Here is my list of ten essential tools and materials for making linocuts. These are all indispensable, either when preparing your design, carving the lino block or printing. In my opinion, these are the best brands and will make carving and printing a joy. Whenever I run linocut workshops these are the items I recommend. Where possible I have listed suppliers in the UK and the USA.
1. Pfeil tools
Made to exacting Swiss standards these have drawn many oohs and aahs from my students when trying them for the first time. They are made of high quality steel and are sharpened to a finely honed cutting edge that slices through lino like butter. Their comfortable mushroom-shaped handles are made from pear wood and sit flat on the table when not in use to prevent them rolling onto the floor.
2. Battleship grey linoleum
The smoothest of all the traditional linoleums (linolea?) the battleship grey is easy to cut and holds fine detail without crumbling. The surface is smooth enough to give flat areas of colour but has enough tooth to give a slight texture when under-inked or printed at a lower pressure. Available in the UK on rolls up to 3ft x 6ft.
3. Caligo Safewash inks
Oil-based inks that wash up in soap and water. These print beautifully, especially when extended into transparent layers (they are not as opaque as other inks) and remain useable for several hours after rolling out. Some of the colours take a few days to dry, especially when over-printed, in which case drying times can be sped up by adding chemical dryers.
4. Japanese brush pen (Fude pen)
Brilliant for drawing your designs onto lino, Japanese brush pens (also known as Fude pens) dry fast and permanent. They give a variety of marks from very fine to wide lines, so can be used for detail as well as blocking in areas quickly. Fude pens come in two sizes of brush, and the grey part of the pen is a replaceable ink cartridge.
Where to buy: Ebay is probably your best bet, there are a number of suppliers in Japan.
5. Japanese carbon paper
Much longer lasting than traditional black or blue carbon paper, this comes on a big sheet and can be used over and over. The red line is very clear, making following it when carving easy. It will show through when printed with certain inks, so it should be cleaned off the block using methylated spirits or alcohol before inking up.
Where to buy: Intaglio Printmaker
6. Japanese rubber ink roller (brayer)
The Japanese have a long tradition of relief printing and take their materials very seriously. These rubber ink rollers (brayers in the USA) are a good mid-range option and will last for years if looked after properly. They have just the right amount of give to ink up a lino block perfectly (because lino is seldom flat, a hard roller often misses bits). They come in a range of sizes, from 1 inch to 8.5 inch (3cm to 21.5 cm).
7. Somerset Satin paper 250gsm
Although there is a vast range of papers out there, this is my personal favourite for printing linocuts on the press. It is absorbent enough to take the ink beautifully without bleeding and has a luxurious weight and texture which adds a real note of class to your prints. It has a deckle edge which looks great when float-mounted in a frame.
For cleaning up oil-based inks it’s best to avoid white spirit as it can be harmful and is easily absorbed into the body. Zest-it is less harmful and has a pleasant orangey smell which comes from the citrus oils it’s made from.
Where to buy: Intaglio Printmaker
9. Japanese sharpening stone set
This handy set contains sharpening stones in a range of pretty colours, denoting their different coarseness. The stones are soaked in water before use and kept wet whilst sharpening. They work very fast so you won’t waste hours sharpening and they can be kept flat by rubbing against the special block provided.
10. Non-slip matting
Placing a piece of non-slip matting under your lino when carving will give your arms a rest as you don’t have to cling onto your block quite so hard.
Available from: Your local pound shop / dollar store