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Printmaking tip - the clean-up process

There's a great slogan printed in an art hub in Norwich that says 'If you don't have time to clean, then you don't have time to print'. This is absolutely true, and something I tell folks when they come to my linocut workshops. A big part of learning linocut is learning how to take care of your tools and equipment - and allowing yourself time to clean everything after a printing session is vital. Top tip: it always takes longer than you think!


I'll admit there have been a couple of times in the past few years, for whatever reason, that I forgot to clean my plates and rollers for a few days after I'd stored them on a shelf for forgotten about them. Nearly an hour of scraping and using spirits ensued to try to rescue them, not to mention the fact it can stain and damage them.


Cleaning up your lino block after printmaking tips by Haychley Webb Stellabox Designs

Here are a few things I've learned about cleaning up in printmaking...


  • Never get the traditional grey hessian-backed lino wet. I made the mistake when I first started learning to submerge my block in hot soapy water. Because grey lino is made from largely natural materials (you can compost the shavings too) - it will warp and crack if you get it completely wet. You're better off scrubbing the top surface of the lino and trying to avoid getting the back wet.

  • On the other hand, Essdee Softcut lino is made from plastic (you can't compost these shavings sadly) - so you can get this flexible material as wet as you like in the clean-up process. A bowl of hot soapy water will work well.

  • Ideally, you want access to a large 'art' type sink - one that you can get messy and not one that matters too much if ink gets everywhere. You can use hot soapy water to clean your glass plates and rollers, etc. Just be very careful cleaning glass plates in a sink in case they shatter.

  • If you don't have access to a sink to clean up - as I've had to do several times when the sink wasn't available at my workshop venues - try to use biodegradable wet wipes and re-use them over and over again until they are covered in ink so as not to waste too much. These are available now at most supermarkets in the baby section.

  • If you have left your plates and rollers too long and everything is welded in place - I find a palette knife is very useful for breaking up the top surface of the ink (and is also quite useful in clean-ups generally for scraping away excess ink).

  • If you have particularly stubborn ink stains or have used ink that is oil based but not washable - I recommend a cleaning spirit called Zest It. It's quite strong smelling, available readily online and will clean up oil based inks really well.

  • When cleaning your rollers (brayers), be sure to get in all the little nooks and crannies to ensure all ink is removed. This means cleaning the handle and sides of the roller, too - that way you avoid any ink you've previously used getting onto your new block.

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