What is Lino Printing?

Linoleum (lino) printing involves cutting a design into linoleum (known as a ‘linocut’) which is then used to print the design. Of all the different types of printmaking, lino printing is one of the most accessible and easiest techniques to learn.

This ‘lino printing for beginners’ guide provides a handy tick-list of all the resources you will need, followed by clear step-by-step instructions on how to linocut.

You can checkout the Reddit Printmaking Forum for more ideas and information.

What Is Lino Printing
Selection of old Lino Prints

Types Of Lino For Printing

There are a variety of types of lino that can be used for printing. The 2 main types of lino that you come across are soft lino with no backing and tougher lino with a skrim backing. Generally speaking both types of lino can produce high quality prints. The more accessible softer lino is easier to cut and cheaper, however more traditional tougher lino gives you more control and detail.

Types of lino for printing
Different types of Lino for Printmaking

Tools For Lino Printing

Depending on how much money you can spare to buy tools for lino printing determines the quality of the tools available. Shown are a mixture of cheaper and more expensive tools, if you are a beginner I would advise looking for the red handled tools which allow you to change the size of the cutting tool.

Lino Printing Tools
Tools for Lino Printing

Lino Printing Tools and Materials

Most of the resources needed for the lino printing process are relatively inexpensive. Here’s a list of materials and tools you will need:

  • Pencil and rubber
  • Permanent marker (fine tip pen)
  • White paper (for sketching)
  • White paper - Approximately 300gsm (for printing on)
  • Art grade lino cut to size for your planned design (suggest 4” x 5” for beginners)
  • Cutting board
  • Stanley knife/lino cutting tools
  • Steel ruler
  • Sheet of glass or Perspex (approx. 8” x 12”)
  • Lino Ink Roller
  • Block Printing Ink(s)
Lino Printing Tools and Materials
The tools and materials needed for this guide

The Lino Printing Process Step by Step

Step 1 - Designing Your Lino Print

For your first design it’s a good idea to choose something simple that will work with one colour; you may want to create a picture of something such as an animal, or a smaller repetitive pattern. You can also lino print an image and trace over the photo once you cover the back in chalk or graphite (Step 2)

Tips for creating your design:

  • Bear in mind that the print will effectively be a mirror image of your block so you need to work in reverse if you are incorporating any text
  • Sketch your design on paper with pencil so you can easily make changes or correct mistakes

Lino Print Design Image
You can use a photograph for your design and print it off
Lino Printing Design Idea
Sketch for a more complex Lino Print

Step 2 – Transferring Your Design onto the Lino

Once you are happy with your design the next step is to transfer it onto the lino so that you can easily cut your design into the lino. Alternatively, you can draw directly onto the lino which saves time on transferring your design.

Tips for transferring your design:

  • If you transfer your design onto a slightly bigger section of lino than you need this gives some allowance in case your print is crooked
  • By placing carbon paper or chalked back paper between your sketch and the lino you can draw over your design and it will transfer onto the lino (this is why it’s important to remember it’s a mirror image when designing it)
  • Once your design is visible on the lino you can go over it with the fine tip pen to make it clearer

Transferring design onto lino
6B Pencil rubbed on the back of the printed image
Transferring design onto lino
Sketching over the photo with graphite on the back will produce an outline on the Lino
Sketched design on lino
Outlined design on Lino after drawing over image with graphite
Sketched design on lino
Hand drawn method of transferring design onto Lino

Step 3 – How to Cut Lino

Now you are ready to cut the lino (note art grade lino is easier to cut than floor lino). Use the Stanley knife or lino cut tools to carve out the white areas/’negative space’ of your design.

Tips for cutting your lino:

  • When carving your lino print always carve away from yourself in case you slip (best to have your first aid kit to hand just in case!)
  • Make small shallow cuts until you get used to cutting
  • There are different types of lino; some are soft, and others are more tough and need to be heated before they can be carved
  • Make sure you clear away all the cut-out bits of lino

Cutting lino print
The start of cutting my design into Lino

Step 4 - Inking Your Lino

Now you are ready for the exciting part of the lino printing process – printing! Make sure you have a working area prepared, bearing in mind that ink stains (you may also want to wear an apron) There are many different types of ink: oil-based inks are better as they don’t dry as quickly, but they are harder to clean up; Caligo Safewash inks are oil-based, print beautifully and can be cleaned away with soapy water.

Preparing Your Lino For Printing

  • Glue lino to a wooden or plastic board (Foamex) to ensure the printing surface is flat
  • Degrease the lino with white spirit or warm soapy water to make sure the ink is applied evenly
  • Clean the edges of the cuts and also any loose bits of Lino to make surethey dont mix with the ink

Inking Your Lino Cut

  • Ink needs to be of a certain stickiness and consistency before printing; you will notice printer’s ink is thicker than fountain pen ink
  • Apply a spoonful of ink to your sheet of glass/Perspex using the roller to create a nice even layer of ink on both the glass/Perspex and the roller; the ink will acquire a nice velvety texture
  • Apply your inky roller to your carved lino block making sure the ink is evenly distributed

Dirty lino plate
Clean your Lino before each print & cut off excess areas if possible
Lino backed with foamex board
Lino print backed with foamex plastic to make sure the plate does not warp
Lino printing inks and rollers
Inks, Roller & Scrapers for lino printing | Plate glass to roll ink onto for printing
Preparing Ink For Lino Printing
Rolled ink ready for printing

Step 5 - Printing Your Lino Cut

You may want to do a couple of practice prints on test paper to start with, in case you need to make some more tweaks to your linocut (remember you can only carve more material away, but you can’t put it back!) Place your inked lino block down first and then the paper you want to print on; apply even pressure using a clean ink roller, alternatively rubbing circular motions with a spoon or using a baren to transfer your design from the linocut onto the paper.

Tips for printing your linocut:

  • Try to avoid any movement that could result in smudging
  • Remove the paper from your lino cut slowly and carefully to reveal your design
  • Make sure you let your print dry thoroughly
  • Leave some excess space to tape the edge of the paper to reduce movement
  • If you have white showing through the ink, apply more ink to the plate and some more pressure!
  • You can re-use your linocut by applying more ink

Hand printing Lino Print
Hand printing proof of Lino Print on old paper
Hand printing Lino Print
Peel back the paper to reveal your print
Proof of lino print from Wales
Result of proof print - Now to finish rest of the design!

Step 6 - Clean Up

Don’t worry if your firstborn lino print doesn’t look quite as you imagined; practice makes perfect! Clean your linocut with soapy water; this is important, so it remains unblemished should you wish to use it again. Clean your cutting tools carefully to keep them in good condition. If you have any troubleshooting issues during the lino printing process or have any questions on how to do lino printing feel free to contact me via the about page.

Washing after printing

Lino Printing History

Block printing originated in China around 200AD. The use of lino was introduced in German early in the 20th century for wallpaper printing; the lino printing process became a popular method for illustrating children’s books in the 1940s. Lacking the directional grain of wood and being easier to carve, lino can produce a greater variety of results and is a much less expensive medium to work with.

Chinese block printing
Diamond Sutra from Tang Dynasty China | AD 868 | The worlds earliest printed & dated book

Famous Lino Print Artists

UK Modernist artists Cyril Power and Sybil Andrew produced successful linocuts both independently and in partnership, often inspired by the boats on the Thames. Spanish Cubist artist Pablo Picasso turned his hand to the lino printing process in the 1940s and 1950s, producing striking graphic posters presenting abstract portraits and bullfighting. Current US street artist Swoon leaves linocut human figures in public spaces.