Lino printing – an overview

Process film of carving a battleship grey lino block, for a print inspired by Neil Gaiman’s Sandman on Netflix 2022, of Dream and Desire of the Endless.

OK. So what even is lino printing?

Lino printing is a type of relief printmaking that involves carving a design into a lino block and then applying ink to the raised surface of the lino. The raised surfaced (because you would have gouged or carved out all other areas of the lino) is the reason why it is termed ‘relief printing’.

The lino block can be carved using simple carving tools or more sophisticated lino cutters. My preference here is the Pfeil lino cutting tools, a swiss-made smoothly rounded wooden-handled tool which can easily carve a lino block of soft wood. Pfeil carving tools are available from amongst other excellent, small business printmakers’ suppliers like and

Matthieu Coulange of France also produces his own sets of bespoke and beautiful carving tools which are similar in blade shapes to the above.

The most important thing is to have a sharp blade so that you can create clean, crisp lines. So I make sure to have my trusty whet stone handy and nearby so I can hone my tools whenever needed.

Once the lino block design is carved, it’s time to apply ink evenly onto the lino surface. A roller or a brayer is used to ink evenly here (“brayer” is a posh term for a one-handled roller. Whereas a “roller” is the printmaker’s term for a two-handled roller. Don’t worry about this for now, the non-puritans are -mostly- quite happy to use the term “roller”). In my workshops, I encourage students to apply a thin and even layer of ink first onto the roller. This helps to ensure the design on the block will not be drowned in ink during the transfer.

To transfer the ink onto paper, the paper is placed atop the block and you can begin to hand-burnish (that is to say, rubbing) the paper onto the relief surface to allow the ink to transfer from the block onto the paper. Alternatively, if you are lucky enough to have your own printing press, you run both paper and block through said printing press, resulting in a mirror image of the carved design. I have been fortunate enough to own a Gunning etching press from the Ironbridge Gunning family Gunning Etching press.

You’ll need to use a brayer to roll the ink onto the lino, making sure to cover all of the carved areas evenly. Then you can place your paper onto the inked lino and run it through a printing press. Lino printing is a great way to create unique, one-of-a-kind prints. And best of all, it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to get started.

There is something magical about lino carving. It’s a skill that allows you to be present in the full mindset of the design and carve, and see the organic growth on the carving of the lino block. It’s a skill that aids self-empowerment and creativity flow. Lino carving is all about being in the moment, and attuning to the carving of designs on the lino block. It’s a slow-brain engagement that almost (gently) forces you to employ focus and concentration. When you’re in the lino-carving zone, your mind is at the tip of the carving tool, marking the the design on the lino surface. And it’s this single-minded focus that allows you to achieve a sense of mastery over the design you are transferring onto the lino block. Lino carving is an excellent way to seed the creative mind, and bring magic into life. It’s a positive mind set that alleviates mental churn and allows you to be in control of your creative destiny.

So, if you’re looking for an activity that will help you attune to your creative side, then lino carving is definitely for you!

Happy carving, and printing!

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