A Step By Step Guide To The Lino Printing Process

The vast majority of us will remember lino printing from school. It’s compared by many to the likes of woodblock printing. In short, the artist will carve their image into the Lino block and what’s left remaining of the block is then inked and printed. Here’s a more in-depth look at the process.

Step 1 – Designing Your Lino Print

When it comes to your first design, we always recommend choosing something simple that will work with just one colour. A great example of this would be an animal or a small, repetitive pattern; both of which would work with a singular colour. Don’t forget, you can also do a simple image transfer if you don’t wish to design something yourself. This will be explained further in step 2.

Tops Tips For Your Design:

  • Don’t forget that upon transferring your design to the lino, it will be a mirror image. That means you essentially need to work backwards or in reverse. This is particularly important when including text.
  • It’s always a good idea to sketch your image on paper first so you can correct any mistakes before working on your lino.

Step 2 – Transferring Designs Onto Your Lino

Once you have the design you’re going to use, it’s time to transfer it onto the lino block. You can draw directly onto the lino which will save you time however as mentioned above, you can also transfer using an image that’s been photocopied or laser printed. 

This can be done by applying a layer of acrylic gel/PVA glue to the lino block and the image itself before pressing together, making sure to iron out any bubbles or wrinkles. Allow to dry for 15-20 minutes before revealing the image. This is obviously a longer process but helpful for those wanting specific images or those wanting to escape the design process.

You can also place a piece of carbon or chalked paper between your drawing and lino. This will mean your design transfers onto the lino as your draw over it (remember that it will be a mirror image).

Top Tips For Transferring:

  • Use a slightly bigger section of lino than needed as this can help should your image transfer crooked.
  • Once your sketch is visible on the lino, you can go over it once more with a fine tip pen for more clarity.

Step 3 – How to Cut Lino

Now your image is on the lino block, it’s time to begin cutting. In order to do this, you’ll need either a Stanley knife, a utility knife or the appropriate lino cutting tools to cut out the ‘negative’ space within the design you’ve transferred. 

Do remember however, when picking your lino cutting tools, different shaped tools will produce different shaped cuts within the lino. It can be worth using a spare piece of lino to get to grips with the different cuts you can expect to see. You should also experiment with different depth blades from V shaped to U shaped too. 

Multi-Colour Reduction Lino Printing

Reduction linocuts are a great method of cutting that allow you to work with more than one colour and only require one piece of lino. The first cut is for any areas to be left white. You then print with colour number one. The second cut then takes away the areas you wish to remain as colour number one. You then print the second colour on top of the first. You can do this for as many colours as you like.

Top Tips For Cutting:

  • Remember to always cut away from yourself, keeping your other hand behind the blade but refrain from cutting toward it.
  • Before you begin cutting, plan your linocut on a piece of paper, showing the areas to cut in white and the areas that remain in another colour. Using white chalk on black paper can help with this.
  • Remember once again about the mirror effect so lettering will need to be cut out backwards.
  • Make small shallow cuts until you get used to doing it. 
  • There are several different types of lino; some are soft while others are much tougher and require heating in order for you to cut them – for instance, art grade lino is much easier to cut than floor lino.
  • Keep things tidy and clear away the cut out lino.
  • When working with reduction lino cuts, all prints for an edition must be printed before moving onto the next colour.
  • Do remember to allow each colour to dry before printing the next too.

Step 4 – Inking Your Lino

Once you’ve cut your lino, it’s time to print. Make sure you’ve prepped a suitable work area that can suffer an ink stain or two. Don’t forget your apron either. There are numerous different types of ink you can use and they all have different qualities. For instance, the majority of oil based inks are dense and make good quality lino prints, but may be harder to clean, water based inks dry quickly but are less dense producing prints of a lower quality. The likes of Caligo Safewash inks however, while oil based, not only print beautifully but can be cleaned with a simple soapy water solution.

Top Tips For Prepping Your Lino For Printing:

  • To ensure your printing surface is flat, glue your lino to a wooden or plastic board such as Foamex.
  • You can degrease the lino with white spirits or even warm soapy water. This will make sure all ink is applied evenly.
  • Clean the edges of your lino and rid the lino block of any loose bits.
  • If you accidentally get ink within the cut areas, simply make a mask of the stained cut area using a thin piece of paper, 80gsm or less. This will block the ink in that area. You could also use a cotton bud with white spirit to remove it.
  • Use any excess lino to help make a frame that surrounds the edges of your lino print. This will not only help to support the roller but will prevent it from falling into the cut areas, stopping ink from going into the areas you don’t wish for it to go.
  • Make sure the lino and ink are dust free as speckles of dust can ruin a print.

Top Tips For Inking Your Lino Cut:

  • The ink needs to be of a certain viscosity before printing. Note the difference in thickness and stickiness of printers ink compared to fountain pen ink. 
  • Apply just a spoonful of ink to your ink tray (this can be made of glass/perspex) and then create a nice even layer on your roller. The ink should make a nice velvet like texture.
  • Place your newly inked roller on your carved lino making sure the ink is distributed evenly, roll once and rotate the lino 90 degrees and roll ink again, do this 4 times after each ink roll rotating the lino 360 degrees.

Step 5 – Printing Your Lino Cut

It’s finally time to print. We advise doing a few practice runs on test paper to begin with. This will allow you to see if any tweaks need to be made to your linocut. Remember less is more. You can always take more lino away but you can’t add it back.

First place the lino cut down, ink side facing upward, then lightly place your paper on top of the inked lino. You can use various methods to transfer your design, such as a clean roller with some pressure, some people enjoy rubbing the design onto paper in a circular motion using the back of a spoon or for best results using a baren to transfer your design from the linocut onto the paper. If you have access to a printing press we would advise using one for best results.

Top Tips For Printing Your Linocut:

  • Do remember to avoid any movement that could cause smudging or the paper to move.
  • When removing paper from the linocut, do so slowly and carefully.
  • Ensure your print dries thoroughly before toching it.
  • Leave extra space on the lino block to allow you to tape the paper in place to prevent movement as much as possible.
  • If you still have white visible through your ink, simply apply more ink to your glass tray the next time around as well as a little extra pressure.
  • Remember that you can reuse the linocut simply by adding more ink.
  • Clean your fingers of any ink before removing the print, so you don’t get ink on your final print.

Step 6 – Clean Up

If you want to change colour or have finished printing you can now clean your linocut. We advise that you try to get rid of as much ink by doing a few more prints with the remaining ink on the lino till the print is faded, use some old scrap paper for this.

If you use waterbased ink, hot water and soap mix should do the job or if you have used oil-based ink use white spirit to remove the remain lino printing ink.

Do not soak your lino in water as this can cause it to warp, just use a cloth and wipe the ink off. Remember to also clean all tools and your area to make sure they are ready for your next lino printing run.