Printing Linocuts…some common problems…

The aim of printing a linoblock is to achieve a smooth even transfer of ink from the raised surface areas (or relief) that has been left after carving away the areas you wish to remain white or in the case of a reduction linocut the areas of colour you are building from the background to the foreground as each colour dries and another ‘layer’ is added.


Printing on good quality acid-free rag based papers is an expensive exercise – especially if you have a ‘bad printing day’ – I know this from first hand experience.

Some days I just clean up and leave it when it keeps going wrong.

So I can well understand why linocut artists edition some of the less successful prints. But it can also be an experience thing – as you get more experienced in printing you learn what can be better achieved and then raise your expectations on what you see as an acceptable ‘editionable’ print.

This has certainly been my observation within my own arts practice.


All of the following ‘flaws’ in a final print would cause me to discard that particular print from an edition.

However, if careful then issues such as ‘missing’ a couple of small dots in the ink surface can be overcome through further burnishing.

It is a matter of trial and error to see how you can overcome some of these imperfections and create better prints. Unless the flaw in the printing is either deliberate or by accident it creates an effect that enhances a particular image (but in an edition you would need to repeat the ‘accident ‘ to ensure all prints are as close to the same as is possible in a handmade artwork), any print that is not well-printed you should consider discarding from an edition.


That all being said there is a certain ‘rustic’ quality to a hand pulled linocut – it is handmade and small imperfections are part of the ‘charm’.

I am by no means a master printer – they are just amazing and many many times on a ‘bad printing day’ I wish I could afford one!

I struggle with printing – some days you get into a zone and it all goes so well but often I find that can be on the last couple pf prints for the day!! I do however also believe that as an artist printmaker I should print my own linocuts – so persisting in trying to improve my printing is something I strive to do.


Here a few tips about some common problems….



** Make sure you cut any hessian backing from around the edges of the linoblock **

  As I pointed out in the post Printing a linoblock…how to start…  about printing linocuts the linoblock has a hessian backing. It is really important to ensure any ‘stray’ piece of that backing are cut off neatly. This includes stray fine ‘hairs’ from the backing. These can be a problem around the edgeline of he linoblock print as they can pick up ink in the process of inking the block and transfer to your final print. Also check your edges are neatly cut if that is part of the image as this can give ‘fuzzy’ edges..



** Make sure you have applied even pressure across all the surfaces of the linoblock *

In this discarded print you can see small white patches where the ink has not been evenly applied. Essentially the aim is to get an even coating of ink transferring from the linoblock to the final editioned prints. There will nearly always be small imperfections in hand pulled print, however, in the wattle print above and the close-up of another print below – this level of uneven printing would indicate that I needed to discard these particular prints from an edition. Also check your roller has no imperfections (small indents, chips) causing small areas to not pick up ink evenly and therefore not transferring ink evenly. If hand burnishing then try to make sure you work in a pattern across the print. With a press sometimes turning the print around running the print through a second time helps if the press is not giving even pressure.



** Make sure that you cover all sections of the linoblock evenly with the ink **

  The above problems with uneven pressure can also be caused by not putting enough ink on the linoblock or missing sections – as seen on the left. The opposite can also occur with the over-inking of the linoblock – as seen on the right. This can happen as easily as under-inking ! It is essentially when you try to roll too much ink on the block – this could be to avoid under-inking. It means the finer carving work such as fine lines “fill in” or you end up with raised lines of ink around the edges of the carved or white sections or you can see a ‘texture’ of ink on the surface of the dried print. I find viewing the inked linoblock against the light to check the ink levels can help – sometimes you can see some of these problems – add additional ink or print this over-inked block on cheap paper and remove excessive ink before moving back to the editioned prints.

The problem of oil-based inks and their susceptibility to weather conditions can contribute to over or under inked prints. Cold weather the ink gets stiff and tacky and may need warming a little and in hot weather when the ink is thinner you may need to apply less. When using the roller whilst inking the plate before transferring the ink there is s definite ‘even hiss’ sound to the ink indicating the ink is ready to transfer – as opposed to an ‘uneven tacky’ sound that indicates the ink needs more ‘work’ (rolling) to even it out. Much of this is trial and error for individual linocut printmakers to find what works for them.


There is a larger circular mark in this following print.

This leads me to the next common printing problem or flaw….



** Make sure you clean all excess ‘linochips’ (from carving) and any dirt particles from your linoblock before printing **

  Small ‘chips’ left on the carved sections of the linoblock, dirt particles or even fine hair can be picked up when inking the linoblock and end up on your print or linoblock. These then create small white ‘patches’ on your print. So if you end up with a spot enclosed by an unprinted white circles – this is what has caused it. Often this can be avoided by checking against the light your linoblock after inking and looking for any raised surfaces. These can be removed using a small palette knife before printing to avoid this problem. Ensure that you re-roll this section to ensure that ink now is in the ‘missed’ section. Check your roller for these particles as well. If you are careful you can lift the paper off that section without removing the whole paper then remove the particle, place the paper back and re-burnish or press – but this needs to be done carefully….



** Make sure that you do not move the paper on the linoblock **

A final problem I will talk about is if the paper moves at all on the surface of the inked linoblock or if when you carefully place the paper on the inked block you move the paper then you get a ‘doubled’ or blurred image.

Generally you would set up a clean baseboard registration marking where to place the linoblock and where the paper needs to be placed.

Start by placing one edge of the paper (I use the left side as I am right-handed) in the correct position – hold this edge gently on place whilst you carefully place the paper across the block until you reach the other side. This is an extremely frustrating problem and essentially means this print is discarded. I do however use these particular prints when do ‘proofs’ or trial runs in the handcolouring with watercolours – so not all is lost…


Copyright – Lynette Weir

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