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Best lino cutting tools: Essential printmaking tools for block prints

Linocut printing is a great way to get into printmaking, with easy-to-cut materials and inexpensive tools readily available online. There are simple lino cutting kits for complete beginners and specialty tools for those looking to take the craft to the next level.

But with several brands, material types, and cutter shapes to choose from, it can be hard to know which lino cutting tools and material to buy.

To help, I put together this primer on the best lino cutting tools for both beginner and intermediate printmakers, so you can fly past the boring part and get right to carving!

Use the menu below to skip to the section most relevant for you. Happy carving!

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Best lino cutting kits for beginners

If you are a complete (or nearly complete) beginner to linocut, the best choice is probably an all-in-one lino cutting kit. They is a simple, painless, and often cheap way to get started right away with the craft!

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There are a few things to look for in these lino printmaking kits. The first is that they include the essential tools: a lino cutter, a printing roller, a linoleum block, and ink. A few other tools, like a baren and printing paper, are also nice to have but not essential.

I’ve had a look at several of the best lino cutting kits and recommended a few below. Note that most of the links below add a 10% discount to your first purchase, and all of them ship worldwide!

Best overall lino printing kit: Essdee Lino Cutting & Printing Kit

Essdee lino cutting printing kit

Pros

  • 23-piece kit
  • Includes all essential tools
  • Variety of lino blocks

Cons

  • No paper included
  • Middling cutter quality

My pick for the best lino printing kit comes with everything you need to produce your first few linocut prints for less than $30.

The 23-piece kit includes a cutter with 6 blades, a baren, water-based black ink, an ink brayer, an ink tray, and several linoleum blocks. There’s even a handy guide with a brief tutorial and tips for beginners!

There are two different types of lino blocks included: traditional lino and soft cut lino. You get several of each, so you can try out a few designs before having to buy more.

The only thing missing is paper, which is a bummer but not a deal breaker. Just pick up a relatively inexpensive paper like the Strathmore 400 Series (or any of the options mentioned below) and you’re off to the races!

And before you panic – most of the cutting heads are stored in the baren to save shipping space. Click below to get a 10% discount!

Runner up: Speedball Deluxe Block Printing Kit

Speedball Deluxe block printing kit

Pros

  • 15-piece kit
  • Includes all essential tools
  • Four ink colors and extender
  • Two lino blocks

Cons

  • No paper included
  • Middling cutter quality

Another great choice for beginners is this block printing kit from trusted brand Speedball. It’s only slightly more expensive than the option above, but gets edged out because the cutter is slightly worse (but still decent for beginners).

The kit includes a four-inch brayer, a cutter with five cutting heads, a combination bench hook/inking plate, four inks (black, red, blue, and yellow) and an extender, and two different types of lino blocks.

There is one soft cut block included, which is great for beginners, as well as a traditional backed block that might be a bit too tough. Still, it’s a nice way to get experience with both, and there’s a booklet with tips and printmaking ideas, as well.

One of the biggest draws here is the variety of quality ink options included, although again there is no paper to print on. Remedy that with some simple printing paper.

Best budget option: Speedball Super Value Printing Starter

Speedball Super Value Block Printing Starter Kit

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Includes key tools to get started
  • Soft cut lino block included

Cons

  • No paper included
  • Only one lino block

If you want to try out linocut but don’t want to spend much money, this kit is a great choice. It has just the bare essentials, providing a solid base for future purchases if you want to continue the hobby.

The kit includes a cutter with three blades, a brayer, black ink, and a single soft Speedy-Carve lino block. These are great for beginners because of just how easy they are to carve.

You won’t get a baren, inking tray, bench hook, or paper, but you can easily replace those with a large spoon, small plate of glass, double stick tape, and any old notebook paper for your first print.

Best gift set: Essdee Linocut Taster Kit

Pros

  • Very inexpensive
  • Materials for two designs
  • Soft lino blocks included

Cons

  • No paper included
  • Small ink roller
  • Only two cutters

Linocut kits are a great gift for creative friends and family, but it can be risky to spend a lot of money when you’re not sure whether or not they’ll take to the hobby.

Enter this excellent taster kit, which provides enough tools and materials to get a feel for the hobby while creating two unique prints.

It includes a lino cutter with two heads, an ink roller, ink, two softcut lino blocks, and instructions for beginners. It’s an incredible value for just $15, and you can grab an additional 10% discount at the link below.

Other lino printing kit options


Best linoleum carving tools

Best linoleum cutting tools

Once you have a bit more experience with linocut, you might want to consider upgrading your cutters. You don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune to get good results, but it may make the experience more comfortable and satisfying.

