Which Lino Is Best for Linocut Printmaking?

It might seem like a bit of a boring post, but I often find myself having the same conversation about lino. I’ll say that I’m a printmaker, and that I specialise in relief printmaking with Woodcut and Linocut techniques. I’ll get the response – “Oh yes, I tried that a couple of years ago and it was awful. I couldn’t cut it properly and I thought it looked so easy.” I then take awhile to explain what might have been the problems. It saddens me that people get put off so easily.

Linoleum Marmoleum Softcut

Fear not, help is at hand.

First off, I’ll explain a bit about linoleum and where it comes from and how it came to be used for printmaking. Then I’ll explain the difficulties with using it and how to overcome them.

Lino was first used as a floor covering in the late 19th Century. It was invented by Frederick Walton who noticed that as it dries, linseed oil forms a skin. He started drying out linseed oil and mixing it with a variety of filler materials. In the early 20th Century, members of the German Expressionist group Die Brucke (The Bridge) were among the first to use it as a printing plate. Perhaps I’ll write a more in depth post on lino through the ages, but for now, just understand that its been used for ages mostly because it’s cheap and it doesn’t have any grain, which makes it ideal for carving intricate designs.

But What About Lino Today?

Sometimes you hear people call PVC flooring lino. It isn’t the same stuff, and it won’t carve easily.

There are a few different grades of lino. The heavier ones are called “battleship” because they were once used on the decks of U.S. Navy battleships and submarines.

I have used 4 kinds;

Grey Lino – (£42 per square metre) 3.2mm thick – Some people call this “battleship”, but I really doubt it’s as thick as the true battleship lino. It’s pretty easy to come by and I can get it in big sheets, which is cheaper – Lawrence.co.uk.

Amber Lino – (£25 per square metre) 3.2mm thick – This I haven’t seen since I was at art school, it is thin and very flexible which makes it easy to carve, but that also means you won’t get as many impressions from it before the structure breaks down.

Marmoleum (£19 per square metre) – this is the original floor covering and is made by Forbo. We were considering having some fitted in our house, so I had a load of samples. It’s nice to use and again, pretty flexible. Oh, and it smells lovely, but maybe thats just my thing. afloor.co.uk

Generic Art Shop Lino (£66 per square metre) – This is thick (5mm) and unforgiving stuff. Use this at your peril. I guess it would be fine for light delicate images, but you really have to watch it when you are clearing out the white spaces, it comes up in chunks if you are not careful and can mess up hours of work. If you want to try this out, they have it at Lawrence.co.uk too, but you have been warned.

Wow, working this out has really made me think I’ve got to get hold of some more Marmoleum, if only because of the price. It looks like a future post might be a video test of all of the varieties to show you the differences.

The way to get the best out of any lino for printmaking is;

  • 1. Have sharp tools – if you do a lot of lino cutting, your tools will dull more quickly than if you are cutting wood, so look after them.
  • 2. Warm your lino – if you use it cold, lino can be unforgiving, and it may as well have a grain.

If you are new to linocut I would recommend giving a product called Softcut a try. I was using some this weekend. It very soft and rubbery, so I’m guessing I might have to watch how much pressure I use when I’m printing, but it cuts easily. What are your experiences with linocut? Have you tried it and given up? Drop me a comment…

By the way – though I’ve linked to Lawrence.co.uk and afloor.co.uk websites, I get no kickbacks from them, I just like the shops and have found them helpful in the past.

Comments

  1. Mac McCoig says

    Hi, I always have trouble registering linocuts with several colours. Is there a good way to do this? I have googled it and have failed to follow the complicated descriptions.

    • Matt says

      I feel your pain. Am working on a video series on just this topic at the moment. It’s tricky to understand what people are getting at without seeing it work. I like the ‘Card Corner’ method – here’s a link to something similar http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=587092. I see you’ve signed up for news updates, so I’ll let you know when the tutorials are live – Good luck, Matt.

  2. Janine says

    Hello! I was just wondering which of the lino’s listed above are your favourite?
    I bought some of the softcut recently and couldn’t get on with it!
    I was wondering if you could recommend a certain manufacturer of Lino cutting tools? I have been using a student quality set with changeable nibs by Abig which I don’t think is actually that sharp! So it’s hard going and I’m struggling to get to grips with detailed areas… Hmmmmmm, maybe that’s why I couldn’t get on with the softcut! 😉

    • Matt says

      Hi Janine,
      Thanks for your question. My favourite is the grey lino – it keeps a good line, and smells great (wierd, I know). Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I use softcut, it seems to dull my tools more quickly. I would recommend that if you are using changeable nibs, you get a box of spares as they don’t keep their edge as well, and are a bit of a swine to resharpen. Detailed areas can be tricky because of the amount of flex in the softcut. You could drop £13 each on some mushroom-handled Swiss lino-cut tools which go down to miniscule sizes. I have some of those. Or you could just use a craft knife/scalpel for the details – there’s a bit of a knack to it, but you can get some brilliant results. If you do the latter, you might want to mount your soft cut onto a block so as not to go right through the substrate. I think I’ll put this on the list for a video – it needs some visuals really. I’ll let you know when I post it.

  3. erica says

    Found you with a Google search. Is there a particular marmoleum that you would recommend or are they all the same? I’m in the US (if that makes any difference).

    And I agree – how it smells is very important. You’re spending a lot of time with the material.

    cheers,
    e

    • Matt says

      Hi Jo – good question – I’d be inclined to err on the side of caution and state that you used Soft-cut as the matrix (I’d probably also make a note of the brand and type just for my own records). It’s unlikely you’d be called out on it, but your labelling is technically part of your print’s provenance. Plus, what if 5 years from now you lose track of your blocks and you can’t remember what you used? Hope that helps, Matt.

      • says

        Thanks Matt, I have a number of plates already made using softcut and have been wondering how to label prints from them. People understand the term lino print and the look of it and I suppose I have been trying to make sure people who are looking for lino prints can find me. I was thinking of writing ‘lino printed using softcut’ in the description. What do you think? People can easily google it if they are wondering about the process?

        • Matt says

          Hi Jo,
          Sorry for the delay.
          That seems like a reasonable description. What I tend to do with my prints is put an information sheet in with each print detailing the process. I also give my contact details and invite customers to contact me for further information. BTW, I love those Christmas decorations you made a while ago.
          Matt :)

  4. says

    Hi Matt,
    I am currently living in Singapore but return to the UK whenever possible.
    I have been working with PVC lino sheet which is really fantastic. You do have to work with a totally different pressure to the old lino but it is very durable and dries real fast.
    My question is, where can I buy large pieces of lino? Like a meter square. Could I just use lino from a flooring company or would that be coated?
    Desperate to get into some BIG carving and printing.
    Many thanks.

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