The Linocut Process

lino block and cutters

Linoleum block printing is a great medium: the blocks and tools are inexpensive and the process of carving and printing is very straightforward. I carve my lino blocks in the traditional manner. Where my process differs is in the printing. Here's a quick overview.

carving a linoleum block
My first step is to carve the linoleum block. I place the lino block in a wooden bench hook which stabilizes the block and also allows me to keep my free hand safely away from the extremely sharp cutters.

locking up a linoleum block
After the lino block is carved, I lock it up in the chase. The lino block is surrounded by furniture (pieces of wood) and tightened into place by two quoins. In the photograph I'm tightening one of the quoins with a key.

linoleum block in press
The next step is to put the chase into the press. The rollers on the press pick up ink from the inking disk (extreme top left of the photo) and apply it to the linoleum block. Paper is placed on the platen (the flat metal surface); three gauge pins are used to position the paper. By applying pressure to the treadle the press closes and the inked up linoleum block leaves an impression on the paper.

printing a linoleum block
Printing is underway. (For more about this 1921 press go here.)

printed piece
A different view of the press showing the inked linoleum block and a printed piece on the delivery board.

For linocuts that require two or more colors, the challenge is to make sure that everything lines up (is properly registered). Gauge pins are used for this purpose. The photo below shows three gauge pins around a printed piece. (By convention three pins are used, two on one side and one on the other.)

gauge pins

The photos below show the printing sequence for a piece that required six linoleum blocks and six impressions. Gauge pins are indispensable for making sure all these impressions line up accurately.

fifth impression fifth impression
first impression
second impression
third impression forth impression
third impression
forth impression
fifth impression sixth impression
fifth impression
sixth impression
A few final notes.

I use rubber-based printers ink for my linocuts, rather than the ink you find in art stores. I'm used to working with this kind of ink so it just makes life easier.

For test prints, or when I'm just experimenting, I usually don't ink up the press; instead I apply ink to the linoleum block with a brayer (roller), then put the inked block in my press. The block needs to be re-inked for each printed piece when using a brayer. The advantage to the brayer method is that I don't have to clean the press, which takes time and is not all that much fun. The main advantages to going to the trouble of inking up the press are that I can print much more quickly and I have much more control over ink coverage.