I receive tons of questions about the tools and materials that I use, and having been there myself, I know how confusing the topic can be for a beginner. After all, how is one supposed to know the difference between the thousands of different inks, gouges and papers without trying them all?
To help you out, I've created a list of the materials that I use for most of my work. There are lots of other materials that will do just as good of a job as the once listed here, and I will be updating this list every time I discover another one that I want to recommend.
Oh, and let's also mention that I do not receive sponsor money for mentioning any these products, and that the suppliers here are ones that I personally trust. Jackson’s Art is currently giving a 10% discount on your first order if you enter their site through one of the links on this page, and Dick Blick has weekly promo codes that you can find from their home page. They both offer international shipping.
If you order any product from Dick Blick, Jackson’s Art Supplies, or Amazon after entering their sites through the links on this page, I will earn a small commission from the respective seller. These commissions will help cover for the costs of running my website, which in turn enables me to keep providing free information to you – everybody wins!
I use battleship grey linoleum with hessian backing for all my projects. It's durable, smooth, hard enough for small lines, and relatively cheap too.
I must admit that I haven't done much experimenting with other types of lino, so I cannot really tell how it compares to all the other types of lino, but I did recently buy some soft ones, plus another hard lino and some Japanese ply to see how those compare to the grey lino, so you can expect an update to this list once I've had a chance to try them.
Most of my blocks are carved with the razor-sharp Pfeil "C set". It includes six gouges of different shapes and sizes, and I use all of them, except for the largest V shape tool. I have also bought a couple additional sizes (small V and medium U) from Pfeil but don't really use them so often.
I also have a "Micro Palm Carving" set from Flexcut. It´s made for carving small details, and although I quite like them, if I'd have to choose between Pfeil and Flexcut, I'd probably go with Pfeil.
When I first started making linocuts, I bought a cheap carving set with exchangeable blades, but unless you're on a really tight budget or just want to try linocut to see whether you even like linocut or not, I really wouldn't recommend those. At least they don't work that well with the battleship grey lino that I mentioned above, as the tips would need to be replaced very often. Perhaps they work better on soft lino, but I still don't recommend them.
Where to buy Pfeil tools
Instead of sharpening my carving tools with a whetstone that grinds the edge of the tool, I polish the edges of my tools by honing. Flexcut makes a great honing kit that is designed for sharpening their linocut tools, but I use the same kit also for my Pfeils.
I’m currently using oil-based "Caligo Safe Wash" inks from Cranfield Colours. They give a smooth, even finish and can be cleaned with soap and water.
My gold ink is also from Cranfiend Colours, but it’s from their "Traditional Relief Ink" line, so it needs to be cleaned with oil or solvents (I personally use only vegetable oil for cleaning, and recommend that you do the same because those solvents are nasty to work with). The ink has a beautifully shiny finish, and although it does get tacky quite quickly, and it's a bit more difficult to apply than the safe wash inks, it's the best gold ink that I've tried.
I have also used water-based inks in the past, but I was never satisfied with the finished prints. They looked dull and uneven, and the ink tended to dry too quickly for my taste.
This is probably the toughest question to answer, as my choices of paper really depend on the mood and the design in question.
Technically speaking almost any paper could be used for printmaking, but if you want a print that looks professional and lasts for long time, look for paper that´s sold as printmaking paper and is acid free.
Because I own a press, I can use most printmaking papers – even the thick (300 gsm) and textured ones. The thicker the paper, the harder it is to get an even print, so I usually go with lighter papers.
One of my favorites is a type of mulberry paper with random strands of fiber from banana plant (about 70 gsm), but textured papers like this require a press and a bit of experimenting.
I also like the super fine Japanese "washi" papers, for example 35 gsm Kawasaki paper. Washi papers are great for hand-burnishing because they’re thin enough, and don’t have too strong of a texture, so you're more likely to get an even print.
The best advice I can give when choosing a paper is to try a few different types to see which ones you like the best.
I use a 21 cm (about 8") Japanese hard rubber roller, and a few smaller, cheap ones from random manufacturers. When choosing the size, it's best to go with a brayer that's slightly wider than your block so that you'll get a more even coverage.
Where to buy Japanese hard rubber roller
PRESS VS BAREN
I use both methods. I own an A3 school etching press from Fome, and use it for most of my prints.
I also like printing by hand, and although I have a plastic "Woody" baren and a 10 cm (3-7/8") Japanese bamboo baren, I find that when it comes to hand-burnishing a plain old metal spoon works the best for me. See how I use the spoon in this video.
