View Full Version : Hand Pulled Block Printing Lesson

12-08-2001, 11:42 AM
You don't need a press to experience the fun of printmaking. Lineleum and woodcut prints can be made inexpensively, and bring about wonderful results.

If you don't want to buy something to work with then you can use the back of a wooden spoon to rub the back of the paper. This will pull up the ink from your linoleum or wood cut plate, and you can check how well the cover is by holding one end of your paper on the plate and lifting areas that you have rubbed. If you want to go a little more expensive after you find that this medium is something you want to pursue there is the Printing Pin. This is made from machined aluminum and looks like a rolling pin. This runs for $99 at Daniel Smith. I am not sure of the price at Dick Blick.

Wood can be easily found for anyone. I would suggest at least a quarter inch of solid wood to carve. Wood cutting tools are very reasonable for the beginning printmaker also. My first set was under $20.

Linoleum cutter sets are also within that price range, and with these you can buy replacement cutters or different shaped cutters to work the linoleum with. You can find linoleum in the artists catalogs in any size you would like either mounted or unmounted on wood. Personally I prefer the unmounted linoleum because I can put it in the microwave for about 20 seconds ever so often to soften it up and make cutting easier.

Start out shallow with your cuts and then work them a bit deeper. You don't need to cut too deep for either wood or linoleum to prepare the surface to take ink.

For both techniques you will need a soft rubber brayer to roll your ink on with. These run between $8 and $15 dollars depending on size for the less expensive brayers.

Inks come in all colors in tubes for this technique. You can get either oil or water based inks also. The colors and size of tubes dictate the price of these inks as they do in paints. It is best to roll the inks out on a glass surface. Use a line of ink about 6" wide, and roll out until the ink is tacky. It sounds like velcro being opened when you have reached the right consistency. Then roll the ink on your plate giving a good coverage of the plate where you are unable to see linoleum or wood beneanth. *Hint* Disposable rubber gloves are a good idea to keep your hands clean while inking plates. Then you won't have to worry about getting ink on your paper where you don't want it.

Paper should be medium to heavy weight for wood and linoleum prints especially if you are hand pulling your prints. There are some wonderful papers available in a variety of color. Rives and Stonehenge are both good papers and run in the medium price range. I would suggest buying parent size sheets that you can cut or tear to the size you want.

Tearing paper to get a nice deckled edge is very simple and should be torn before printing into the desired size. Take a metal ruler or yard stick and mark off where you to tear. I take a small sponge or painters brush with good bristles to slightly damper the paper along the edge you are using to tear with. Then take one edge of the paper while holding the ruler down firmly and tear the paper slowly but smoothly.

For water based inks warm water and dish soap can be used to clean the plates off once you are finished. For oil based paints I suggest an oderless paint thinner otherwise it gets pretty stinky. Do your printing in a well ventilated area. Clean your plate after you complete your prints. This will leave the plate clean and ready if you want to do more prints later on.

Now you are ready to print. So, for those that try this method of printmaking get your prints together and let us see what you have created!

Lay your prints out somewhere flat to dry. Water based inks dry faster than oil. For oil based inks give it a good 24 hours to dry. You can also hang your prints from one of those indoor clothes lines with clothes pins, or string fishing line up tauntly.

Number your print edition like this 1/8, 2/8 etc.... The first number gives the number of the print, and the second gives the number of prints made off the plate.

Below you will find some of the tools I have spoken about, so you can get an idea of what to look for in the art store or the catalogs.

* Correction * I labled something wrong in my picture. That is a Japanese Studen Baren not a brayer. I had brayers on the mind I guess.......lol And I didn't even put one in the picture.

