This is a list of supplies needed to create simple block print stamps for printing on paper and textiles. All of this information can be found in my book Block Print.
There are many supplies and tools on the market to create block prints and stamps. I have used a variety of materials and have listed below my go-to supplies for these types of stamps and prints; many of these products are quite affordable. I will note that I use different materials for creating more traditional linocuts.
If you are interested in starting out and need to start from scratch the Speedball Deluxe Block Printing Kit is a great place to begin. It includes everything you need to get started.
Rubber Carving Blocks for Stamps
Speedball Speedy-Cut (Tan) - These blocks have a reputation for tearing and being a bit crumbly. However, I have found that they will work well with speedball carvers and are the quickest material to carve. They are one of the most affordable options available and are great to practice on and for images that will have thicker lines. These blocks have a slick surface that allow you to remove your pencil transfer marks.
Speedball Speedy Carve (Pink) - These blocks are thinner than the tan version and are slightly more expensive. I have found that they hold finer lines and details. These blocks are thinner than the Speedy-Cut (tan) and Moo-Carve and I would not choose these blocks to print on textiles unless I were planning to mount the block. This are great for printing on paper.
MOO Carve Professional Carving Blocks - These blocks are best for fine details and do not crumble or tear. I would recommend these blocks overall because they will hold up best over time. The only downside I have found to these blocks is that it is difficult to remove your pencil transfer should you want to move it on the block or change your design and they aren’t as readily available as Speedball products in my area.
Battleship Linoleum - The “grey stuff”. Some printmakers love this, some hate it. I discuss it in more depth in my book. You can buy pre-cut linoleum in different sizes or you can buy it by the foot. If you purchase the roll you will need a reliable way to cut it. X-acto knives work but I prefer to use my large paper cutter to do the job. Battleship Linoleum can be printed by hand however I would work up to this if you have not carved before and I would recommend professional carving tools for this material.
Relief Carving tools
Speedball Linoleum Cutters - This set of tools is perfect for soft rubber blocks. I would not recommend these carvers on battleship linoleum or other substrates. This cutters work best on rubber based blocks. I primarily use the Large V (2) to outline my work as well as for smaller details in conjunction with the Large U (5) for removing larger blank areas and softening the edges of the stamp.
X-Acto Basic Knife Set - I use the #10 General Purpose Blade to remove a large area of the stamp from the block before carving any details. If the block has straight sides or long geometric angles I carve directly on the line. I find it easier to remove larger chunks of rubber rather than go back in and re-carve an area.
My tips for carving out the stamp: Get a running start by beginning to cut the block before your drawn line. I insert the blade at a 90 degree angle until the blade clears the entire block and touches your cutting mat. I carefully and slowly pull the blade towards me at a 90 degree angle to the block holding the block with my left hand and pushing back against the blade that I am pulling with my right. This works especially well on the tan blocks and helps prevent tears and crumbles. I use this technique on the MOO blocks as well but find I don’t have to go quite so slowly as the material is less prone to breaks.
FlexCut Linoleum and Relief set - FlexCut makes high quality printmaking supplies which are often recommended.
FlexCut Slip Strop - Easily sharpen and hone your carving blades with this kit. A must have if you also carve linoleum or any hard surfaces with your tools.
Pfeil Linocut Tools - these palm held tools are professional quality and a great step up once you’re ready to commit to printmaking. Even though they are a little bit of an investment, once you have a set or just a few that you really like, you won’t need to worry about buying new tools. I own 5 but one I rarely use so I will recommend these four. The largest U shaped tool I use is the 8mm no. 5 or sometimes called the “gouge”. This is what you’ll want to use to remove large pieces of linoleum from your block. The “veiner” or v shaped cutter is for details and lines. This No. 11 1mm is very handy. I also own the .5mm (not recommended for most materials) and a No. 11 3 mm. Pfeil makes these chisels in long handles too but those are not good for linocuts. You will want to search out Pfeil Linocutting tools or palm tools for small detailed work.
If the Pfeil tools are out of your price range and you’re ready to step up from the Speedball set, then you may like the Shinwa power grip tools which is a set of 7 gouges that are larger than palm tools but smaller than longer handles.
