Fiona Horan

Beginning printmaking with lino: rollers and other sundries

photo of printmaking lino and carving tools on wooden bench hook

A look at those other bits and bobs that are useful for printmaking with lino.

Bench hook

Bench hooks are wooden slabs that help hold lino in position on the table while you are carving. I find them very useful to stop the lino escaping away from you, and they discourage the risky practice of putting your spare hand in front of the carving tool blade to keep the lino from slipping. Asking for trouble!

They seem quite reasonably priced at various outlets, and come in A4 or A3 sizes.

Rollers (or brayers)

Essdee soft roller – a good budget option

Rollers are available in a variety of widths. If you find your preferred size of print is A4 or smaller, it’s a good idea to buy a roller wide enough to cover your print along its narrowest dimension. This gives you a nice smooth covering of ink, rather than the “roller lines” I tend to get when inking up my lino sheets. You can also get some especially wide rollers with two handles for larger sheets, but I haven’t tried these yet. When I get the chance – I’ll update this article. It does look rather cumbersome as prints get larger. Wide rollers are efficient and save you time inking up, but I also find the narrow rollers (50mm or less) extremely useful.

Another thing to look out for is the diameter of the roller. Thicker rollers cover more of the sheet. Cheaper rollers tend to have smaller diameters and you will spend a lot of time reapplying ink to the roller and then transferring that again and again to the block. This may result is a rather uneven covering of ink and some annoying lines on the print.

Japanese printmaking rollers
Japanese rollers- soft (black) and hard (brown)

My first rollers were the blue-handled soft rollers made by Essdee. These are affordable and pretty good. Recommended if you are looking for a budget option. I haven’t tried their harder red-handled rollers but softer rubber is normally recommended for lino, in case the surface is not entirely flat.

Recently, I have invested in some much more expensive Japanese rollers – several soft ones and one hard one. They are all gorgeous! The hard roller was an experiment, but is probably my favourite now. All these rollers can be taken apart for a thorough clean, which is useful.

Inking slab

I don’t have enough of these. Probably no one does. And I wish they were larger – although, if they were larger, I would wish they were smaller whenever I was washing them up! I recently bought one of the plastic inking slabs you can find from various printmaking suppliers. Personally, I don’t find it very useful. It is too light and moves about under the roller. It also stains – so, sadly, it is not the answer to my inking slab problem. I have also seen glass inking slabs for sale, but they seem a bit too small – often about 25 by 25cm – and very expensive. I currently use three square glass slabs that I got years ago from Homebase. They are supposed to be glass shelves – so very thick and sturdy, and not too big to get under the tap or in the sink. However, I’ve not seen them for sale since! I hear good things about some glass cutting boards, though you have to watch out for textured surfaces and little ‘legs’. The problem remains unsolved ….

Oh for a huge studio with glass-topped tables and a sink in the same room – or even on the same floor! And an Albion press … wouldn’t that be fantastic?

Rubbing Tools for Printmaking without a Press

Japanese baren for printmaking

Until my dream Albion press (plus strong floorboards and ground floor studio) turn up, I am obliged to create my masterpieces by rubbing the back of the paper with a spoon or baren. So let’s take a look at these.

I use a Japanese baren, a wooden spoon, and a metal spoon to print my artworks. The Japanese baren does most of the work. It is made out of bamboo – providing a flat and durable surface to rub the back of the paper. They can be bought quite cheaply from several of the suppliers listed below. They last for a few months until they fall to bits. I also have a larger plastic baren, but I haven’t found it that useful. It is more likely to damage the paper, and it often leaves slightly mysterious grey marks on it. I used to think that perhaps the plastic baren had got grubby, but now I think it must be tiny black plastic particles being left on the paper. You can also get glass barens, which look beautiful, but I have never had the chance to try one, and they are too expensive to buy without testing them first. You can also get barens made from lots of tiny ball-bearings. I have read good things about these – but they are around ¬£200 each!

Suppliers

To complete this series of articles, here are some of the suppliers I have found useful over the years for printmaking equipment. Apologies for the fact that these are UK-based. I have no affiliations and get no perks from any of these, and they are in no particular order:-

  • Intaglio Printmaker: This is a shop in London, near London Bridge, dedicated to all things printmaking. If you can visit, it is a fantastic place. However, you can also order online.
  • Lawrence: General art store with a good printmaking section.
  • Handprinted.co.uk: Another specialist printmaking supplier.
  • Jacksons: Big online art store that usually has what you’re looking for.
  • Artway: Suppliers of easycut lino and packets of paper. If you buy in bulk, you can access good wholesale rates. Their prices seem pretty good generally, and their own cartridge paper is worth considering, both for printing and other arty pursuits.
  • Hawthorn Printmaker Supplies: Hawthorn manufacture presses, inks and rollers – so well worth taking a look. You’ll find items not available elsewhere.
  • Essdee: Information about their products and where to buy them.
  • Great Art: Another large online art store which has a good relief printmaking section.
  • Shepherds: Most of the other retailers listed will sell suitable paper for printmaking, but you may wish to wander into the wonderful world of bookbinding and specialist papers. I used to visit Shepherds when I lived in London, and they have a delightful range of all types of paper – a real old-fashioned niche specialist shop (as is the equally fantastic Intaglio Printmaker listed above). Shepherds have a special section devoted to printmaking papers.

Of course there are many other suppliers like Cass Art or the London Graphic Centre, or your local brick and mortar art shop – but these are the companies that I find myself going to again and again for inks and lino.

For the rest of my series on printmaking equipment, start here.