The world of relief printmaking can be split into three areas; the design, the cutting and the inking/printing. Most people dislike at least one of these and few will truly love doing all three. For me it's the printing that I find tiresome, I don't mind the first one or two when you work out the colour balance, the transparency or textures. After that the repetition is boring. It's nice to know that those Japanese masters we all love only really did the design element, overseeing the rest of the print process.
It is easy to become obsessed with the craft, the techniques of printmaking, forever tinkering to get the right gradation of colour, or mastering a cutting skill. It's taken me many, many years to realise that if the image doesn't work it doesn't matter how skilful you are, how good, how masterful your technique, the end result will not be as good as it could be.
It is because of this that I now see the lino-block as simply a matrix that I use to create an image, as I would a sheet of paper or canvas and I use it in the same way. In multi-block prints sometimes one of the blocks may not be cut at all and when needed I add new blocks so that I can overprint or use to create a new set of colours. Printmaking can be rule-bound and I'm sure some people might think what I do is bad practice - I don't.
The rest of this page shows some of the notes and handouts I have used in workshops I have taught over the years. I hope you find them useful.

I always send a reduced version of these process notes to workshop groups and in addition I also send them this link The Linocut Workshop - Some Initial Thoughts.


Drawing is incredibly important to me and although it is possible to just go ahead and cut into a lino, I find good preparation is better. A strong drawing will show the format, the variety of line and marks, how the black & white or the colour will vary from form to form, from negative into positive. I spend a considerable amount of time trying to get this right. To prove how important drawing is to me I have added some of my drawing books to this site. So far I am up to book 169.

  • Drawing is important both before and during the making of a linocut.
  • Don't forget when your design is on the block it will be reversed.
  • Draw using as black a mark as possible to replicate how it might look as a print.
  • Only draw the detail you are sure your tools and skill can cut.
  • Remember that a drawing with tone (greys) will need to translate into marks on the lino.
  • When making a single colour print using a good quality scraperboard to replicate marks is handy.

Notes on Mark-making

Simple Register

The Block

I always mount my lino. It needn't be anything fancy as long as it doesn't move when being cleaned. I use 2mm mdf picture backing board and strong double sided carpet tape. This also protects the back of the lino and makes handling the lino (especially when inked) easier.

After mounting I always smooth the lino surface with "fine" wet & dry (carborundum paper), used wet with a rubbing block, gently rub until a creamy residue is created. Be gentle, you are not sanding down a block of wood. When done this will help the ink to pass from the roller to the block, and the block to the paper as solidly as possible.

When I clean my block (I use water-washable inks) it's never submerged in water. All that is needed is a damp cloth, with maybe a touch of washing liquid. The block need go nowhere near water.

Even if it's a single colour linocut I set up the block as if it is a reduction or multiblock (see below). This then gives me a little flexibility if I do want to add more blocks later.

Registering block and paper

There are many ways to register a block and paper to the same place. The most basic is the one below. A simple block (in my case a block of mdf) that the lino block is attached to along with two sets of tick marks, which can be as simple as L shaped pieces of card.

Simple Register

The second method pushes the first, simple method, a little further. Now by cutting a hole into the block of mdf you can remove and replace any number of blocks. This lets you easily create multiblock, multi-colour prints.

Simple Register

The final method adds more complication to the second, and becomes a pin register. Now there are two mdf blocks. One has two pegs (metal pins or dowels) attached, the other blocks have two holes that match those dowels. Now you can create as many blocks as you like, they all register in the same place.

Simple Register

My own registration system uses a pin register. Basically the pin register keeps the block in the same place, and as long as the paper is also registered things should run smoothly. For many years I registered the paper using a simple 90 tick box (as above), but recently I have been using the Ternes Burton register tabs. The graphic below shows my simple setup. The nice thing about this is the register is tight and the lino base mdf block is reusable.

This register system need not be part of a printing press. The press bed could easily be made from a sheet of thick mdf, or any other sheet material. This way you can print using a baren, a spoon, your hand - whatever. Pin Register

Avoiding a ragged edge

I always try to square the lino up by after cutting has taken place, rather than trimming a piece of lino at the start to what I think the size should be. So my lino always starts off slightly larger than I think is required. The reason. Often cut lines go straight across the edge and they can often break unevenly. So this margin around the design means I can cut the line through the margin, then trim the margin away at the end (see the graphic below).

Trace to block

Avoiding ink build up

Cutting square can lead to a build up of ink along the edges (a). This becomes even more obvious when the edge is cut at an oblique angle (b) which can be almost unavoidable when cutting lines with a scalpel or knife. Try to cut your line so the angle is correct (c), this way ink is less likely to build up and if it does then easier to clean away. It's easier to do this using a U gouge.

Whenever I remember I also wipe along the square edges of the inked block with a piece of cotton rag to keep this build up of ink to a minimum.

