Sunday, February 21, 2010

Block Printing Tutorial: Part I

I decided to put together a block printing how-to, after getting lots of comments and emails from people expressing interest. It's a cinch to get into, as it requires only a bit of equipment to begin with. Block printing is a fascinating technique that presents new artistic opportunities to explore. Getting to the final product is a unique process that moves from sculptural to two-dimensional.

You'll need a linoleum cutting tool and some cutting tips, a few pieces of linoleum, a brayer, and some block printing ink. I found a great starter kit, which includes everything you need, here.

Draw your image directly onto the piece of linoleum. Start removing the material, little by little, always pulling away from the item you are carving, and towards your body. Keep the fingers of the other hand clear of the path of the cutter, as it can slip. Rotate the linoleum as necessary to make this easier.

The linoleum can sometimes be tricky to remove, but the way the tool is held is important and the process will go much smoother if you do it right. Hold the cutter so that the ball of the handle rests in your palm, and use your pointer finger to help guide and control the tool. Hold the tool at only a slight angle and pull gently. If you have the correct angle, you will feel the cutter doing the work and you won't have to pull so hard. It will take some time to get a feel for this. Keep a gentle grip on the cutter. It's easy to find yourself holding the cutter too tight which will result in deep cuts and a sore, tired hand.

A word about words: keep in mind that any words you include need to be carved in mirror image (see previous images), lest you end up with this.

Continue to remove the material, using a variation of cutting tips as needed to get the desired image. Explore texture and negative space, as well as composition and design, and have fun!

Linoleum pieces can also be purchased mounted on wood, and I find that the mounted pieces are a little easier for the kids to use—it's more for them to hold onto as they carve. Alternatively, you can mount a piece of linoleum onto wood yourself with some contact cement.

That's the cutting/carving portion of block printing in a nutshell. My next post will describe the inking and printing process.


  1. a beautiful post amy!
    i did this in school years ago, i have been hoping to do it again soon after receiving a print from a friend and also seeing your banner! i have heard speedball is a great place to start!

  2. What a great tutorial. I will have to try this again. I haven't done it in years!

  3. i love you for this, amy! thank you!
    and how cool is this:

  4. My older children will love this. I think I will order this kit and give it a try.
    I so enjoyed getting your beautiful card in the Valentines swap.
    Warm wishes,

  5. Great tutorial! Brings back my days at art school!

  6. Amy I love you for this. Thank you so much. During our break we will be doing this activity. I can hardly wait for the next post. It's so exciting.

  7. awesome! i have been wanting to make time to try some block printing...but first i have to figure out how to add more hours to my day:) xo, pennie

  8. Dearest Amy, this is such a wonderful tutorial!! Thanks so much for sharing this with us! I would love to try this some day! Have a lovely merry happy week and love to yoU!

  9. Brilliant Amy - can't wait to have a go - looking forward to the next post :D

  10. I also did this in art school years ago and enjoyed it very much. Need more time too, but I will definitely come back to this. I know my older one will enjoy this too.


  11. I love this tutorial and I loved my valentine! I recognize that heart! :)

  12. thank you for sharing this.
    i distinctly remember making one of these in high school; i think i remember it so clearly because i was miffed that i got a C, hmmpf, now i'm an artist so take that high school art teacher.
    Seriously, thanks for sharing, I've wanted to get the tools to start block printing for a while and this is inspiring.

  13. I love block printing and I do have a couple of suggestions to add for doing it with children in the name of safety. If you use the linoleum with the wood backing, it helps to put it outside on a hot sunny day to soften slightly. Alternately, you could very briefly use a microwave to soften it.
    And, although not very good for details, the soft eraser-like blocks are very easy for kids to carve. My 6-year-old has been doing those for a couple of years now.
    Thanks for sharing this great idea...please forgive the unsolicited advice! :?