Sunday, December 02, 2012

Linoleum Printed Holiday Cards - DIY

Here’s what you’ll need:

Linoleum block
Carving tool
Ink brayer
Paper [card stock or heavy weight suggested]
Table or work space [kitchen table works great]

Optional items:
Latex gloves – keep your manicure tidy!
Piece of plexi glass or glass
Carbon or transfer paper
Envelopes [if you’re sending out]
Vegetable oil or mineral spirits for clean up [oil based inks]

Come up with a design.

I created mine in a graphics program but you can hand draw your design as well.
Choose simple and bold designs for an easier time carving.

When you’re all set to go with your drawing or design we’ll need to reverse the image [especially if there is text!]. Remember: whatever you print will be in the reverse of how it’s carved.

If you’ve created it on the computer you can generally print it out in a “mirror image” in your print settings. If you’ve hand drawn it, tape it to a window, drawing facing outside, tape another sheet of paper over it and retrace it in the mirror image.

Your linoleum block.
It’s not kitchen linoleum silly – but a special art block available at all art supply stores and probably most craft stores. There is a hearty terracotta color block [photo top right], it’s difficult to carve and not recommended for kids [it can be inserted into a press at its increased depth.

An easier and softer version of the original lino blocks are pictured here the blue Speedball and the grey Moo Carve version. They both have the consistency of an eraser. Dick Blick is an online art supply store that has everything you need here.

Your carving tool
You’ll need this little carving tool to groove the areas out in your design. Many of them come with multiple tips. I tend to use two of them more than the others but you’ll find your own personal favorites once you practice. [my tool has a bit of tape around the grip area for comfort]. If you’re new to this, a beginning set is perfect.

Transfer your design to your block.
Now that you have your design printed or drawn out in the reverse, it’s ready to transfer to your block. You can purchase pieces of carbon paper at the art store or if you’re looking for the DIY way color the back side with a pencil and that will act like carbon paper. It’s a good idea to tape down both the carbon paper and your drawing to the block so it doesn’t move.

Begin carving your drawing. Always keep the blade pointing away from yourself and fingers. You don’t have to carve really deep, getting a groove in the surface is enough. If there are areas that need more carving you can always go back and take out more once you test it with ink.

At this time you might begin changing your design as you see the block begin to react to your carving. It’s OK to change as you go along [I did on this block]. Also remember that anything you carve will stay the color of the paper, anything left un-carved will print in your color. Once your block is all carved, you’re ready to print!


You’ll want to make a work area in the kitchen or at a table. You might put newsprint or other sheets of oversized paper down as the ink can get messy. If you happen to have a small piece of plexiglass or glass available it makes the best surface to mix and brayer color on. My studio has a large glass surface pictured in the next few images.

If you don’t have a piece of glass handy. Use a large piece of Bristol or heavy weight paper taped down to your work surface. The ink bleeds through lighter weight papers so thicker paper is recommended.

Squirt out a bit of your desired ink color [ I mixed a green with a pallet knife for this project] between a quarter and half dollar size. This should print about 15-20 images. I used oil-based inks but I would recommend water based for a novice printer. Oil needs a well ventilated area and is not recommended for children’s projects. Oil based inks also very slow to dry if you have limited space.

Once you have your glob of ink out on the table, you’ll need your brayer to roll the ink thin and even. The ink should have a slight suction sound but not goopy. You’ll be rolling the brayer over your block a few times crisscrossing to get the ink even. If you have too much ink, the areas in the relief you’ve carved will fill with ink and print.

Plan on testing your inking technique with 5-10 sheets before you use whatever paper you have planned for your project. You’ll need to test ink, pressure and the variables you’re working with. This is also the time to carve more out of your block if needed.

I found that having a significant border of paper helps. Getting an image perfectly centered on the same size paper is tough but not impossible. I printed on letter, sized sheets and I’ll trim the design down after for postcard style cards. Plan for additional loss of paper for a tight registration.

Once your block is well inked, it’s time to get it on paper! I chose to place the paper on top of the block. You can try it in reverse as well but getting enough hand pressure is tough. So, once the sheet of paper is on top of your block use a wooden spoon, your hand or another flat service to press the paper as thoroughly as possible to your design. Peel it off when you feel good about the pressure. You can add ink, carve more out of your block or adjust the pressure as needed on your additional practice sheets.

Expect imperfections in the carving and the ink coverage to come through. This is the beauty of the handwork involved. You can test your ink on different shades of paper as well. Kraft, white and ivory sheets are pictured here.

Step 7 -Clean up

Always follow the instructions on the ink containers. Generally blocks can be wiped down with a paper towel. If you’re using oil-based inks, kitchen vegetable oil is a good way to clean ink off of glass and your brayer. Mineral Spirits are also an easy way. Please follow all ventilation and safety instructions on cleaners.


Once your prints have dried, try scanning your favorite into your home printer / scanner [or begging a friend] and size it as needed for holiday hang tags in Word or similar desk top publishing program. Print on card stock as needed!

Happy Holidays! -Richie


Mark Sasway said...

Thanks for your beautiful pictorial contribution to the holidays Richie!

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