Tutorial: An Introduction to Block Printing

I'm a paper geek and as such, I am always looking for new ways to work with paper. Last year I was introduced to Block Printing and was quickly hooked because of its versatile use and ease. What I will show you here is how to print by carving a stamp on a linoleum block (aka lino block).

An image of your choice in black and white.  If this is your first time block printing, choose something simple as the carving process can get pretty hairy and this time consuming.  Start easy and then progress to more complex projects.

Your final will be a mirror image of what you started with, which, in most cases doesn’t matter and, frankly is a matter of preference. BUT, if you are dealing with typography and lettering, your starting image must be oriented flipped horizontally. 

For today’s tutorial, I used an image of lips since I was making pocket Moleskines® for my In Stitches line. I easily converted the red lips to b/w by applying a threshold filter in Photoshop. The orientation did not matter in this case so my final is a mirror image.

Speedball’s Block Printing Starter Set has everything you need to complete this and future projects. It can be found at any art supply store for around $20. If you’d like to purchase the materials separately, here’s what you’ll need:
  • Any size lino block (box comes with 4x6 block)

  • Lino handle #1

  • #1, #2, and #3 cutters

  • A 37 ml (1.25 oz) tube of black ink

  • A 4" (10 cm) soft, pop-in brayer

  • A tray for inking

  • Saral Wax Free transfer Paper to trace your image on the linoleum block. It comes in various colors, as a roll or in sheets. Mine just happens to be red.

    Block Printing Paper. This comes in large sizes usually (18x24), various colors and weights and is readily available at any art-supply store. Each sheet is watermarked and has two natural deckles and two tear deckled edges.
    OK. Let’s start. Here’s what your work area should look like:

    Cut a piece of the transfer paper to match the size of the image that you are transferring and place it dark side-down on lino block.

    Secure it with tape to avoid it sliding while you are working. Place your image directly on top of it and secure with tape as well. Trace your image. This is what your block should look like after you are done tracing your respective image

    Now you can start carving away. Unscrew the top of your lino-cutter. There are 3 blades in there (CAREFUL: They are very sharp!). Get familiar with how they slide by working them on the negative space of your block ans ALWAYS away from yourself.

    Since we are creating a high relief (think rubber stamp), we need to carve out all the negative space in and around our image. I use the wide blade to get rid of the most negative space and later the really thin one to fine-tune the details.

    Our stamp is ready.

    Let's start making some prints.

    These acrylic inks dry very quickly, so act fast. They also are NOT water-repellent so your print will smudge if it gets as little as a drop of water on it.
    Place a streak of color on your tray and work it with the brayer in a downward motion to create a flat sheet of color so to speak, until you hear the brayer making a sticky sound on the ink. Apply it then evenly on your stamp and place the paper on top of it, applying pressure with your hand or a paper/weight.

    As an alternative, you may have a second (clean) brayer to roll over the paper once it is placed over the inked stamp. Remove the paper and your print is ready. You can get about 2 good prints per stamping, before the ink start to fade, just like any stamp. In the case of the lips above, the fading gave me great ‘bold’ spots which in turn gave the lips texture.

    Beware of ‘caking’ when re-applying ink on the stamp. Make sure the ink from before is completely used up or just wash the stamp to make sure. This ink is very easy to clean up and it does not stain. Just run stamp and tools under warm water. You can layer different colors on top of each other, just make sure you let each one dry fully before doing so.

    That’s it! Have fun experimenting with different colors and patterns.

    If you have any questions or if something was not clear, feel free to email me directly.

    Angel / Cards In Stitches