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What is a Linocut?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A linocut is a type of block print which is by using linoleum as the relief surface. Linocuts can have a striking level of depth and detail, especially when produced by skilled artists, and a number of artists work in this medium. Linocuts are very easy to make, which makes them appealing to some artists, especially those who are just starting to experiment with block printing. It is not uncommon to see a linocut on display in an art gallery, and such prints are often used to decorate homes and offices as well.

When a linocut is produced, a piece of linoleum is carefully cut away to create a desired design. Then, the linoleum is inked, and pressed against a piece of paper or fabric to imprint the design. Because a linocut is basically like a giant stamp, the image appears in reverse after printing, so artists need to think backward while they are carving the design, especially if the design includes text.

Sometimes, artists mount the linoleum to a block of wood to make it more sturdy and stable, although this is not required. The linocut can be produced either by laying the linoleum in the bed of a press and printing it, or by directly applying the linoleum to the surface which is to be printed. Pieces produced with the direct printing method require minimal supplies, which can be very convenient.

Just as with regular woodcuts, linocuts can be produced in color by using a different block for each color, or carving away at the relief surface between inkings to change the parts which are inked. Because linoleum is very easy to carve, it can be used to produce pieces with a high level of crisp detail without worrying about cracking or splitting. However, it also tends to degrade quickly, so artists need to think about how many prints they want when considering linoleum as a medium, as the linoleum will start to be compressed out of shape after a certain point.

This print making technique is taught at many art centers and colleges, and it can be a fun way to start learning about block printing. To make basic linocuts, all you need is linoleum, a pencil for sketching, a carving knife, some ink, and a roller known as a brayer. Once you master the basics, you can start to play around with the use of color and various other artistic tools which can enhance your linocuts.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Musical Expert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By orangey03 — On Sep 09, 2011

I love the fact that linocuts can be either highly simplistic or very detailed. I have some artist friends who do both styles, and to me, they are equally beautiful because of the quality of their craftsmanship.

One of my friends made a linocut that was simply an outline of a flower with leaves. It had hardly any defining detail, but the simple black on white design made a great wallpaper.

The same friend carved the face of a lion, whiskers and all, into a linocut. It looked like an actual painting that had taken months to complete, but it only took her a few hours to carve it.

By wavy58 — On Sep 08, 2011

I have done woodcuts before, but I had never heard of linocuts! These sound so much easier to make.

Woodcuts are time consuming, mostly because of the physical effort you have to put into chipping away at the wood to get your design. I did one in college that took me weeks to finish, and this was just because I had some serious detail to carve.

Linocuts sound very appealing to me. I loved the look of the woodcut, but I wished that there was a material that would be easier to work with which I could use for making prints. I am going to try making a linocut.

By cloudel — On Sep 07, 2011

My art teacher in high school showed the class how to make linocuts. We were going to make two prints from the linocut. One would be with white ink on dark paper, and the other would be black ink on white paper.

We drew simple images on the linoleum with pencils. Then, we cut away the negative space. We were told to draw images that held together well, with no separations in between parts.

We put some ink on a glass plate and rolled over it with the brayer until it was coated well. Then, we rolled the brayer over our linocuts. We pressed the paper onto the linocuts and rolled it with rolling pins. We peeled the paper away and saw how easy it was to make a linocut image!

By shell4life — On Sep 07, 2011

I remember this from my college printmaking class. I could not think of what the ink roller was called, and seeing the word “brayer” jogged my memory.

Linoleum is so easy to cut. Anyone who has ever dropped a sharp knife on a kitchen floor covered with it can attest to this. It’s like carving a bar of soap or a block of cheese.

I miss making linocuts. I haven’t done any since college, because I thought I needed the press to do them, but like the article says, I could just place the linoleum on top of the paper and press it down.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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