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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 –

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.

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 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 and websites, I get no kickbacks from them, I just like the shops and have found them helpful in the past.