Holbein Super Soft Brayer - I use the size 4 - 9.5” brayer for the majority of my linocut pieces and will use this if I need a brayer that is the full length of my stamp for a rainbow roll etc. It’s a pricey brayer if you’re just starting out but once you need something larger than 6” it’s the next step up.
Inks for Paper
Best Inks for Rubber based blocks:
Blick Water-Soluable Block Printing Inks - These inks are great for rubber based materials and small stamps.
Speedball Water-Based Block Printing Inks - I find that these inks are interchangeable with the Blick/generic offerings in addition to having great metallic options like gold, silver, pewter and copper. These inks can vary in viscosity. In particular, Pewter (metallic) can be a bit runny and I often mix it with white, black or blue to get a more consistent thickness. I have also found the copper metallic to be quite versatile and is one of my favorites of the set. Additionally, there are fluorescent ink options. One of my favorites is this hot pink color. Fluorescent yellow, blue, green and orangeAkua Intaglio Inks - Akua inks are soy-based and are non-toxic. I enjoy using these inks in my traditional printmaking settings. They work well with a variety of substrates and on a variety of different papers and are great for prints that you will print on a press.
Akua inks come in a variety of professional colors including: carbon black, opaque white, oxide green, hansa yellow, and scarlet red. This is just a small selection of the colors available. They also have an ink retarder that slows the drying process of the ink on your platen as well as an ink extenderCaligo Safe Wash Relief inks are a great place to start for home studios. Caligo, like many other inks, come in 75 ml tubes and 250g tins. In my experience tins do a better job of keeping the ink in good condition as well as being able to get all of the product out of the packaging. You may want to start with 75ml tubes to play around with the material, but upgrade to 250g tins if you become a serious fan of this type of printing ink.
Inks for Textiles
Blick Waterbased Acrylic Fabric Screen Printing Ink - These non-toxic inks can work well for stamping on textiles. I have found that screen printing ink work well to stamp onto textiles. This technique requires a little bit of modification to get the ink to behave more like block printing ink. Out of the jar you will notice that screen printing inks are looser than block printing inks. After rolling out some ink on my glass I find that the ink works best when I let it air-dry a little so it resembles the block-printing ink. These inks do need to be set to be wash-safe.
Speedball Block printing fabric and paper inks - This product works quite well and has a consistency closer to traditional relief printing inks. They come in small tubes so they are better for smaller projects. It’s an oil based ink so it will be different on paper than the “paper inks”.
Using Screen printing inks. There are lots of screen printing inks available on the market that are specifically suited to screen printing. You can use basic “beginners” screen printing inks to block print with. The advantages of this are that you get a lot more ink in these jars than in the smaller tubes and you can also multi-purpose the ink and use it for screen printing if you wish.
Other Supplies to have on hand:
Cutting Mat - Self-healing mats are great so you can protect your work surface as well as cut all the way through rubber blocks.
Glass Platen - for rolling out ink or a sheet of plexiglass from a frame.
Palette Knife - These are handy for getting ink out of tubs and for mixing inks on your platen. Not necessary if your ink is in tubes.
Bone Folder - for transferring your pencil drawing to your block.
Carbon Transfer Paper - Works for linoleum battleship blocks. Not good for rubber blocks. The white saral paper will transfer best to your linoleum block if you have painted your block with india ink first. It also comes in graphite, blue, yellow and red if you are looking for other colors.
India Ink - I paint my battleship linoleum blocks with india ink first. I use these 3” sponge paintbrushes to cover a lot of area quickly and get nice even finish with no paint brush lines. This allows me to “see” the finished print more clearly as I am carving and helps me making spur of the moment decisions to change the design should I choose. You will need to wash the block and test-print it quite a few times if you plan to use light colored inks on your block. Just be aware that you don’t need too much to make this work. A thin layer of india ink will do the trick.
It takes time to discover which products and tools work best for your style. This list is just a starting place for beginners looking to get started in linocut printmaking. Please check out my book if you are interested in learning more about relief printing.
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