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Absolute Basics

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

'What do you need to start printing?' I often get asked this question. To be honest you need your hands and a bit of mud or a potato and some paint! I've written about that before though in some old blogs from the days when I worked with children. They are still good printing methods but people are asking about linocutting obviously, because that's what I do.

So here's very basic list

  • Cutting tools

  • Lino

  • a roller

  • ink

  • paper

That is it. I wouldn't go buying anything else until you know if this is a thing you love, or you'll end up spending oodles. See what you use, see what you like, experiment and then expand on that.

Cutting Tools

I began with a set of Japanese wood cutting tools which at the time cost less than a tenner. They are like a pencil, no big handles

Then my lovely sister (Artist Kate Willows - check her out) bought me two Pfeil tools as a present. I really couldn't get on with them at first but have perservered and now I love them. I added one more and that's all I use. Don't think you need to buy a massive set at vast expense, start small and build up if you need to.

Here's the wonderful Linocut Boy, showing you some techniques Cutting Video He also has a great book which I call the Linocut Bible! It covers absolutely everything. If you buy one book make it that one.

In the photo below there is a white honing stone in the bottom of the box. If your tools don't come with this you can buy a Slip Strop which is fabulous. Home your tools every half hour of so of use. This will keep them sharp. Also keep the tips away from anything that may dull them, I pop corks on mine.

I have never yet used the two blades in the box, the V for fine lines such as edging and the U for clearing areas work just fine for me. Remember to always carve away from your hands and body and keep the top two edges of your tools pround of the lino.


There's lino and there's allsorts of other stuff! Pink, blue, grey, white, double sided, bendy, shiny, rubbery and some horrible crumbly stuff which I will never use again!

Proper battleship grey lino is hessian backed and made from Linseed Oil and Sawdust (and can apparently go in your compost bin!) It can go off if stored for a very long time and should generally be supple and bendy. If you are in a cold place it may need a little warming up. I use a hairdrier, or I just sit on it for a while. No, I really do! If it crumbles as you cut, it is old and will be really hard work and quite frustrating.

It's easy to draw on and to transfer and image on with carbon paper too.

To clean up you need to be careful not to get the hessian wet or it will shrink. I wipe with a rag and baby oil.

Japanese vinyl. This is usually green on one side and blue on the other with a black interior. I find it a bit shiny to use but many people love it.

Softcut is white and a bit rubbery but great to cut if lino is a bit hard work. It's easier on your hands and easy to wash. You can draw straight onto it but I haven't had a lot of luck with blue carbon paper. However Japanese black carbon paper gives a faint line.

Soft lino sheets - these are not lino but some kind of polymer. I quite like this and tend to use just this and real lino.

It's not the easiest thing to transfer an image onto with carbon paper - I've tried white carbon too. But if you're happy drawing stright onto the surface with Sharpie, biro or pencil it's great. Very easy to clean up too.

I'm not even going to mention the pale blue and pink ones, but do give them a try if you fancy. Just don't buy loads...

Here's Holly from Handprinted explaining all in a video


These come in allsorts of hardnesses which to be honest don't seem to make a huge difference to what I print. I think that for more refined styles the hardness may be key. Rollers are generally rubber with plastic or wooden handles. My husband made me a lovely hanging shelf for mine. They are better hanging rather than sat as they don't get marked. Marks won't pick up any ink. They also have a little stand which you can rest them on, but the heavy ones still seem to tip.


I use Caligo Cranfield Safewash. I started with one tube of black. I then bought allsorts of colours, some of which I don't even use! Don't get carried away. Start just with black and see how you get on. I mainly use the primary colours plus extender which is like a transparent ink and white which makes ink opaque. Caligo is easy to clean either under a running tap with some washing up liquid, or a rag and some baby oil or veg oil.

You'll also need somewhere to roll the ink. An old fridge shelf or glass chopping board works well.


I used copier paper to begin with, just to seen how my marks looked when printed. There are reasonable pads of paper online. If you don't have a press, like me, you'll want thinner papers that are easier to hand burnish. Hosho is a nice weight, print on the shiny side. I just use my hands to burnish but people use wooden spoons, special barrens, paperweights, smooth stones and allsorts. I recently found some smooth decanter tops in a junk shop which fit perfectly in my hand.

Shoji is one of the thinnest papers I have used and almost glows on it's shiny side. Awagami

produce some absolutely delicious papers! Their website is totally worth a look as their process is just beautiful.

There are many online tutorials, groups on social media, Linocut Friends on Facebook is very supportive. Or you can just have a go, BUT remember the tools are sharp, always use your common sense, trust your gut instinct and cut away from your hands and body.

Have fun!


Handprinted - easy to navigate site, they're happy to answer questions and also write very helpful blogs

Jacksons - a vast art supply shop with everything you could possibly need

Intaglio - pure printmaking supplier

I do sometimes order from quicker suppliers but these shops above are experts and we need to keep them going.

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The link does not take you to the book you mentioned. Could you please give me the name of the book? Thanks!

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