I receive a ton 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 or Jackson’s Art Supplies after entering their sites through the links on this page, I will receive a small commission from the respective retailer. These commissions will help pay 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’ve only used them a few times so far, I really like them. Being so used to the Pfeils, they do feel a bit awkward in my hand, but I think that's something that I'll get used to once I've used them a bit longer.
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
Where to buy Flexcut 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.
Where to buy Flexcut SlipStrop
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.
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 Printmaking 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.