Connect with us


Soft Cut Lino Mastery: How Many Tools Do You Really Need?

Soft-cut lino printing is a versatile and creative printmaking technique. As with any art form or craft, having the proper tools is important. However, when you’re just starting, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the variety of carving tools and supplies available.

But worry not; you just need the basic tools. Such essential tools are lino cutting tools, ink, brayers, and paper. A carving mat, apron, and printing press can help but aren’t completely necessary to get started in soft-cut lino printing.

You may discover specialty tools or surfaces that suit your style as you go on. But there’s no need to break the bank at the outset. This article will break down the essential tools needed for soft-cut lino mastery and successful prints without all the excess.

Image source

1. Carving Tools


For soft-cut lino printing, two carving tools are all you need to get started – a U-gouge and a ball tool. A U-gouge, sometimes called a V-gouge, has a U-shaped blade ideal for removing large areas of the lino quickly.

It allows you to carve both lines and shapes with ease. A ball tool, as the name suggests, has a rounded tip. It’s perfect for detailing and adding finer lines or textures to your designs. Together, these two versatile tools will enable you to carve various compositions.

While specialty tools like spoon gouges or needle tools can offer more control for intricate work, don’t feel you need to purchase a full set immediately. Start with a U-gouge and ball tool, then see how your skills and style develop over time.

Additional tools can be acquired later as your interests and techniques expand. For now, focus on learning the capabilities of your basic tools before expanding your collection. Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to carving essentials.

Image source

2. Printmaking Surfaces

When it comes to printmaking surfaces, you have a few options for starting. Traditional lino is the most durable and affordable to use. It’s made of compressed linseed oil and powdered limestone, making it easy to carve into. Lino’s smooth, non-porous surface produces clean, high-quality prints run after run. 

Japanese vinyl is another popular soft-cut surface. It has a similar texture and carves like lino but is thinner and more flexible. This vinyl makes it a bit easier for beginners to cut intricate designs. However, vinyl is not as hard-wearing as traditional lino. Over time and with repeated carving, it can develop small cuts and tears that affect print quality.

For starting, a single 18×24 inch lino or vinyl block is all you need. This size provides enough workspace to practice your techniques and create multi-block prints. 

Don’t worry about having a huge inventory of surfaces until you develop your printmaking style and know what size works best for your compositions. Quality over quantity is key, especially at the beginning of your lino journey.

Image source

3. Ink and Paper

When it comes to ink and paper, you have many options. For lino printing ink, a water-based printing ink is easiest for beginners to use. It is simple to clean using just soap and water. Gamsol or mineral spirits-based oil-based inks are more permanent but require solvents to clean brushes and hands. 

As for paper, try a variety of thicknesses and textures to see what you enjoy printing on most. Thinner papers allow for more detail, while thicker papers are better than multiple print runs. Start with a ream of basic printer paper for testing prints before committing to nicer sheets.

You’ll also need brayers or rollers to apply an even coat of ink to your lino block. Brayers are hand-held ink rollers ideal for applying small amounts of ink. Rollers allow for larger print editions and cover more surface area at once. Both are suitable for beginners.

You’ll have everything necessary to start creating lino prints with a lino block, carving tools, ink, brayers, and paper. Focus on practicing your techniques with these basic supplies before expanding your studio. Quality over quantity is key in the beginning phases of your lino journey.

Image source

4. Printing Techniques


Once your block is fully carved, it’s time to start printing. Apply an even layer of ink to the recessed areas of your lino block with a brayer. Then, lay a piece of paper over the block. Use a baren or printing press to put steady, hard pressure on the paper to move the ink from the block to it. Lift carefully to reveal your print.

For multi-color or layered prints, allow each layer of ink to dry fully before inking up the block again with a new color. Be sure not to smudge or smear drying prints. Clean inking tools and hands thoroughly between colors to avoid contamination. 

Experiment with printmaking techniques like reduction printing, where you carve away areas of the block with each new color layer. You can also try viscosity printing by applying multiple thin ink washes for subtle tonal effects. Play is the best way to discover techniques that excite your creativity.


As you can see, all it takes to start with soft-cut lino printing is a lino block, carving tools, ink, brayers, and paper. Practice the fundamentals and develop your skills before accumulating excess tools and materials.

Quality over quantity is vital for beginners to remember. Regular carving and printing sessions using just the essentials will steadily improve your techniques. You’ll gain an intuitive understanding of how to achieve different effects.

By starting simple and mastering the basics first, you’ll reap the most rewards from your soft-cut lino journey. So, grab your U-gouge and ball tool and start carving!

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *