Introduction: Make a Hand-coloured Lino Print

About: My name is Leonie. I'm an Australian print artist now living in Cork, Ireland. I have a YouTube channel, Spines and Splines, where I post art tutorials, and when I'm not making visual art I enjoy writing music.

Learn how to design and make single colour print, hand coloured with drawing ink. This tutorial covers printing with minimal materials, including spoons and barens, and also demonstrates how to print lino on an etching press. The example shown in this tutorial is for a series of wine labels, but the method is the same regardless of what you are making.


For plate making:
Grey lino
Translucent (see through) paper
Ballpoint pen
Carbon paper
V shaped lino carving tool
U shaped lino carving tool
Scrap piece of yoga mat
Utility knife
Iron (optional)

For printing:
Lightweight printmaking paper
Printmaking roller / brayer
Black relief or lithographic ink
Plastic or glass tray for rolling out ink
Paint scraper
Newsprint paper
Citrus based solvent for cleaning oil based ink
Cleaning blade

Options for printing:
Printmaking baren
Metal spoon
Etching press

For hand colouring and finishing prints:
Shellac based drawing ink
Japanese goat hair ink brush
Steel ruler
Cutting mat

Step 1: Create a Mirror Image From Your Design

The first step for making a lino print is to come up with an image, and when you've done that, you'll need to reverse that image. Linocut prints are mirrored, so you'll need to reverse your design, especially if your image includes text.

To easily mirror my image, I trace my design onto some translucent paper.

Step 2: Transfer Your Image to the Lino Block

To transfer my image to the lino block, I lay a sheet of carbon paper face down over it, then flip the image I traced onto the translucent paper. I retrace the mirrored image through my carbon paper using a hard ballpoint pen.

Step 3: Carve Your Lino Block

Place your lino block onto a non-slip surface, such as a piece of scrap rubber or yoga mat. To carve the block, mark the areas that you want to cut away, then outline them using a V-shaped lino cutting tool. You can use the same V-shaped tool to clear away small areas, and you can use a U-shaped carving tool to clear larger areas. Always cut away from your hand.

Step 4: Inking Up Your Block

Place a small amount of ink onto a hard plastic or glass sheet, and make a small line of ink to roll out with your brayer. When the ink is even, begin rolling up your lino block. I like to roll the brayer eight or so times on the ink, then eight or so times on the lino, repeating this process two or three times to build up enough ink. Your first print will usually be pretty poor as there won't be enough ink built up on your block. If you need to add more ink to your rollout, do this a little at a time with your paint scraper. If you add too much ink to your block, you run the risk of it filling in any small details in your carving.

Step 5: Printing With a Baren

A baren is a traditional hand printing tool. It's a circular disc that you rub in every direction over the back of your print. Place your printmaking paper down on the block, then add another thin sheet of paper over the top and apply pressure evenly with your baren to transfer the ink to your paper. When you're done, lift the paper carefully and re-ink your block ready for the next print.

Step 6: Fixing Small Areas on Your Block

After your first print, it's a good idea to look carefully at the print and the block to see if there are any corrections you need to make to the carving. With your carving tool, carefully cut away any areas that are picking up too much excess ink, or small spots you missed initially when making your plate.

Step 7: Printing With a Metal or Wooden Spoon

The back of a metal or wooden spoon can be used in place of a baren if you don't have one. The process is exactly the same, but the surface area of the spoon will be smaller, so the printing process will take a little longer.

Step 8: Printing With an Etching Press

If you're lucky enough to have access to an etching press, you can use this to quickly and easily print lino blocks. To set the press, add some runners along each side of the bed that are the same height as your lino block; these keep the press even and stop the roller from dropping harshly when they hit the edge of your block. I set my press so the roller is just touching the block, then I tighten the pressure slightly more. To print, put your lino in place, lay your printmaking paper over the top, then put a few pieces of newsprint paper on top of that and run the print through the press. When your edition is printed, spread your prints out in a single layer to dry overnight.

Step 9: Cleaning Up

Cleaning up is the most important step in printmaking. If you don't have time to clean up, you don't have time to print. I start by scraping up the ink off my slab with a blade, wiping this onto a piece of scrap paper as I go. I then roll any excess ink off my brayer and scrape that up as well. When no more ink comes off the brayer, I clean it with a citrus based solvent solution (I find Sennelier Green For Oil paint brush cleaner works well) and a rag. I clean the rest of my tools and the plastic/glass slab with the same solution, then finish everything off by wiping with a clean rag.

Step 10: Testing Ink Colours

Make sure you print some extras in your edition to experiment with colours. I tried five different colour layouts before settling on a design. The ink I used is a shellac based drawing ink, applied with a Japanese ink brush. You can also use watercolour or coloured pencil to colour your images. I chose to use the shellac based ink as I needed the prints to be waterproof. Consider the end use of your prints when deciding what type of colour you will add.

Step 11: Colouring the Edition

When you've decided on a colour scheme, lay out as many of your prints as you can and apply a single colour to each one before moving onto the next colour. Laying them out like this will help you keep the colour consistent throughout the edition, and will minimise the amount you need to clean your brush between colours. Spread the prints out in a single layer until they're dry.

Step 12: Finishing Touches

If you need to, you can cut your prints down to size when they're dry. I cut my prints in batches of five using a cutting mat, a metal ruler and a sharp utility blade. When cutting, avoid the temptation to press down hard and cut through all the pieces of paper in one swipe. You'll get a much better result (and you'll be less likely to slip and cut yourself) if you do many light passes with your blade until you've cleared the stack. To stick my prints onto the wine bottles they were intended for, I applied some glue stick to the back of the print and smoothed it over the bottle using a sheet of newsprint as a buffer. If you're creating a traditional printmaking edition, sign, title and number your prints. Well done!