What is a Linocut?

Linocut is a relief printmaking technique similar to woodcut.  The image is carved from the surface of a piece of soft linoleum, and then inked with a roller.  Prints are taken from it by placing a sheet of paper over the block and applying pressure – either by hand (quite time consuming!) or by using a mechanical press.  The areas carved out remain unprinted – so this technique is the opposite to etching (where the etched line is what prints).  Also, the artist has to remember that the image will be reversed when printed.  The lino is re-inked for each print. 

Stages of beach donkey linocut by Fiona Horan

Linocut prints vary slightly from each other because of differences in ink application or printing pressure.  There is no “original” print.  Usually, several prints are taken from the same block.  This is called an edition.  They will often look almost identical – but as each one is hand-printed separately – each one will be unique.

Multi-coloured prints are created either by using several lino blocks for each image – one for each colour, or by the reduction method – which is the technique I usually use for my colour prints.

The Reduction Method

With this technique, the same piece of lino is used throughout the printing process.  First the parts of the design that will remain the colour of the paper are carved out.  The block is then printed with the first colour – usually the palest colour of the design.  Then all parts of the image that are to remain that colour are carved out – and the second colour applied and printed over the previous image on the same piece of paper.  And so on, until the last (and probably darkest) colour has been printed.  During the process the block is gradually cut away and destroyed – so all prints required have to be printed from the start (with a few extra in case of mistakes or colour experiments).

Whichever technique is used – multi-colour prints require some method of registration to ensure that the paper and lino block align exactly the same every time a new colour is applied.