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Old 10-10-2017, 11:01 AM
red_thread red_thread is offline
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Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

Hi folks,

A new person here! I'm desperately seeking some advice as without it, I'm going to continue making a mess and get frustrated!

I started lino printing a couple of months ago (I did a bit back in school but don't think that counts!). I started off with a couple of workshops and have since been doing lots of trying things. All has been going well, apart from the finer details, literally.

I can't do something small without leaving a mess round the edge of whatever it is, which results in a bit of a mess when printing. The ink gathers around the rubbishy bits and it all gets a bit blotchy.

I'm currently using a tool not to dissimilar to this one. For the little things, I'm using the smallest, finest cutter, number 1. They seem to be quite blunt compared to the other tools but they're all bigger. I bought a new box of just number 1's but they all feel and cut as bluntly as the first one did.

Hopefully, the picture below will help illustrate what I mean - you can see the corners are untidy. I've tried doing one continuous cut but the corners are still a mess.

I've tried using a scalpel instead and cutting sections clean out but feel that defeats the object somewhat. Plus, the ink still gathers around corners because there's more space for it to go when rolling. Hope that makes sense!

Maybe I am missing something huge or making a rookie error? I would really appreciate any help anyone is able to offer.

Here's hoping / fingers crossed!

Thanks in advance...

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Old 10-12-2017, 11:48 AM
contumacious contumacious is online now
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

I am betting the issue is the plate / block material you are using plus the tools. That material looks pretty soft to me which is better suited for larger, broader cuts.

A SHARP tool is a must. I use fixed tip gouges that can be sharpened and find them to be excellent as long as they are kept sharp. I have never seen a really sharp Speedball gouge. Replaceable tip tools are fine as long as they are super sharp. You will need to replace the tip as it dulls though they can also be sharpened.

Some possibilities to experiment with:
  • Sharper / Better Tools - Maybe try buying just one high end carving tool in your favorite shape and see if that helps.
  • Different surfaces - Of all the materials I have tried Gomuban cuts the smoothest. Sintra will also hold a very fine line but it is hard to cut without very sharp tools.
The only place I have found to buy Gomuban is McClain's. They have all kinds of tools and surfaces. Ask them to send you some samples of the surfaces they stock. My guess is you will find one you like.

Sintra can be bought online and at sign making supply and sign shops. If you ask at a sign shop for them to save some Sintra scraps for you they probably will. You can also dumpster dive at sign shops for scraps. Look for a white, plastic sheet about 1/4" thick that can easily be carved with one of your tools. It carves kind of like soft wood.
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Old 10-17-2017, 11:44 AM
red_thread red_thread is offline
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

Thank you so much for taking the time to reply - sorry it's taken me time to get back to you, I lost hope after seeing my post had had 550+ views and no replies...

I have a feeling the things you have mentioned in your post may only be available in the US but I've already started researching to try and find the same or similar in the UK so fingers crossed!

The fixed top gouges I have seen so far are all woodcutting tools, is that right? Or is there a softer material equivalent?

Thanks again for taking the time to reply - it's very much appreciated
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Old 10-18-2017, 03:18 PM
BeLing BeLing is offline
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

"Finer details" really isn't something linocuts do well. Or even woodcuts. Detail in printing is handled better by engraving and silkscreen.
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Old 10-24-2017, 07:53 AM
red_thread red_thread is offline
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

I think I just phrased it wrong - I'd just like to be able to do tidy lino cuts without any blobby bits of ink!
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Old 10-25-2017, 07:39 PM
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Sonia Sonia is offline
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

I use a Flexcut carving tool (V-tool FR317) and sharpen on the Flexcut SlipStrop. I think these tools are primarily designed for wood carving and are not cheap, but I certainly got better results than the version you are using. I use this one v-tool for most of my carving, occasionally using a well sharpened u-shape tool from my cheaper set to clear larger areas. I also now use the Softcut block instead of lino - much easier to carve.
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Old 10-30-2017, 08:34 AM
red_thread red_thread is offline
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

Thank you for replying Sonia - I'll take a look at the things you mention and try some different things
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Old 10-31-2017, 03:00 PM
BeLing BeLing is offline
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

Hmm. on thinking it over, it might be a problem with too much ink on the roller. The grooves shouldn't fill, not in the corners, or anywhere. Sometimes, with soft material, the cut will leave raised bits. These should be removed.

When I have a corner or edge of importance, I use a "scalpel" (regular art knife) as you did to cut the corners first, over-cutting slightly so the corner is clean. Then clean up the rest later with the gouge. I don't think it "defeated" any purpose!

I hope you show us a print.
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Old 11-04-2017, 04:04 PM
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lindenprint lindenprint is offline
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?


You're using softcut lino which does leave annoying bits at the end of a cut, but yes, I'd agree with Sonia that the Flexcut tools are much better, and if you can afford them, the Pfeil tools are gorgeous to use too. Trad lino doesn't is more brittle, and as a consequence feels less 'plasticky'.

