting out and meeting new people.

Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?

Embrace your own style and don’t compare yourself to others.  There are no mistakes in your work only the chance to change it for the better and enjoy the process.

To see more from Hayley follow her on Instagram.

How to Make a Set of Rubber Tangrams

Tangrams are a set of seven puzzle pieces all cut from one square. The pieces can be rearranged into lots of different designs, making them a great activity for children. We can make our own set of tangram stamps from a square of Mastercut or other stamp carving material, to be stamped onto paper or fabric using Versacraft Ink pads.

Read on for instructions or scroll down to the video at the bottom of the page.

Start with a square piece of paper the same size as your Mastercut. Fold it in half and then half again so that it is divided up into four long strips. Fold it in the other direction into 4 strips too. You should now have a four by four grid when you open out the paper.

Use a ruler to draw a diagonal line through the centre of the paper from one corner to the other. Draw a line from the centre to another corner. This should give you your first two right angled triangles.

At the edges of the paper, on the sides of the largest triangle, mark a half way point. Connect these two marks to draw a smaller right angled triangle.

Connect a line from the centre point to the middle of the smaller triangle we just made. Create a small square up from the corner of the small triangle.

Divide the final section into a tiny triangle and a parallelogram.

Cut these shapes up, careful to not lose their position, and transfer them onto the square of stamping material with a pencil. Use a metal ruler and a scalpel or craft knife to cut the pieces apart.

These pieces can now be used with Versacraft Ink Pads to create lots of designs! The game is to use each piece only once to make a picture, but you can use these shapes for whatever designs you can imagine.

For this project you will need:

Meet the Maker: Jack Hancock

Hi, I’m Jack, I am an interdisciplinary artist, craftsperson and keen screen-printer. I live on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon with my partner and baby daughter. My day job involves making handmade pewter giftware. I try to squeeze printmaking in between work and family life.

Describe your printmaking process.

I would love to say free and spontaneous! But really my printmaking is meticulous. I don’t have my own studio so I spend a lot more time designing, drawing and prepping than actual printmaking. I have to use my studio time really efficiently so don’t have much time for experimentation. I always have the finished result totally planned out so as not to waste time and materials.

How and where did you learn to print?

I found it hard to get into screen printing and spent a couple of years wanting to start but not being able to afford any courses or equipment. I eventually found an affordable intro course at Gloucestershire Print Co-operative. The work I took away from that weekend I ended up selling at the gallery I worked in at the time. That must have given me the confidence to invest further but it was still a year or two before I got on a course at Print Club London and became a member there afterwards. The course there was much more in-depth and my time spent there as a member honed my skills.

Why printmaking?

I love the very definite lines and the flat, even layers of colour that I could never achieve with a paintbrush, I enjoy working with a very limited palette as well, making an image work with just two or three colours can lead to some interesting and striking design choices.

Where do you work?

I currently hire the facilities at The Printery in Plymouth. It is a very pleasant place to work, I recommend checking it out if you are in the area.

Describe a typical day in your studio.

When I’m actually printing it’s very mechanical. I coat and expose my screens, lay down the colours, try not to get ink everywhere, wash and reclaim my screens, pack up, and go home as soon as the ink is dry. I always use a vacuum table and have a nice thick sheet of transparent film for registration.

My drawing time is much more liberating. I do a lot of hand drawing, initial sketches in pencil and Pro-Markers and making positives with Posca pens on to tracing paper with a lightbox. I have been trying out using the computer more lately in an effort to speed things up but I still end up incorporating a lot of hand-drawn elements. I don’t think it’s made anything quicker, just made different things possible.

How long have you been printmaking?

I started screen printing in 2014. I started drawing with screen printing in mind a couple of years before that.

What inspires you?

My biggest inspiration to keep printing is seeing the crisp wet ink freshly laid on the paper. It looks so perfect and beautiful. The inspiration for my subject matter comes in many shapes and forms. Mythology and symbolism weave a thread through most of my work. Visual inspiration comes from a lot of the shapes and colours of 1970’s graphic design as well as the comic books I read as a kid; 2000 AD, Judge Dredd and the odd Manga comic I would come across before anybody knew what Manga was. I don’t read comics much now, but they burned an image on the back of my brain of halftones and incredible ink work.

What is your favourite printmaking product?

Speedball acrylic inks. They are so bright and opaque. I love using them.

What have you made that you are most proud of?

I don’t have one single thing I’m proud of. I’m proud of all the work I make if I have put my passion into it. I don’t feel like I have done my best work yet in print. The ultimate creative vision is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I keep chasing it but it keeps moving just out of reach!

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

My big project at the moment is starting my own online shop for my work that lets me sell completely independently. I am launching it with a collection of affordable poster designs and hope to introduce limited edition and fine art prints later on. It’s early days yet but hopefully, by the time you read this it will be online!

You can reliably find me on Instagram where I share my works in progress and new design ideas. Drop by and say hi!

What will we be seeing from you next?

I’m really enjoying designing bright, high contrast posters at the moment. I have a couple of rules; no more than three colours and the image must fit in off the shelf frame sizes. Other than that, anything goes. I would like to end up with a varied catalogue of designs for people to browse through online. It’s really making me question myself as an artist. If I can do anything I like, what do I really want to do? Which styles do I want to work in? When I started, I thought I would just print everything that came out, but there is a growing pile of designs that have not made the cut. So even when anything goes, not everything goes!

Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?

 Gosh, I don’t feel qualified to dish out advice! I was once told, “Knowing what you don’t want to do is sometimes more important than knowing what you do want to do.” I get a lot of mileage out of that one.

To see more from Jack follow him on Instagram.