Demo:  Linoleum-Cut Prints


1st Color Beige:  the first color (and the last color) are the most crucial.  The first color will establish where the print will physically go on the page, so keep your margins as even as possible.  Every color after this must line up with wherever the first color landed.  Also be aware that this is usually the largest amount of color that gets put down and will establish the tone of the piece.  Altho the inks are fairly opaque, each color will affect the color of the next layer put on to it.  Always work lightest to darkest.  Before this first pass, all the WHITE areas were cut away.  I ink the linoleum block and lay the paper directly on top, rubbing it with the baren (a hard round disk with a handle or you can use a wooden spoon) until I can see the ink begin to sink into the paper.

Other FAQs about Linoleum Cut Prints:

How to tell a Good print?

Check the edges.  A print should be displayed with all the edges showing.  That way, any viewer can see if all the colors are physically laying on top of each other, lining up at the edges.  However, keep in mind that one of the reasons that these prints are done by hand is because of those little imperfections that make each one unique.


What’s the writing at the bottom of a print?

Typically, starting on the bottom left of the print are numbers that tell what number in the sequence this print is, for example 5/20 means the fifth print in a series of 20 total prints.  However, just because it is numbered as “5” it doesn’t always mean that it was the 5th one actually printed.  When I finish with a series, I just shuffle them together, stack them up and start numbering them.

If there is an ‘AP’ in place of the numbers, that stands for ‘Artist Print’.  For some reason, this print is not close enough in appearance to the others in the series to be included in the series or it could be an experimentation of the artist.  Whatever the reason, this is a one of a kind print.

At the bottom middle should be the title of the piece and on the bottom right should be the artist signature.  Traditionally this is all written in pencil.


Types of Linoleum cut prints:

Monoprint:  When a plate is inked and printed just once to be finished—usually that means using just one color, but sometimes multiple colors can be rolled on at the same time.  This can be printed as many times as desired.

Jigsaw Print:  where multiple pieces of linoleum are cut, inked and then assembled like a jigsaw puzzle to print.  This can be printed as many times as desired.

Reduction Print:  Where each color is physically cut away from the same block as it is printed until only the last design remains on the block, which means that this block is limited to the number of prints started with the first color.

Block printing takes a lot of planning.  The sequence of the colors and the areas to be cut for each color need to be worked out long before the blade even touches the linoleum.  It is not a quick process either;  depending on the intricacy of the design, some prints will take me over 40 hours to complete.  Drying time is also an issue; each color must be completely dry before applying the next.  However, like all good art, the results are worth it.


“Stone Music”  is from a photo I took while visiting the Stone House, a B&B in Natchez, MS.  I manipulated the photo in Photoshop until I got the composition and the colors that I wanted.  I printed it out and enlarged it, then traced it onto tracing paper and then transferred the pencil to the linoleum by rubbing it on. 

Key points to remember: the image that you are cutting is the reverse image of your end result so all text will look backward as you are cutting it, but it will print right side up.   Also, you will be cutting away the negative space, NOT the positive.  What you cut away will NOT be coated with ink and therefore will NOT print.  This was a particularly tricky piece to line up.

7th color Dark Purple:  The last color which is just as crucial as the first.  Since the last color is the darkest, it will stand out the most, so any previous mistakes that you might have made could be covered by this last color: or at least made less noticeable.  However, that also means that any mistake on the last color just doomed the hours of work spent on the previous colors.  As a general rule, I rarely use black in my colored prints; it muddies the colors too much and is too difficult to correct.

6th color Dark Brown:  Since each layer gets the previous color cut away so that it doesn’t print again, the block gets more floppy since there is a lot less linoleum to stiffen it.  Since these last colors make up the most exact details, caution is necessary.  Again, since I am not going to be printing anywhere but the lower right, I do not need to cut away anything else on the block.

4th & 5th Color Dark Yellow & Dark Rose:  Another shortcut; since the upper part needs the rose and the lower part needs the yellow, they don’t touch so I can  print 2 colors at the same time. 

3rd Color Hot Pink:  Here I can take a shortcut.  I only need the pink on the wallpaper on the right and left side, not the middle.  Instead of wasting time cutting all of the middle out, I simply avoid inking that area.  Altho that means the piano player will not have an underlying base of hot pink, I know that the last two layers, which are the darkest, will be going on top of him, and will conceal that.  I do make sure I ink the dresses.

2nd Color Orange:  Now the block has to go on top of the paper .  I tape a couple of straight edges along two sides of the print to help me get the edges squared up perfectly.  I always leave at least 2 sides of the block square so that I can register all the layers perfectly.

Here’s what’s left of the linoleum block after printing the 6th color dark brown and before cutting it for the last color.

I try to start out with about 20 prints and usually end up with about 12 or 15.  Potentially you could start with as  many as you wanted, but more colors mean more passes and more mistakes.  For Stone Music, that was 20 prints with 7 colors each.  That’s 140 prints by hand!  A press can save you the muscle power, but you still have to register each color exactly.

I use a thin, cloth based Japanese printing paper called Masa and water based inks.