5 Tips for Relief Printing

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Relief printing is an exciting art form with amazing creative possibilities but just like with any craft, you need to be equipped with the right tools and information to get the best of your materials and your ambition. We compiled 5 tips and hints to help you on your journey to learning block printing.

1. Don’t shy away from oil based inks – you can manipulate drying time & clean-up can be a breeze

Most schools tend to teach lino printing with water-based inks as they are easy to clean and dry in a matter of hours. Traditional printmakers, on the other hand, swear by the durability and vibrancy of oil-based inks. We are more aware of the dangers of solvents and fumes in the studio than ever and it is not surprising that modern artists try to avoid  white spirits or turpentine, substances traditionally used for cleaning up ink. Nowadays you can have your cake and eat it too as there is more than one way to get around this problem:

a. Oil based but water washable inks: one great example is the Caligo Safe Wash range that offers all the benefits of working with oil while you are able wash it all away with water and washing-up liquid. The same goes for our Lawrence GB Relief Inks. You can see all the water washable inks we stock here.

b. Use vegetable oil instead of spirits or turps: This is inexpensive and chances are you will find this in your kitchen cupboard. Once you are finished with your work, wipe away of the excess ink with paper or wiping canvas, loosen the remaining ink with vegetable oil and wipe again. You can finish it up with some soapy water which will get rid of the remaining grease.

If you are worried about the drying time of oil-based inks, remember that you can do multiple things to speed up the drying times:

a. Keep temperature up and humidity down: Winter can have a huge effect on printmakers, as the cold sets in and condensation starts building up on walls and windows, there are adjustments to make to your studio environment: heat the room to a steady temperature even when not in use, ventilate the air at least once a day and buy a dehumidifier. Nowadays there are a lot of options and they are readily available in hardware shops. They are worth the money as a dehumidifier will not only keep all your supplies dry but will also help suck moisture out of your drying prints.

b. Mix in dryers with your ink:

You can get manganese or cobalt driers and mix them with your ink in small quantities. These powerful siccatives will need only a few drops but be careful with light colours as they are know to darken the ink (you can use this to your advantage when creating rich dark tones) and always wear protective gloves!

 

2. Know your lino – keep it fresh and warm

Lino is made with linseed oil, rosin and cork and it is best to use when fresh. We always have fresh stock (less than a year old) and you should only buy as much as you need in the foreseeable future. Don’t hoard excessively as the material eventually loses it’s moisture and will become harder to cut.

In the Winter months especially, you need to make sure you handle lino in warm conditions: this includes warming up larger rolls next to radiators before unrolling to avoid cracking and even heating up part of the sheet with a hair drier as you are cutting your design. Your tools will slide much easier as the warming linseed oil softens the material.

3. Brush a layer of thinned down acrylic paint onto your lino before cutting

This is a great technique when you need to add a bit of visibility – let’s be honest, it’s easy to make mistakes and cut away bits you didn’t need to! In the winter months when there’s less sunlight you might even need a bit of extra clarity. Once your image is transferred onto the lino, grab some acrylic paint (preferably a transparent shade) and brush it on. Alternatively, inks and permanent markers work well as they dry waterproof, just like acrylics. You can also use gesso, you can see this technique in detail here. Once the acrylic layer is on the lino it seals the lines and you won’t accidentally rub them away while cutting. It also helps you imagine the finished print as whatever stays painted will be what prints. When you are finished with cutting, you can sand the lino with fine grit sandpaper to remove the acrylic paint before inking. Some printmakers skip this bit as it’s unlikely to affect inking – but when in doubt, always test!

4. Ink up lino blocks in multiple thin layers

Inking up blocks can be tricky – you want to avoid too much ink as it might seep into the cuts and ruin your lines, and if you use too little, your design will print unevenly. The best you can do is go slow and rather than trying to cover your surface with one load of ink, load thin and repeat until you reach your required level of coverage which largely depends on what you print your design on (thin or thick paper, textile, etc). This is going to be trial and error and every printmaker has to practice a lot before they master this skill, so be patient and test, test, test!

 

5. Block printing onto fabric is easy

Design by Georgia Flowers https://www.instagram.com/georgia_foxglove/

A lot of people mistakenly believe that if you want to print onto fabric you need to use screen printing equipment. You can print your design onto fabric just as well with the relief method using oil-based ink but make sure you select ones recommended for this purpose such as the Lawrence Original Linseed Oil Ink or the Caligo Safewash Inks.

 

What you need to do:

Step 1: design your pattern and cut your lino normally
Step 2: ink up your lino with using a bit more ink than you would when printing onto paper (test a piece of the fabric before you commit)
Step 3: place a cardboard sheet under the fabric to avoid excess ink seeping though
Step 4: carefully place the inked up sheet onto the fabric and print your design using a printing press or a rolling pin (hand burnishing is not recommended as fabric may move which can ruin your work)
Step 5: remove the printed fabric and let it dry for about a week (some colours dry quicker or slower so make sure you test this with each application)
Step 6: Heat set the design by ironing on the back with high heat or put it in a tumble dryer for about 2 hours on the highest setting. Bear in mind, the colours may shift slightly because of the temperature change.
Step 7: wash the fabric on 40 degrees Celsius – this will test if your design is sufficiently set
Step 8: Dry the fabric and enjoy your design!

We hoped this article was a helpful read and remember: all materials mentioned can be purchased on www.lawrence.co.uk, by calling us on 01273 260260 ext1 or by emailing us at artbox@lawrence.co.uk