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/08-Dec-2001/Block_Printing_Tools.JPG:rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

12-08-2001, 03:15 PM
Great lesson, Sassy! :clap:

I'm going to go pull out a some of my linocuts. Hmmmm, I may just be inspired to do a new one! ;)


Tony Perrotta
12-08-2001, 06:14 PM
Hi Sass and Gisela, I remember in grade school doing lino's. Sounds very interesting. All you need is the lino, the cutting tools and the brayer and you are in business. I have to buy a set of tools and try it. I am not even a very experienced painter but this I know I can do, I've been working with wood and other materials since I was a kid. Now I have another thing to do does it ever end!!!!!!!

Regards Tony

12-08-2001, 07:06 PM
Originally posted by Tony Perrotta

Now I have another thing to do does it ever end!!!!!!!

Regards Tony

There is no end to the creative spirit!! :clap:

I'm so glad you're joing us here Tony!


12-09-2001, 09:32 AM
Thanks Sassy
Good information.
I'm adding some new things to my Christmas wish list :)

12-28-2001, 08:12 PM
Originally posted by leaflin

I'm adding some new things to my Christmas wish list :)

hehe...pays to make a list, huh? :D


12-31-2001, 09:32 AM
hi Sassybird

thanks for the lesson, I'm gonna give it a try after the new year, I've plenty of plywood lying about needing used up.

One question I do have is: would I be best giving the plywood a coat of varnish to protect it from the ink once I've cut/carved it


12-31-2001, 02:38 PM

Don't varnish the wood. There is no need to protect it from the ink. Varnish has a tendency to crack or peel after awhile, and it doesn't hold the ink well as the raw wood does. Just start cutting your wood and go at it :D I am looking forward to seeing your results.

01-09-2002, 01:02 PM
Thanks for the lesson, i remember doing something similar at school when i was doing art A level.
Might give it a go again
This website has so much information, it is really great;)

01-09-2002, 01:55 PM
Block printing is one of those things that people of all ages and artistic levels can enjoy. I love hearing about peoples experience and memories in this medium. I'm glad you liked the lesson, and I do hope that you will post your work if you decide to give this a go again:)

02-28-2002, 04:37 PM
They do this at our centre quite a lot.
The lino prints.
I have seen some beautiful Christmas Cards made this way.
Your lesson was SO easy to follow, I think I can be tempted to try it now.

;) ;)

07-06-2002, 12:32 PM
You put together a very good lesson!

08-03-2002, 02:23 PM
I wanted to bring this back up to the top so any new people can see what's involved in simple printmaking.

cobalt hue
07-01-2003, 08:45 AM
Thank you for this quite informative post. I have a few additional questions:

1. Is it usually necessary to thin the oil relief inks?

2. Are oil relief inks stinky by themselves; i.e., is there still a problem even without thinner or with odorless thinner?

3. Is it possible to print unmounted linoleum by hand with a baren or do you need a press? If you can do it by hand, do you do it the same way as a mounted block?

4. Are artist quality linoleum blocks or unmounted linoleum generally more expensive than wood obtained from a local lumber yard?


10-22-2007, 02:16 AM
Hi Sassy I have been an artist for many years but got into printmaking three years ago at the local college and just love it I have done wood block but not yet lino printing with your info I am going to have a go at doing some cards for Christmas my favorite in print making so far is etching on copper, but like to try every thing Margaret

10-22-2007, 04:02 AM
Welcome to the forum, Margaret!! We are looking forward to eing your work. If you have any questions, feel free to start a new thread- there are a lot of very knowledgeable printmakers here to help!


10-22-2007, 09:16 AM
Charissa --- Excellent tutorial! Six years old and still outstanding! I would only add one thing: a reading list!

-- Relief Printmaking, by Ann Westley (New York, Watson-Guptil) 2001
-- Relief Printmaking: A Manual of Techniques, by Colin Walkin (Wiltshire UK, Crowood Press) 1991
-- The Complete Manual of Relief Printmaking: A Practical Guide to the Tools and Techniques of Linocutting, Woodcutting, and Wood Engraving, by Katie Clemson & Rosemary Simmons (New York, Knopf) 1988

And here's a supplier who specializes in Japanese relief printmaking tools and supplies is McClain's, located in Oregon: http://www.imcclains.com/

(I am just beginning to re-discover lino printing and naturally (cough cough) had to start with a four color reduction project. Sheesh! I have one color left to go!)

