January 28, 2019

Tools of the trade

I often get questions about the tools and materials I use to carve and print linocuts. In this post I will tell you all about it! I also listed a few useful (web)shops below.

The gouges I use for cutting lino are from a brand called Pfeil. They are a little expensive, but very much worth it! They’re sharp, easy to hold and come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. From left to right:

  • the 12/1 V shaped tool, for cutting thin lines and detailed work
  • the 9/6 U shaped tool, 6mm wide, for cutting away the large bits on a block
  • the 9/2 U shaped tool, which is 2mm wide. I use this one most for cutting away lino around detailed parts in the block
  • the 11/1 U shaped tool, which is 1mm wide, for linework and cutting away small bits
  • the 11/0.5 U shaped tool, which is 0.5mm(!) wide, for thin linework

I use the last one on the left the most. I guess it shows, since it’s colour is a lot darker than the other gouges…

This is my collection of (inexpensive) brayers. The first one I bought is the one with the red handle, from a brand called Essdee. It’s a 15cm wide hard rubber brayer, I actually do not use it for inking anymore, as I found it difficult to get a nice even layer of ink on the plate with this one. It’s a very hard rubber brayer, and I used water based inks at the time, which is not the best combination. The brayer with the blue handle (also by Essdee) was the second brayer I bought. It’s a lot softer and therefore better at transferring an even layer of water based ink, but it has a small dent so it’s actually the worst one of the bunch… The tiny brayer (6cm wide) is from a brand called Abig, it’s very cheap but I really like it. Ideal for inking small blocks (such as stamps). The big brayer with wooden handle (also Abig) is 20cm wide and is made of some kind of plastic instead of rubber. The hardness is just right, definitely my favourite brayer so far.

These are the inks I use for printing my blocks. The stamping pad is for printing stamps and small linocuts made of rubber or softlino. There is a large variety of stamping inks available, but I like this one the most; it’s Versafine ink by Tsukineko. When I first started reliefprinting, I preferred water based inks, mostly because of the easy cleaning and the short amount of time it needs to dry. I mostly used Schminke Aqua Linoprint inks, they come in many different colours and aren’t too expensive. Water based inks are, however, hard to work with. They lack a bit of tackiness and do not print as evenly as oil-based inks. Though I had quite good printing results, I thought I could do better with oil-based ink. I found a webshop that sells Caligo Safewash Inks by Cranfield; oil-based inks that can be cleaned up with water and a bit of soap. They’re a dream to work with! Beautiful colours, nice tackiness and very good transfer on the block. And yes, easy to clean up! They do take a long time to dry though, about a week. I currently use our laundry drying rack for drying prints…

These are my “barens”; a wooden spoon (bought at the supermarket, very cheap of course), a Speedball baren and my hard rubber Essdee brayer. The wooden spoon actually works best, especcialy for printing on linoleum blocks. When printing on rubber, the Speedball baren is a good match. The baren is rather soft, it really doesn’t work when you’re trying to print hard, linoleum blocks. Rubber is a bit soft and easier to print, so when printing rubber blocks or stamps, the baren comes in handy. I use the hard rubber brayer when printing linoleum blocks that contain large inked areas. Those kind of blocks are hard to print by hand, lucky for me I bought a small press a year ago…

I use different blocks for carving, depending on the kind of project I’m doing. On the left is traditional linoleum, in the shop I buy it from they call it Walton linoleum. I use these for all kinds of designs, I find it easy to work with but it is a bit harder to print with than rubber blocks or softcut linoleum. Essdee Softcut lino (the cream coloured bit next to the grey Walton lino) isn’t actual linoleum, but made of some kind of plastic. It carves like butter and you can go into the tiniest details without it crumbling away. It is a bit sturdy and some people really don’t like it, but I do think it’s nice to work with, especially when you just started printmaking! I used it for all kind of blocks in the beginning, now I mostly use it for carving (surface pattern design) stamps. The material comes in different sizes up to 20cm x 30cm, so it’s not suitable for large designs. Another soft “lino” material I like is the dark grey one at the bottom, I don’t know what it’s officially called so let’s just call it softlino. Again not real linoleum but plastic, soft and easy to carve. I prefer this one over the Essdee softcut, it’s a bit less sturdy and slippery. And it comes up to size 30cm x 40cm, so it’s suitable for bigger projects! The blue stuff on the right is Factis Carving Rubber, though I believe it’s not actual rubber. It’s about 5mm thick and very easy to carve. I find it a bit soft to my taste, but it’s very easy to work with when you would like to stamp the block onto paper. And it also works like a charm when printing on fabric.

This is my press; a manual hand-lever press from Abig. It’s a nice press to print smaller blocks with (max block size is A4, 21cm x 29.7cm) Some say it’s the most amateuristic press one can get, but I don’t care, it works for me! So far I printed a lot of small prints on cardboard with this press; saves me a lot of time and energy.

Where to buy?

I live in the Netherlands, so the shops below are Dutch (web)shops where you can buy printmaking materials.

  • Van Beek Art; they have several physical stores in the Netherlands, and a webshop filled with art materials. They also have a nice printmaking section, this is where I buy my linoleum and softlino blocks.
  • Gerstaecker; this is where I get most of my tools and supplies; Pfeil gouges, inks, Factis rubber blocks, my press, brayers and paper. They have several stores all over the Netherlands, and of course a webshop.
  • Kunstlokaalwebshop.nl; when I first started printmaking, I bought a bunch of stuff here; Schminke inks and linoleum. Quick delivery and good pricing!