How to block print

Published April 27, 2018, by Stina Axelson

Block printing is an excellent technique for producing something that is truly handmade, and that can be easily replicated.

One of the advantages of block printing is that it can be done on a surface of almost any size and texture and you don’t have to worry about fitting it through a printer or a press. Carving the block is time consuming and requires a lot of patience, but once you have the block you can use it hundreds or thousands of times. The style of printing is called “Block printing” and it is one of the oldest types of printmaking and has been around for thousands of years. It has been done around the world, with roots in India, China and Japan.

Block print
Lino cut by Katharine Watson

Block printing is essentially using a carved material covered in ink to transfer an image on to paper or fabric and it can be done with wood, linoleum, rubber, or many other materials. Images that are printed with this technique are typically much bolder than other types of printmaking: since the blocks are carved by hand, there is often less detail and more texture to the prints.

The technique is one of the easiest printing methods to get started with, since the materials needed to start are relatively inexpensive, and you don’t need a lot of equipment for printing. It’s a great way to get into printmaking!

The process includes sketching the design, carving the linoleum and finally printing the design.

The Printing Process

Sketch the design

Start with a simple design or drawing that doesn’t take a long time to cut. There are many different techniques for applying the design on the linoleum. You can sketch directly on the material, transfer the design using carbon paper. The important thing is to reverse the image. Make an outline of where to carve.

Useful info on image transfer

Carve the lino

Carving the lino takes a lot of practice and patience, if your hand slips, you can ruin the whole piece. You will most likely use a range of knives, from very small-tipped knives to larger one for cutting the background. You should always carve away from yourself.

Carve away the parts that you don’t want to print, as the ink will be applied to the raised surfaces to print the design.  Whatever surface is untouched will be what prints onto the paper.

When cutting hold your arm at an angle of approximately 45 degrees. It is advisable to practice on a blank piece of lino before you start carving your stamp. Slow down on bends but do not let go, if needed use your other hand to rotate the lino. Try to carve out from the narrow end to the wide one , from the edges to the middle: controlling your movements.

After the main lines have been carved clean the unwanted parts of the design, those parts that should be empty  when stamping, for this procedure you can use other tools with a wider blades. Do not tear or pull or pluck protruding pieces of lino, you may end up simply wrecking your work

Print

Squeeze a small amount of ink onto a piece of glass or plexiglass, and roll it out with a roller (also called a brayer).  To get a thin, even layer, it’s important to apply the ink evenly to the block. The most important part is applying the pressure evenly, since the color will be stronger in some areas of the print than others if uneven pressure is applied.  This is also a step that takes some practice and perfecting. Make sure there is a thin but even layer on the whole design. Then I take the block and press it down onto the paper or fabric.

Blockprint by Sowiesowies
Blockprint by Wies van der Velde/ Sowiesowies

Resources

Check out our Pinterestboard with Block printing inspiration


Artists of interest

 Wies van der Velde/ Sowiesowies

Katharine Watson
Andrea Lauren

Jen Hewett

Thanks Wies and Katharine for letting us showcase your beautiful work! 

Photo Credits: Wies and Katharine

If you would like us to showcase your work, or if you have any great resources to share, make sure to comment in the field below, and we will update this post.

Stina Axelson

Stina Axelson

Always making and creating and fun to hang out with. She finds it hard to follow instructions and keeps a box of treasured papers.