Lino-cut printing process

I finished a lino-cut today that I’ve been working on and I documented my process along the way. This is a reduction print. This means you start with a blank block, or plate, and work backwards to your last colour layer. This is usually black. The general rule is to start with your lightest ink, and end with your darkest. You also have to keep in mind that a fairly transparent ink may not adequately cover your previous layer.

I used water-soluble Speedball block inks, which are relatively non-toxic for use at home and is also quick to dry and very easy to clean up. These inks, the roller (brayer), barren, and linoleum can all be purchased at most art/craft supply stores. The nice paper is a bit harder to find (Lana Gravure), but any smooth printmaking, drawing, or watercolour paper will do.

I took a workshop from visiting artist Laura Peturson at St. Michael’s Printshop this summer and learned this water-based technique. I left a day between printing each layer, but you can print again within a couple of hours. However, if the humidity is high, the ink can take a long time to dry.

This is my third print using this method, and, as you can see, I’m still having problems with laying the inks down nice and smoothly. You can see that the yellow, red, and grey layers are a bit splotchy. I’ve made several one-colour lino-cuts in the past and I think I’ll go back and make a few of those.

I hope you find this informative!

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Above: Steps 1 and 2. I had already cut away the first white (or paper colour) layer before I decided to take pictures. Here is my block with the yellow ink rolled out on it.

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Steps 3 and 4. Here is the first layer, yellow, all printed. Next, I’ve cut away everything that I want to remain yellow in preparation for printing the red layer. Pics of me cutting and printing lower down.

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Steps 5 and 6. Here, the red ink has been rolled onto the block and you can see the details more clearly.

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Steps 7 and 8. Here’s the print with yellow and red on it now. Also, a close-up of the block. The ink will only be printed if it is on the smooth, flat surface of the linoleum.

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Steps 9 and 10. Here is my block and my reference picture that I coloured digitally. And here is my block with the third colour, grey, rolled up on it.

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Steps 11 and 12. Here’s the print with the grey on top of the yellow and red. And, finally, I took a picture of me cutting the block with my wood-cutting tools. Always push away from yourself!

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Steps 13 and 14. Here’s the plate with only the black lines left. And here is the black ink rolled out onto a sheet of plexiglass. My paper is also face-down on top of the block here. I have a template drawn underneath so I know where to place the block and the paper every time. The block is taped down as well, so it won’t move while I am printing.

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Steps 15 and 16. Here I am printing. I’m using a lot of pressure and moving the barren in a circular motion all over the back of the paper. Next is the block with the black ink rolled up on it. You can see the text is backwards because I forgot to invert my image before transferring it to the lino using carbon paper. I often forget this step!


Step 17. Done! A bit splotchy and offset, but I’m pretty happy with it. It measures about 8″ x 9″.

UPDATE (03/21/11): I’ve recently learned that water-based inks work best with soft-cut type lino blocks, and not so well with traditional linoleum. This may be the reason for my splochiness! Oil-based inks work better with linoleum. I don’t really like the texture of the soft-cut blocks, but will try one on my next project and report back.


  1. snezana petrovic

    I saw you artworks and I love it!
    I want to ask you if you use transparent medium for ink to inking your lino plate, what you use?, I have transparent white, is that ok? I use this medium for all other collours if I nead to be transparent. If you have better solution please tell me!

  2. Jennifer

    Hello – thanks for having a look at my artwork!

    So far with this process, I’ve just been using the Speedball inks without medium. They are pretty cheap and the colours tend to be a little transparent, so I added white when I printed the yellow layer, for example. In the past, I have added retarder to slow the drying process. But for a small run like this (8-10 prints), I found it unnecessary.

    I’m not sure if this is helpful, but good luck!

  3. Jacqui Dodds

    Thank you for posting about faster drying ‘relief’ inks as I am interested in using them in my workshops. I have used Daler Rowney System3 Print Medium and System 3 acrylic paint in a similar way with great success.

  4. Jennifer

    You’re very welcome! I hope you have some success with the waterbased inks.

  5. Paul Kidder

    Thanks for sharing these great pictures of your art and your process. Some printers want that “splotchy” effect, but it’s the reason I don’t use Speedball inks. Daniel Smith water-based inks are more to my taste, though you sometimes have to mist them with water to get the right consistency. My favorites inks are from the Graphic Chemical Ink Company, but they’ve had to discontinue them, at least until they can find a new supplier of the vehicle that carries the pigment.

  6. Jennifer

    Hi Paul, thanks for looking. The Speedball inks are the only waterbased ones I’ve tried so far. I think I might seek out the Daniel Smith inks and try them, thanks for the suggestion.
    I’ve only used Graphic Chemical oil-based inks, and yes, they are very nice.

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