Seeking Linoleum Block Printing Paper & Ink recommendations
May 16, 2011 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Are you a linoleum block printmaker? What are your favorite papers and inks?

I'm getting into linoleum block printing in fits and starts. Last year I spent a week or two googling obsessively and made a few prints of a 3x5 block on some fairly heavy cold-press watercolor paper, using oil-based ink and a broad wooden spoon as a baren.

Following recommendations I had read online, I went with the watercolor paper and prepared it by layering wet sheets of paper with dry ones, putting the whole thing in a plastic bag under a pile of books overnight to let the moisture even out. Using slightly damp paper made a huge difference compared to bone-dry paper, but there were still some patchy areas where the ink didn't transfer completely.

After that I got distracted by other things and put printmaking aside until last week, when the bug bit me again. Last night I tried pulling a few prints of a 4x6 block with Arches 90# hot press watercolor paper that had been pre-dampened, this time with a 4" Speedball Baren and was not as successful; I think part of the problem is that the baren is just too large for the block size (there's barely anywhere to put a finger or two on the paper to make sure it doesn't slip), but the paper is also just too heavy for trying to pull prints by hand; I notice that when I do a proof on a sheet of much thinner, 24# paper the transfer is much crisper, more uniform, and requires much less force.

Until I get around to building a bottle jack press (PDF) it seems like my best bet will be to switch to a lighter paper and go back to the wooden spoon.

So, my primary question is:
  • If you pull your prints by hand, what paper do you like to use? Specific brand and variant recommendations are welcome, as are more generic weight/style recommendations. (Bonus points for brick and mortar ubiquity!)
My secondary question is:
  • What inks do you like? Right now I have a few tubes of plain old Speedball oil-based ink, mostly because it was readily available... however, I get the impression that Speedball inks are generally reviled by people who do printmaking on any kind of scale. I've read very good things about Daniel Smith inks. Are there any others I should be aware of?
posted by usonian to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Great question! I'm a fairly serious amateur printmaker and work almost entirely in relief printmaking at my dining room table. Here's a shameless plug for my Etsy shop, which in truth I only set up so I could get into the Printsy community and talk about stuff just like this. You may want to google up the Printsy blog and check it out too, lots of good stuff there.

My favorite paper is Rives lightweight. Paper weight is reported in units of grams per square meter. Rives lightweight is 115 gsm and it works very nicely for hand printing with a baren, spoon, or simply my fingers to provide pressure to transfer. (I'll often put a sheet of waxed paper between the paper and the baren/spoon to make the surface a little more slippery.)

This is a little light if you really want to wet the paper. I don't typically dampen the paper because I generally make multilayer prints and prefer to monkey with the viscosity of the ink to ensure good transfer.

The watercolor papers I've seen/felt are awfully thick and heavy for hand printmaking--the DS site list Canson print/watercolor papers at 250 gsm, and the regular Rives is about that heavy too. If I were working with a press I'd want sturdier paper like this, but by hand for relief work, nah.

Another paper I love is kitakata. Also light weight (30 gsm!) with a beautiful texture.

One of the great joys of printmaking is grooving on all the lovely papers in the world--I'm sure your local art supply store will have many to experiment with, and you'll find the ones you love.

About inks: Daniel Smith are very very good, really worlds away from Speedball or Blick, which are kind of like tempera paint in a tube (at least the water-based stuff). I still use those kinds for test prints while I'm carving complicated blocks, etc, etc., but for my "real" prints I use my DS inks. The texture is smoother, so the application easier. DS also sells transparent medium, and I use a LOT of that with just a tiny bit of pigmented ink to make translucent layers of color. This is true for both the oil-based and the water-based DS inks. I got some Miracle Gel Reducer to reduce the tack for oil-based inks, and just use water to thin water-based inks. The latter dry way, way more quickly, are a little trickier to use on the palette, but so easy to clean up. (Tip: use vegetable oil for the first pass to clean your oil-based inks. Then dish soap will take off the veg oil. No solvents required! Which is good because the solvents will screw up your brayer in the fullness of time.)

I've been hearing a lot of really intriguing things about Akua Kolor soy-based inks. They're water-based but don't dry out as easily as DS inks and they're apparently great for monoprint. I have enough ink to keep me busy for a long while so I haven't tried them--you can give 'em a shot and let me know what you think. :)

Hope this helps! I love to geek out on printmaking stuff, so feel free to MeMail me if you want to keep the conversation going. And thanks for posting the link to the bottle jack. I am thinking about presses but haven't gotten to the point where I feel I need one yet. The idea of building one myself is mighty intriguing!
posted by Sublimity at 9:31 AM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, while I'm at it--I've done some work with traditional linoleum (mounted and not), but these days I work almost entirely in softer media like Safety-kut. I've even done some fairly good and intricate work with styrofoam (mounted or not, depending on thickness/stiffness) as a plate, like the pomegranate piece in my Etsy shop.

Lino and wood are terrific surfaces, each with their aesthetic advantages, but I find carving the softer surfaces so much less of a struggle that I would much rather spend my effort on them.