Question #1: I was talking with a lino printing instructor the other day and she mentioned that if you warm the lino plate up a bit, on a hot plate or on an old pancake griddle, that it is much easier to cut. Have you tried that technique? Does it work?

Question #2: Also, have you tried the softer alternative to lino, called by the brand name "Mastercarve", made by Staedtler? If so how did you like the images? Were they as crisp as the lino? (See: http://www.staedtler-usa.com/mastercarve_us.Staedtler?ActiveID=24124)

Again, Charissa, thanks for all your excellent advice!!!


Diane Cutter
10-22-2007, 12:18 PM
I love seeing new faces and old threads pop up... I forget what wonderful information we have in these older threads...

Welcome, Margaret... like Andrew says, don't be shy about showing us your work, regardless of how you might feel about it. You'll find the forum a very sharing, caring place.

Jan... I can answer some of these questions...

On warming, yes, I've done it on older lino. I've even stuck it in the microwave for 2-3 seconds. But, after many linocuts and much experience, I've found the best thing is keeping sharp knives at all times. Lino does have a shelf-life in that it gets tougher to cut the older it is... until it is so old (10-15 years) that any additional cuts on really old blocks is kind of gummy and sticky. I would recommend only buying as much lino as you can reasonably use up over a 3-4 month period.

I have only used the Mastercarve once as an experiment so can't help you on that but, I believe, our Annie Fitt has done a lot of work on that softer stuff and her work is very crisp. Hopefully she will pop in on this thread... if she doesn't, feel free to start a new thread to ask that question...


10-22-2007, 04:39 PM

Warm lino does cut a lot better! Remember, Diane lives in the Tropics- So she doesn't cut her lino in the chilly conditions that we do sometimes!! When I am at home in florida, no problems- But when I am up north working in a cold room I keep the lino warm... For a while I was using a 1/4" steel plate on top of a heating pad as a work surface... I would turn it on about an hour before I started to work, and it would heat up enough to keep both my hands and the lino toasty warm. Keep in mind, though- I was working in what could be considered 'extreme' conditions- A winch room on a ship that was about 50 degrees at its warmest :)


10-22-2007, 05:39 PM
Mastercarve is a great learning material, but you will soon work past it's limitations. It is the same thing as eraser. I have a couple stamps that I apply to all my framed work that were made from mastercarve. They have broken though use.
Very easy to cut.
Nice crisp detail.
Will not handle small detail well.
Cannot be used with an etching press.

I have heated my lino with a heat gun from the back. Then I recut the same image on a new block and scrapped the rest of the old lino I had laying about.

10-23-2007, 09:11 AM
Thanks everyone for your prompt answers! As always, most informative.

A heating pad!! I have one somewhere around here. Hmmm! ("Winch room on a ship", eh? I'm impressed!)

Yes, that Mastercarve material looks like one giant eraser, albeit a very fine-grained one. Similar to Blick's "E-Z-Cut" printing blocks. Or "Safety-Kut" from Daniel Smith. (Gee, they have come up with some very creative names for this material, don't they? Sheesh.) Big erasers, they look like.

Some of Annie Fitt's work is here: http://www.barenforum.org/blog/archives/2005/07/annie_fitt_a_li.html. It appears to be very crisp. And she uses the Daniel Smith material.

All of this is food for thought! Thanks again everyone!


Diane Cutter
10-23-2007, 09:54 AM
Here's another link to Annie's work using the
Safety-Cut: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=383933&highlight=mastercarve


10-23-2007, 05:20 PM
Annie does things with master carve that I would have NEVER thought possible... I don't know how she keeps it that crisp, I can't do it! I will stick to linoleum!