The best lino printing method to get great results

What’s the best way to lino print and get great lino printing results? It’s a good question, and the answer is not always obvious when you’re starting out, so how do you get the lino printing results you want? What are the best methods for applying linocut ink and what is the best ink for lino printing?

Mark Cope, friend of Drawcutinkpress kindly replied to my e-shot newsletter asking readers to tell me what burning lino printing questions they wanted answering. Here’s what he had to say;

I’m new to Linocut and struggling with getting ink on paper. I have tried acrylic paint with block print medium, water based ink, and water washable ink. The best so far is Caligo safe wash. I struggle with too much or too little ink, hand rub pressure and paper choices as what i see in my head does not print on paper. Be really good to get some help.

I have invested in Caligo Safe Wash and Akua inks, which are working a lot better. I think my paper choice has had a lot to do with it too and have invested in a paper sample pack from HandPrinted which is proving to be invaluable, Definitely something I would advise anyone else starting to try if they wish to move into better printing.

Nice one Mark. I’ll try and add to your developments with a few tips from my quest to get the perfect print below…

Lino Printing Inks

lino printing - use oil based inks not water based inks
For Linocut Printing I would always recommend oil based inks!

There are water based and oil based inks. If you want to get a perfect linocut print then put the water based inks away and buy oil based printing inks. There’s a section about inks on one of my earlier posts called Get Tooled Up & Start Printing, so take a look at that.

Rolling out your ink and applying it to your linocut block

lino printing - applying linocut ink. practice practice!
Getting the right amount of ink takes a little bit of practice to know when you’ve got you’ve got the right amount. Too much and you lose finer details, too little and you lose a crisp colour!

I’d recommend just playing about and finding the right amount of ink through trial and error. There are a few variables that can trip you up, such as the method of printing (hand printing, etching press, book press etc) and the downward pressure that your chosen method will exert, the paper you’re using and also how much ink you apply to the roller.

I’m going to focus more on the amount of ink you roll out and then apply to your block.

lino printing - applying linocut ink. Ink rolled out on glass
Roll out a decent layer of ink on the glass, you don’t want to see any gaps or for the ink to be so thin it’s almost opaque or translucent. You want solid colour

Squidge a bit of oil based ink out of the tube onto the pane of glass and use your roller to roll out a good even layer of ink. I find that you know you’ve got the right amount and consistency on the glass because its thick enough not to see through it, and you will create a very light dappled texture (which I’ve tried to demonstrate on the image above). You also get this sort of hiss noise when the rubber roller rolls across it.

lino printing - applying linocut ink. ink on block
Get a smooth application of ink across the block. Don’t enamel it on, and don’t apply a coat of ink that’s too thin.

At this point you’re ready to apply the ink to the block. Ideally you want a roller that is wide enough to cover the whole print in one. This will ensure you get an even and consistent covering of ink across the block, and you will avoid one part being thinner on ink than other parts. The image above shows a linocut block with a nice even application of ink, and importantly none of the details that I cut away to form white lines on the finished print are filled with ink. This would mean I lost detail on the final linocut print.

lino printing - applying linocut ink. ink on roller
This roller has too much ink on it!

The image above shows a roller with too much ink on it. It’s so thick with ink that the excess oil based ink will fill in details of my block and spoil the print. If your roller looks like this don’t worry, just roll out the ink a bit more on your glass so you thin it out slightly. You could probably get away with ink like this on the roller if you had a big print with large planes of colour because as you applied the ink to the block it would even out.

Lino printing your linocut by hand

lino printing applying linocut ink
Get your paper, inked linocut block and trusty wooden implement ready people!

Right, pep talk! This is the moment where you’re going to fail and learn a few times. Don’t be disappointed with failure, reframe it as a valuable learning experience and develop your skills into the master printer you know you are. As most people don’t have an etching press or a book press I’m going to show hand-printing. All you need is a trusty wooden spoon from your kitchen, a steady hand and elbow grease.

Get your paper ready. I’d recommend smooth finished paper as a smooth surface is easier to get a smooth application of ink on it. If you go for a fancy home-made paper with flowers and all sort of other stuff in it then get ready for an inconsistent finish. If that’s what you want then cool – rock on! I previously wrote a blog on paper for linocut printing that you can check out if you need help.

lino printing - applying linocut ink
Hold the paper steady and push down bloody hard

Carefully place your paper on top of the inked linocut print block. Don’t let the paper slip and slide around. If the paper slides or moves you are not going to get a clean print. This takes a few practices so don’t worry about it and just tell yourself it’s going to get cocked up a few times before you get it right. That way you’re not going to loose your temper when it goes wrong.

lino printing - applying linocut ink
Make sure you apply hard downward pressure to all parts of the linocut under the paper. If you miss a bit you won’t have a consistent ink application on your final print.

To make sure you are applying linocut ink to the paper well, just make sure that you rub your wooden spoon (or other soft/round edged wooden implement) across all areas of your linocut block. You will be able to feel it under the paper as you push down on it. When you think you’ve done the whole block, do it again without lifting the paper to make sure you’ve pushed down and applied all the areas with ink to the paper. This will minimise the number of times you say “For F— Sake! Why!?”

applying linocut ink - lino printing
The back of a piece of paper after I’ve been hand printing. You can see the edges of the block through the paper. Don’t be frightened of going right up to the edge and over when exerting downward pressure.

Hand-printing linocuts. Types of results to expect

lino printing results
On the left – too much ink spoilt the details. On the right – not enough ink on the linocut block. In the middle – my perfect print!

The image above shows you the types of results you can expect when using oil based relief print-making inks. You either get the result bang on, like my print in the middle of the image, or you suffer the effects of too much ink or too little.

Too much ink

lino printing - too much ink
Too much ink and I’ve lost details

The result of too much ink on the block means you are going to loose fine details. On the image above my Admiral Nelson has lost details on hit hat, face and medals. This is because when I’ve pushed down on the paper the thick layer of ink has spread out too much and filled in the areas I wanted left white.

Too Little Ink

lino printing - not enough ink
Too little ink looks rubbish!

There are two main problems with not having enough ink on the block. Firstly the results looks poor and there is not a nice solid black, it looks grainy. Second, it’s really easy for the paper to slip when you are lino printing it, and this also ruins the print and makes it look fuzzy.

The right lino printing results

lino printing - great result
This is a pretty good printing result

The result above is just right! All the details are clear, there’s no slippage that would loose my crispy lines and the solid colour areas are nice and solid.

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The best lino printing method to get great results