I use cheap pencil woodcut tools, and if I want a really precise edge, I use the one that looks like a scalpel to go round all my edges first. Then I use the fine V tool and then the U tools to gouge out the middle bits.

What ink are you using?
What rollers are you using?
How are you printing your prints?

I would use an water-miscible ink like Caligo and a soft rubber roller. If you press too hard and use too much ink, yes, it will collect in the corners. Caligo inks are very highly pigmented and sit really well on the paper. I print by hand using a baren. If the pressure's too hard, say if you are using a printing press, then it will push the ink into the cavities.

Hope that helps
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Old 11-16-2017, 03:21 AM
DougThomas DougThomas is offline
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

I'll add my two cents in as well. I attempted to teach myself lino with some of the softer materials and found that they cracked or even left small particles of the material everywhere and I didn't like it. I used water based ink since it was cheaper and I was trying to learn the process and just the mess itself almost pushed me away from lino...2 years went by before I even tried it again.

I wound up picking it back after taking a class in printmaking (collograph, drypoint, monoprints and linocut) I discovered that a.) i had been using too much ink, b.) the soft block material I had been using may have been good for initial learning, but not much else and finally c.) i really loved doing lino.

Tools are important, but I will say that having great or expensive tools while just starting to play around may not be what you want to do. Unless you are serious about it and want to invest in those tools. If it doesn't turn out to be something you want to pursue, you could always resell them to recoup some of the cost. I know people might think I'm crazy, but I use Speedball carving tools and have no issues with them. They are not expensive and they are not fancy, but they get the job done for me. When the tool seems to be getting dull I can just replace the gouge tip with a new one. Remember, you don't need to carve a deep chasm....just a small portion of the surface needs to be removed.

Though I know a lot of people that use softer cut materials, I prefer traditional lino. It's a bit tougher at times to carve, but it seems to hold up longer. It's available at many online retailers here in the US as well as in Europe.

Beware of how much ink you are applying to the surface. It should be applied in multiple thin layers. Don't try to ink the entire block surface in one try, if you do you'll get a lot of ink trapped into the detailed areas and corners of your cuts. Using thin layers allows the block to get evenly inked up while not applying enough to get trapped in important areas. Thin layers....usually the first time I print a piece (think 8x10" - 20x25cm) I usually spend about 3 or 4 mintues just inking the block. I then pull a test print, if I like what I see then I go back to inking the block again. Each time I may spend 2 to 3 minutes inking it...again, in multiple thin layers. As you continue printing and inking that block, the ink tends to print better.

Though water based inks are cheap and generally easy to acquire they are not generally very good. They offer probably the simplest clean up as well. There are alternative inks (to oil based) such as Caligo and Cranfield Safe Wash inks which can be cleaned with soap and water. The Caligo are very popular with many printmakers that I've met, but I've never used them (I prefer oil-based).

Hope you check back and some of this information comes in handy. Definitely don't give up...it's going to be messy...very messy and even though it will continue to very messy, you eventually learn to at least control the mess...eventually.
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Old 11-24-2017, 06:37 PM
theanimallover theanimallover is offline
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

Just coming in on the conversation. Thanks for that Doug, especially the bit about inking up as I always end up with blotchy prints, next time I'll try layering.

I go in and out of trying lino and in recent times I've been using the soft black 'stuff'. I love it as it's so easy to cut, but don't like the way it carries on - meaning when I've stopped cutting, the bit I'm trying to cut off is still attached! The ordinary lino I remember was easier to stop cutting.

I did wonder though if the softer stuff gave not as good results as the harder traditional lino?

Last edited by theanimallover : 11-24-2017 at 06:41 PM.
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Old 12-11-2017, 03:11 PM
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bridog bridog is offline
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Re: Help with the finer points of lino printmaking, please?

sorry to hear of your problems. Looks like some good advice by others. I find soft carve is a good beginners material (or for very young artists to learn carving). But for my own usage as a professional artist I stick with battleship linoleum or Sintra (PVC foamex board). I also have been exploring wood engraving.

Flexcut and Pfeil tools were mentioned. These are top notch and worth the investment I am told. I have a set of EC Lyons mushroom handle carving tools for wood and lino and also a set for wood engraving.

From my experience I have learned paying attention to these things will ensure a good print:

correct weight and grain of paper (if you hand burnishing thinner papers tend to produce better results...I suggest trying smooth surface kozo). You can set a thin piece of wax paper or newsprint over top to act as a buffer between your burnishing tool and it will help prevent accidental damage to your print paper

thin layering of ink application

using correct pressure to ensure a good transfer of ink to the paper surface

slight misting of paper before printing seems to produce a better image transfer

Doug mentioned Caligo safewash ink (which is also Cranfield). It is a modified Linseed oil based ink so in fact is an oil. It just means that detergent will break the oil down (as an alternative to terps or petroleum derived agents) and that water will wash away the mixture of ink and detergent.

Good luck with your printing!
The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work. Emile Zola

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Last edited by bridog : 12-11-2017 at 03:22 PM.
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