Linoleum cut

I’ve embarked in my latest venture ;P it’s been a while since I tried something new.

I have a project for some 50 cards which I wanted to make by hand, my deadline is about 3 months from now (I’m not good with deadlines, but I suppose this is more than enough time). They’ll have a little calligraphy, but I also wanted to add an illustration, possibly spreading on to the envelopes. I thought it was a good project to try my hand at linoleum printing.

I have done a little engraving on copper before, and that’s the extent of my engraving experience. Somehow I had never set hands on a piece of linoleum.

About three weeks ago I got some supplies: brown and grey linoleum sheets, a cheap engraving set (Abig), a roller (Essdee), inks (Schminke aqua linoprint), some paper (Fabriano Murillo 360g in oliva and Fabriano Tiziano 160g in pistacchio – probably not the best choices since they’re textured), and some envelopes (Crown mill, laid). I also got extra calligraphy nibs and regular ink, since mine have dried out. And some extra gouache.
I’m using an old picture frame with its glass to spread the ink onto.
Last week I also got a couple of wooden drawer pulls/knobs that I’ll use to burnish by hand, since I don’t have a press (more on that later) but meanwhile I’ve been using the back of a wooden spoon.

First thing I did was sharpen the engraving “nibs”. I expect all new tools to be somewhat dull, especially when they’re cheap, and these were really as bad as expected if not worse, burrs and all. As long as the steel is decent enough, no harm done I guess.

I also found three old knife tools in a drawer. One broke when I was sharpening, not impressed. The steel is brittle all the way through and it snapped, the others survived due to the curved shape, I suppose. But those had even worse edges, so much material to remove… and I didn’t do a very good job of it, so they kind of suck at the moment. I’m doing fine with the Abig set, though.

And so I’ve been making some small tests now and then. Doodling, cutting and printing on some textured all-media paper… which I discovered is not a best choice. I wanted the texture of the paper, but I may have to end up printing on the smooth side.

Some things I have learnt:

Cutting the head off the bolt is all that’s necessary
  • You do need a roller.
  • Linoleum is in great part cured lineseed oil, and it will continue curing. So there is such a thing as fresh linoleum, and if not fresh it will harden too much. Don’t stock up.
  • I prefer grey to brown linoleum. It seems a bit softer bit has good definition.
  • You can make a great burnisher with two wooden knobs (see left).
  • The pricy Schminke cleaner seems to be just ethanol and water, so I am using regular window cleaning spray (methanol based) and it works very well to clean roller, glass, and the lino too.
  • Cutting too deep may mean one of the edges of the tool ends up under the surface of the linoleum as you cut, and it will tear.
  • Unless you’re used to it, I suppose, after cutting for a while your hand and arms gets tired. Taking a rest is best because a tired arm is not very precise.
  • Not unlike enamel, dirt, hair and dust are to be avoided, they’ll create irregularities on the print. Before inking, brush the linoleum surface with a stiff brush to remove any loose bits.
  • The people on the internet that say that linocut is “slow and tedious” in all likelihood have never enamelled ;) I find it entertaining and actually very fast. Remember you’re getting a whole series at the end of it.


Today, I think, I have decided on a design. I made some tests but the linocut still needs some details and I’ve run out of daylight.

To be continued…

Leave a Reply