Linocut edges

Transferring the image

There are many ways to transfer an image onto a block. The simplest method is to draw directly onto the block with a soft pencil (I use water-washable inks and find that pencil doesn't wash off the surface immediately). Of course doing the drawing this way means you have to be able to visualise the work printed as mirror image.

I never use a marker, even brands that are permanent, unless the work is to be printed in black only. There is a strong chance that the marker ink will transfer to the paper, which is especially annoying if you are printing pale tints.

You could use carbon paper, again remembering that the image needs to be reversed. Using carbon paper the image does remain on the block for a few washes.

Transferring a complex image

When the drawing is complex, especially using lettering, I use a PC and tracing paper. I hope this graphic will help to explain the process.

Trace to block

Whichever way I transfer my drawing I always register it to the block, as if registering a print. This means I can repeat the process later if needed.


Always, always begin by cutting only what you are absolutely sure will be white. If I am making a reduction linocut that will only use one block the knowledge of what needs to be white is crucial as this is the first thing to be cut. In a multiblock what may appear to be white may actually be a coloured area on a subsequent block, so keep your wits about you.

The mantra I keep to and try to pass on is, proof, proof, then proof again. If in doubt about the next cut, then proof. If you're not sure the 2nd block should be cut - proof. I've read many times from printmakers who "appear" to cut a block completely without making a proof to check on the progress of the job. If you work that way then you can never take advantage of errors that only become obvious when you print. In effect you are simply reproducing a drawing as a print.

Even a single colour job should be proofed consistently as you go through the cutting process. There are many times when you will not know the next cut - so don't cut, proof and check the print. In colour work, when possible, try to create progressive proofs. These will help show how colours relate to each other, where cuts need to be made and gaps that need attention. The progressive print will also show errors in the outline registration - how squarely the blocks come together.


The first block I create is a key block. This block generally contains "all" the information needed for all the other blocks. The key block may, in the end, not be needed at all in the actual printing and only ever be a template for the other blocks. The key block should contain the "areas" other colours will create on overprinting, it should show textures and the lines that separate one colour from another. I create this key block as if it is a finished work in itself by proofing and checking. When finalised the block is used to transfer its information to all the other blocks.

You can find examples of my multiblock printing methods in many of my process videos.

Notes on: Cutting the block

  • It is easier to cut a white line than to create a black line, try to make the drawing work for you.
  • The easiest way to cut a circle is with a drill. The easiest way to cut a straight line is with a ruler, but not a metal rule which will harm the tip of your gouge.
  • Try to avoid "thin" cut lines as they tend to bleed ink. Try to overprint instead.
  • Before you cut any mark, check and double check. Do you need to cut it?
  • Always cut away from yourself and don't cut too deep, most of the time there is no need, but not too shallow either.
  • You don't need lots of tools, a gouge cuts all the way along its edge. So a big V tool can cut a large mark or a very small mark.
  • Take care when cutting any block. Start timidly, cutting away small amounts. A lot of time and effort can be lost by cutting too much and revealing unnecessary parts of the paper.
  • When cutting curves rotate the block as well as curving the tool, this makes the cut smoother.
  • If there is a large area (or even a small area) that needs to be cut out use a marking knife or a V tool to cut the edge of the shape first, then use a U tool cut from the centre or one side to the other edge. Cutting out the edge first can avoid the tool running over/slipping into another part of the image. But always make sure you cut the right part - there is no going back!
  • Small lines can end either in a stroke or be squared off. The stroke end is achieved by drawing the tool up and away from the lino. To get the square end do not lift the tool but keep in its cut, then flick the tool up. This should create a square end.

Notes on: Inking the block

  • Maintaining a consistent colour over a large area is tricky the easiest way around this, if possible, is to try to avoid large expanses of colour in your drawing.
  • Inking large areas in light hues that may also be quite transparent (yellows, greens, oranges) can create some unexpected results. If the roller is smaller that the area to ink then overlaps of ink can create bandings of colour. To get around this ink the block many times BUT using very thin coats of ink. If in doubt take a test print to make sure you have maintained an even cover.
  • Inking to the block edge
  • Transferring ink to a roller and then the block is an art in itself. It shouldn't be too thin or too thick. I was taught that the ink should resemble moleskin, rather than orange peel. If it is too thick it will "fill-in" fine lines.
  • Most lino is not flat, it can have shallow undulations, which makes consistent inking difficult. This is why I use soft rollers as they fill the undulation without having to use too much pressure which would "fill-in" small cuts.
  • To avoid getting patchy inking due to undulations BEFORE you begin any work take a print of the uncut block to check if the surface is flat. It is better to know ahead of time where any patchiness might occur.
  • After inking, but before printing, make sure the block is clean to avoid stray inked areas and edges that look messy and can affect the overall work.
  • Ink will build-up along the edges of a block and it is made worse when the roller is at right angles to the edge. To avoid this build-up roll along the edge. Sometimes this is unavoidable so to make sure always clean the edges of a block with a rag before printing.

