Now and then I get questions from followers of this blog about linocut techniques, tools or printing issues. Although I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about linocut (that’s one of my life goals!) I’m happy to help if I can and I welcome other linocut artists to add their help and advice in the comments section. Do contact me if there’s something you want to ask.
Here are a couple of questions I got this week followed by my replies:
Waterbased inks and Drying times
I’m working on my christmas cards today and I usually use waterbased inks for lino printing as it’s what we use at school. I have bought myself some linseed oil based ink to try and I just did some test printing. It’s lovely to use but I’m worried about getting the prints to dry. Have you got any tips? I haven’t decided what paper I’ll use. In the past I’ve used really thin stuff like tissue paper so that I can get a clear image just by rollering on the back.
I have just started using water-based inks myself for workshops and printing greetings cards. They are so much easier to clean up and there are lots of different brands to choose from. My opinion is that oil-based inks are still superior for colour intensity and so are worth the extra hassle of cleaning up with vegetable oil if you want perfect results. I try to avoid all solvents nowadays, but when I’m using oil-based inks I finish cleaning my rollers with a tiny amount of turpentine to get them pristine.
Drying time for oil-based inks does vary according to the brand of ink and the colour. Anything from a day to a few days is common. Most oil-based inks contain ‘driers’ (or dryers), a chemical which speeds up drying time. You can also buy these to add to your inks yourself. There are two kinds – manganese driers and cobalt driers. Manganese driers are ‘body driers’ which dry the ink evenly throughout (avoiding a glossy surface) and cobalt driers dry from the surface down.
Make sure you follow the instructions and wear protective gloves when handling driers – they are toxic. You only need a few drops which you mix in with the ink before rolling it out. If you are in the UK you can buy driers from Intaglio Printmaker. I’m not sure where to get them in the USA, but McClains has an excellent reputation and a good range of inks. They specialise in relief printing and do mail order only.
You can also speed up drying time by ensuring a good circulation of air around the prints and hanging them in a warm, dry environment. If you are printing multiple layers try printing wet on wet – you may be surprised how well the ink takes and it means you don’t have to wait for each layer to dry individually.
Hand printing advice
What’s the best way to get clean/uniform looking prints on a budget? Is there a hand method than comes close to using a press? I really like the hand printed look, but I have a few ideas in mind that could really use that smooth even look. All the presses I have seen looked like Big Time $$$.
It is certainly possible to get solid, even blocks of colour when printing by hand, although it takes a little time and effort. My East London Printmakers buddy, Chris Pig, is a master of this. I would say the most important things are inking and what paper you use. You need a good quality ink, a relief printing ink for professional artists. It should have good density of colour and be quite sticky when you roll it out. You will need quite a lot of ink. It is best to build it up in thin layers so that it doesn’t fill in the carved areas. Inking for the first print will always need extra ink.
The paper you use should be smooth and thin. Japanese papers are the best for this although some Chinese papers will work. Japanese paper (washi) is made with long plant fibres which make it incredibly strong. This is important because you need to give it a really good rub on the back using your printing tool and cheaper paper will fall apart. If you can’t afford Japanese paper, choose a thin cartridge paper and place a piece of tracing paper or greaseproof paper on the back before you start rubbing to protect it.
You will need a lot of pressure when printing. You can use any smooth, hard implement for this – the back of a spoon or a Japanese baren work well. Experiment with using the corner of the spoon/baren to concentrate the force over a smaller area. As you are printing you can lift a corner of the paper to see how you are doing and replace it before continuing.
Cheap presses are hard to come by but if you are useful at DIY it may be possible to build one yourself. Have a look online, I saw one once made out of a car jack!
Hope that helps!