Also, it's so easy to put an impression on styrofoam that it's easy for my kids (or, say, participants at a workshop) to "carve" it with a pencil--no sharp tools required. If you have kids who are interested, or want to introduce a friend to the concept without too much effort or investment, I say check it out!
posted by Sublimity at 9:39 AM on May 16, 2011

Best answer: First of all, I built that bottlejack press and it's great, but make sure your L brackets to hold in the bottlejack are in tight; mine provide a little too much room for wiggling and there's a little slippage which is annoying and occasionally detrimental to the print.

I am slapdash, so I just have a spray bottle with smaller sprayholes than normal and I spray the paper from a slight distance and put it down, mostly because I don't plan ahead when I want to print. Also, I screw around with type as well as lino blocks, and that method works great for type.

Paper. Luckily, for me, there are two decent indy art stores in a town close to me, so I can go and really feel the paper before printing. I am also both poor and cheap, so I generally go for the paper that is the most affordable but still has a good finger texture. I do most of my printing using the press, so buy mostly paper that can stand up to it. Right now, my preferred all-around paper (for hand-printing or press printing) is the Hahnemuhle Ingres because - for my purposes - it works great for type or block printing, can take press-pressure, but will also respond to hand or roller pressing, and is affordable enough for me to experiment with it. Also, the 6-8 colors available locally seem more organic than chemical. I save my Rives for special projects.

Ink. Look into Graphic Chemical Inks, too. I liked them better than the Daniel Smith, but I'm something of an ink apostate in that I still tend to use to use the dreaded water-based speedball inks most of the time. I just ignore the mockery from my serious printmaking pals.
posted by julen at 9:40 AM on May 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks Sublimity & julen! (Best answers marked, but any and all additional recommendations by others are still welcome!)

On reflection I don't remember where I read about people using/recommending watercolor paper, but it must have been in conjunction with using a press. The only reason I was moistening the paper was because it was so damn heavy... but it sounds like thinner paper plus better quality ink (plus practice, which I know I need more of) may be the formula for success.

Speaking of presses, this is the PDF I should have linked to, it's an evolution of the design from the first one with a couple of improvements.
posted by usonian at 11:39 AM on May 16, 2011

Oh, that revised pdf looks good - it addresses a few of the issues I had, certainly.

If you are hand- or brayer-pressing your print, you can go super-thin with the paper. There's some really lovely almost-translucently thin Japanese paper out there, for example, that is way too delicate for a press, but will respond to a hand or paddle or brayer ink distribution without tearing super-easily.
posted by julen at 1:02 PM on May 16, 2011

Best answer: Mulberry, Sekishu, Kinwashi, Kozo. Lokta is pretty cool too.

The Rives LW is great, but there is a huge amount of defective product out there right now in the 19*26 inch size. Look for the 26*40 inch sheets or sheets that do not have the barcode stickers.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:19 PM on May 16, 2011

Response by poster: Follow-up: I placed an order at on earlier this week for black oil-based ink, a new softer brayer (which was a recommendation I got elsewhere - I had been using my late grandfather's old rock-hard rubber brayer which is at least 50 years old and probably out of round), and some Rives LW paper. (Mr. Yuck, your warning was a little too late! What kind of defects should I be looking for?)

The ink and brayer shipped separately, and arrived yesterday. I tried a few test prints using the Daniel Smith Ink, soft brayer, some 24 pound stationery, and going back to the wooden spoon instead of the 4" brayer.

What a difference! The ink rolls out nice and smooth, none of the globbing up and clogging detailed areas of the block I experienced with the Speedball stuff. The prints came out with beautiful crisp lines and solid, flat areas of color. I still had a few patchy areas, but I think that's just me needing to get the hang of rolling out ink evenly and rubbing thoroughly enough. Then I tried another piece of the Arches 90# watercolor paper, and the results were just as good. I know a big part of it was switching back to using a spoon for a baren but the ink also makes a huge difference.
posted by usonian at 9:40 AM on May 20, 2011

I'm not certain, but I think the machine that puts the barcodes on the sheets was leaving an invisible trail of adhesive down the entire sheet.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:59 AM on May 22, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks Mr. Yuck - I think I lucked out, at least with the one sheet of Rives LW cream that I used the other night.

One last follow-up, for those who may come across this page in the future: Over the weekend I printed a 3x5" block with Daniel Smith Traditional Black No. 79 on Rives Lightweight cream paper, using a soft rubber brayer and wide wooden spoon as a baren.

I did not pre-moisten the paper as it already felt quite soft and absorbent, and because it's been raining here every day for 2 weeks; things are plenty damp already. I paid careful attention to inking, making sure to cover everything as evenly as possible. I was able to ink a little more heavily than with the Speedball ink & hard brayer, because the DS ink stays smooth on the surface of the block instead of forming globs and clogging the finer cuts.

The Rives LW is plenty strong, but it's still thin enough to be able to get a pretty good sense of how well you've rubbed a given area of the block. It takes the ink beautifully, giving perfect crisp lines and solid coverage in larger printed areas. Much more satisfying (and less frustrating) than all of my previous attempts... so, thank you all for your advice! If I can manage to sell a few prints I'll definitely put the proceeds towards exploring some of the other papers & inks mentioned here.
posted by usonian at 6:16 AM on May 23, 2011

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