Notes on: Printing

  • Keep your hands clean.
  • Always use a trusted registration method, my own variant using pin registration is very simple to set up and easy to use.
  • Printing wet-in-wet will create different effects and will blend colours more effectively.
  • You can merge two colours using a brush as well as a roller.
  • When using a limited number of colour blocks you can create more colours by overprinting, but remember you can also ink up separate areas of the block in two colours, or print separate areas of the same block twice. You can see examples of this in my process videos.
  • When possible overprint to create a 3rd colour rather than print a 3rd block. Of course this can create problems when some colours overprint others in ways you might not like or want. A blue sky and an orange/yellow sun will create a green. This needs to be sorted in the drawing before cutting.
  • Bear in mind the way colours react when overprinted.
  • Different red and blues create different purples, different yellows and reds create various oranges.
  • A red printed over blue, and then the same blue over red, will create different purples.
  • Overprinting colours normal runs light to dark, but you can run colours the opposite way, ie. starting with light working toward dark. Often it's the case that you will need to print the darker, less transparent colour first, then overprint with lighter transparent colours.
  • You don't need a press (although it will allow for more accurate registration and faster printing) a baren, a wooden spoon or your hand can all do the job.

General Tips

  • Always keep the inking area separate to the cutting area.
  • When cutting always protect the image and cut away from it when possible.
  • If and when possible cut in the direction of the image ie. sea, sky - cut horizontal; trees, cliffs, grass - cut vertical. This way any striation patterns, if inked, will not be at odds with the image.
  • Have a brush to hand to clean off any bits of cut lino off the block before inking.
  • I wish I had been told the tip of using newsprint to dab away heavy ink and for making "thinned" inks more transparent at college. But I had to wait for Lenny Lane to tell me. Now I have a roll of newsprint to hand at all times.


Lino & Paper

I buy my lino from TN Lawrence, their battleship grey lino is of a good quality, 3.2mm thick and easy to cut. Of course there are a number of other places you can buy your lino in the UK.

You can use any paper to print on, but generally speaking one that has a smooth surface will work the best. I use Japanese papers for editioning; HoSho, Kozo or Masa which are generally around 60 to 90gsm. These lighter weight papers tend not to take very heavy ink coverage (I usually have many, many layers of colour), for that reason I have started to use heavy 250-300gsm papers, usually Rosapina or Snowdon.

I used to make proofs on Sumi-e (Simili) paper which is generally of a good quality, acid free and was cheap. I now tend to proof on the stock I use for the edition this means the colour balance and pressure are the same throughout.

Tools & Rollers

Always buy the best gouges you can afford, but you really only need a couple of U tools (fine and large sized) and V tools fine and mid sized). Trying to keep tools sharp is not an easy task but once they are sharp, keep them that way by regularly using honing compound and leather strop.

The best rollers (in America they are called brayers) are the most expensive, which would make the best the durathene rollers. Be careful with these types though as the durathene material is always in a semi-liquid state, so cleaning them well can be a tricky task. The next best are soft rubber rollers (the softness is based on their 'shore' grading), which is what I tend to use most of the time. Many rollers come with their own rockers but if yours don't make sure the roller is hung vertically. You should never leave a roller resting on a flat surface it can permanently damage the rollers surface.


I use a simple peg system on my platen which rolls between the press. As mentioned earlier I always stick my lino (double sided tape) onto thin mdf. Each of these boards has holes cut to match the pegs on the platen. That way my blocks always match up.

This method will work just as well if you have no press and are using a baren. It needn't be mdf, it could be mount board - as long as the linocut and the paper are in the same place throughout the process - that's all that matters.

Until recently I used a simple tick/corner registration for aligning my paper to the block, but now use the Ternes-Burton system which while tedious to implement does help to create tighter registration.


You can use oil-based inks, but I use water-washable as it makes cleaning down the rollers and blocks simpler and less smelly. As usual the best inks are the most expensive. Some inks can be very runny and do not transfer well to the roller, while others are too stiff and need a lot of work to make-ready for printing. A good ink should be fairly tacky so that they cover evenly. I buy my inks from the Graphical Chemical & Ink Co, T N Lawrence and Intaglio Printmakers.

Some useful websites

© Eric Gaskell 2024.
Although I realise copyrighting this type of material is practically impossible, even nonsensical, if you do use any of it for your own notes I'd appreciate a credit. Thanks

Click to go to information about me and links to some of the best printmakers around. A full listing of the exhibitions, books, editorials and publications I have been listed in and a few public collections my work is part of. Click to see the listing. Click to go to this latest linocut. A page full of links to YouTube videos on processes and drawings. Click to see the listing. A database full of drawings. Click to view the whole listing. A database full of paintings. Click to view the whole listing.