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A guide to where best to spend your money on linocut printmaking

Whenever I teach linocut workshops, I always try to teach it in a way that shows people you don't need to spend a fortune to creating your own prints.

Money is tight for lots of folks at the moment so here's a guide from my own experience to where it's worth spending money and where I have found you can save and still make great prints.

Tracing paper- this can be as cheap a variety as you like. I often get mine if I see it at the supermarket. It produces the same result no matter how much money you spend in my opinion so you may as well save here.

Cutting tools- here is where I say you should invest. If nothing else, try to get some good tools. My favourite are Pfeil tools- they are expensive but you can buy them individually and just start with one or two tools to begin with. I would say to start with a U-shape and a V-shape- you can do *so* much with just these two sized tools so they are a great start. I also have Flexcut tools too which work just as well although the handle shape is a little different.

Baren- a baren is essentially the tool that adds pressure to the paper to transfer the ink from the block to the paper. I often like to use a wooden spoon for this part of the printmaking process. The spoon that I've been using for years (it's nearly worn through!) was one I grabbed from my kitchen that first day and cost £1 from a supermarket would you believe. Wooden spoons are great for adding that pressure to the back of your paper so here you can save. A recent purchase of mine that I'm enjoying immensely is my Slama Press. It acts in a similar way to a wooden spoon, adding pressure to the back of the paper, but does so with weights and ball bearings. I'll put an image below and I'm going to post a video guide to Slama in the coming months.

Slama press on Japanese paper linocut printmaking Haychley Webb Stellabox Designs Norwich Norfolk

Ink- here lies arguably the second most important items to invest in. I've been using the Caligo SafeWash inks by Cranfield for years- they're not hugely expensive and last a really long time. I always advise folks to stay away from water based inks and stick to oil based inks like these. Water based inks tend to do what water does with art- they can buckle the paper and produce blotchy results. You can mix so many colours with just a primary set of Caligo SafeWash inks.

Paper- a complicated one as you can imagine as there are so many different paper types you can buy. A common complaint I hear at my workshops is that folks have tried printing on normal white computer printer paper, and they've produced a poor print. Super cheap paper like this doesn't grip the surface of your block very well, leading to slipped and blurry prints. If you're making prints to sell you'll definitely want to invest in thicker papers like Somerset but I find Japanese papers are perfect for printing by hand and you can get big packs that don't cost the Earth.

My favourite is Japanese HoSho paper but you can buy packs of sample papers to try out different thicknesses and textures to find out which style you like- an example being Awagami Editioning Papers. I've seen printmaking friends using cartridge paper for prints too- inexpensive and come in big sketchbook like tear-off pads, great for when you're learning or experimenting.

Pens and pencils- I'd recommend getting a mechanical pencil for marking fine lines on lino or sketching detail. Good fineliners such as Pigma Micro pens can be great for going over those fine pencil lines or your traced design to secure them to your lino block. It can be really easy to smudge your design with your hand once you've transferred it to your lino block so going over the lines with a pen is a good idea.

Bell Idolt carving Pfeil tool Haychley Webb Stellabox Designs Norwich Norfolk

Brayer (roller)- when I first started learning linocut, I spent *a lot* of money on 'fancy' Japanese rubber rollers (I think one of my large rollers was £80). I can honestly say my much cheaper 'Abig' rollers work just as well. These come in two sizes, the largest being 90mm. I try to steer clear of the common plastic handled rollers as I find these can 'skip' and be hard to get good coverage.

Inking tray- glass is the best surface for rolling your ink onto and old picture/photo frames are perfect for this- take the glass out of the frame and tape the edges with thick electrical type tape to make the edges safe. I personally find the white plastic trays can warp.

Registration board- another way to use an old picture frame- the hard back of these boards is perfect for making your own registration board (see step-by-step guide here). Sadly the metal pins used can be quite expensive but I've seen plastic alternatives appearing recently, though I haven't tried them. I get through so many plastic strips to use in these boards and find it cheaper to buy in packs of 100 for better value.

Thank you for reading, I hope you've found this guide useful. Happy printing.


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