Where to buy Fome school etching press
I haven't been able to find a place that sells the exact same press that I have (I got mine as a present), but Jackson's Art sells Fome presses in different sizes.
Other useful tools
Besides the most essential printmaking tools listed above, there are many other tools and materials that I use for my work every day. There aren't necessarily really any specific brands that I recommend, but I'm linking here the products that I think are closest to the ones I use. Many of them are available in different sizes, colors, and materials, so you can choose the ones that suit you the best.
Not finding what you're looking for? Feel free to shoot me a message!
Ink spatulas and palette knives
I use palette knives of various shapes and sizes for all sorts of tasks, such as mixing, spreading, and scraping ink, as well as for picking up inked plates (touching them by hand is guaranteed to get ink everywhere). I highly recommend getting at least a spatula style ink knife, and maybe also a more traditional shovel style palette knife.
Where to buy ink spatula
I use upcycled glass panes for rolling my ink. You can find suitable panes from surprising sources: old picture frames, fridge shelves, and oven doors all work perfectly as inking slabs. You can also purchase glass palettes from art stores. The bigger the palette, the more versatile the use. I recommend a minimum of 30 x 40 cm (12” x 16”) clear glass pane.
(Tip: put a piece of paper the color of the paper you’re printing with underneath the glass to plan your color palette).
Carbon transfer paper
I use various methods to transfer my sketches onto lino (see examples here and here), but perhaps my favorite one is the use of carbon paper. Just slide a sheet of carbon paper between your sketch and the block with the carbon side down and redraw the image with a pen or pencil.
Deckle edge ripper
I often buy my papers in large sheets and tear them to the right size. I use a deckle edge ripper to mimic that beautiful deckle edge that you usually see in handmade papers.
Where to buy deckle edge ripper
Rulers and cutting mats
Another piece of equipment that I use for sizing paper is a large, metal right-angle ruler (also called a Carpenter's square, an L square, or a framing ruler). I use it for measuring, and for making sure the angles are straight. You could also use a (self-healing) cutting mat to measure angles, or you can DIY by drawing the shape of your paper onto a board and using it as a template to tear the paper.
Where to buy carpenter square
Bone folders are great for folding paper. It’s a flat, palm size object with slightly dull edges, and allows you to score paper, crease folds, and even rip paper in half.
Pens, fineliners, markers
I have an embarrassingly large collection of different kinds of pens, pencils, and markers, and must admit that although many of them are on active use, some of them I purchased in a whim and barely ever use. But the ones that I use the most are:
B – 3B pencils
I use these for all sorts of purposes from sketching to signing and numbering prints. If you ask me, you can never be too many pencils, so I like to have a few extras laying around!
I use waterproof fineliners and regular ball-point pens for drawing my sketches onto linoleum.
I use waterproof Sharpie markers for sketching and to color in areas of linoleum that I want to keep. This helps me to visualize how the design will look like once it's inked and printed.
The number one rule of carving linoleum is: always cut away from your hands! There are different kinds of bench hooks available that allow you to keep the block in a place, but I prefer using a simple non-slip shelf liner from a hardware store. You can also find rubber mats that are marketed for printmaking.
I like having some all-purpose newsprint around the studio. It’s useful for plotting prints, dampening/drying/flattening paper, and a bunch of other things. You can also use old newspapers but be careful: the ink from old newspapers might bleed.
Water-based (acrylic) ink
As mentioned before, I currently use only oil-based inks for my prints, but water-based inks are better for situations where you need the ink to dry quickly or if the quality of the ink isn’t of great importance, such as test printing and transferring an image from key-block to a secondary block, like shown in this video.
It can be hard to see your cuts clearly and to visualize the design when the surface and the core of the lino are of the same color. I paint my blocks black with watered-down India ink in order to create contrast between the two. If necessary, India ink can be wiped off with rubbing alcohol.
I design most of my prints digitally on a tablet. I use a Samsung Tab S4 with S Pen, and a free drawing program called Autodesk Sketchbook. My sketches are rather simple, without many layers, so I find this combination to work well for me.
Where to buy Samsung Tab S4 with S Pen
Although even the best of tools are only as good as the artist using them, from my own experience I can say that bad equipment, especially cutting tools and inks, can really make your first linocut encounter more frustrating that it needs to be. Check out my FAQ page for some useful tips about printmaking!
If you want to try linocut for the first time, but you're not sure whether you're even going to like it, and don't want to bankrupt yourself to find out, consider finding someone who can let you try their equipment, or take a linocut workshop. You could also get one of those block printing kits that include all the equipment that you need to get started, and upgrade your tools once you feel ready for the investment.