Before you do upgrade, make sure that your tools are sharp. A quick honing can bring dull cutters back to life in an instant.

It’s not too hard to make your own strop, but if you’re not so DIY-minded you can also buy a cheap one like this that will last for decades.

With that out of the way, there are relatively inexpensive lino cutter sets that will get the job done and store away nicely to save space. I’ve recommended my favorites below, followed by some more expensive options.

Best inexpensive set: Speedball Linoleum Cutter Set

Pros

  • Very inexpensive
  • Includes 5 cutters
  • Cutters stored in handle
  • Perfect for soft lino blocks

Cons

  • Will not cut harder lino
  • May not come very sharp

Speedball is one of the most trusted names in linocut, and this cheap and cheerful lino cutter set is just what you need to get started. It comes with 5 cutters which store neatly inside the handle when not in use.

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This set is great for soft, rubber-based printing blocks (more on linoleum blocks in the next section), but probably won’t cut it for harder blocks.

It may also not come very sharp out of the block, so if you don’t get the results you want give them a quick honing and try again.

There are several other inexpensive lino cutter sets from Essdee, which you can check out here.

Best intermediate set: Flexcut Printmaking Carving Set

Pros

  • Sharp, reliable cutters
  • Comfortable handle
  • Includes sharpening materials
  • Handy tool roll for storage

Cons

  • Only one handle included
  • A bit pricey

Flexcut is another excellent brand for cutters, and this set is a step above beginner cutters from Speedball or Essdee.

The kit includes a wooden handle and four interchangeable heads, as well as a sharpening strop/compound and a handy tool roll for storage. The cutters come sharp out of the gate, but you may still want to run them through the strop before use (especially the V cutter).

This Flexcut lino cutter set isn’t exactly cheap at about $50, but it won’t break the bank either. There aren’t many cutters that outperform these ones, and the ones that do cost significantly more.

Note: The image on the listing below is inaccurate at time of writing. It shows a more expensive set with a wooden box and more cutters. What you are buying matches the image above with a leather tool roll.

Professional grade: Pfeil linocut carving tools

Pfeil palm linoleum carving tools
Photo credit: Pfeil

Rather than recommending a boxed set of Pfeil carving tools (although this one is decent if you can afford it), I’m going to recommend purchasing a few specific individual cutters instead.

Why?

Because they’re expensive! To get the most for your money, you should only pick up the cutters you use the most. Before we get into that though, here’s a bit of background on Pfeil tools, but you can learn more in the article below.

Learn more: Pfeil carving and lino cutting tools: A buyer’s guide

Pfeil carving tools: Are they worth it?

There’s no doubt that Pfeil tools are expensive, but they’re more than worth it for professional artists who do relief carvings.

They come sharp out of the box and are easy to maintain over years of use. Pfeil carving tools also come with individual handles, so you don’t have to spend time swapping out cutters while you work.

Pfeil carving tools come with two handle types: mallet and palm. The mallet handles are longer and designed to be used with a mallet on harder materials like wood.

For linocut, you want to buy Pfeil palm carving tools. The rounded handles offer incredible control for delicate edges, but also a comfortable grip for digging out large waste areas.

Best Pfeil linocut carving tools

Pfeil set of 12 linoleum and block cutters
Photo credit: Pfeil

If you can afford to spend well over $300 on a full set of 12 Pfeil carving tools, more power to you. But for the rest of us, you can absolutely get by with three or four specific tools.

Without getting into deep explanations of Pfeil’s naming system, what I’d recommend starting with is a V cutter, a U cutter, and a wider gouge tool. Depending on the work, you may also want to consider a second V or U cutter.

Note that all links below include a 10% discount on your first purchase, which is a great way to ease the pain on your wallet!

Best Pfeil V cutters: L 12/1 and L 12/4

V cutters are the real workhorses for most linocut artists. They can be used for basic outlines, textures, detail cuts, and more. They also cut equally well on both sides of the blade, making them extremely versatile.

This makes it the ideal choice for the first purchase for most linocut artists. There are two on offer, but I would recommend the smaller L 12/1 cutter over the larger L 12/4.

You generally don’t need such deep cuts unless you plan on working with wood or other materials.

Best Pfeil U cutters: L 11/3 and L 11/1

Next up is another versatile tool: U cutters. These are yet another versatile option, allowing both quick removal of larger areas and detailed cleanup after using smaller cutters.

Here there are two great choices, and both will serve you well. The first is the L 11/3, which is a Pfeil’s medium-sized U cutter. It’s small enough for detailed work, but big enough for speedy removal. This one pairs well with the smaller L 12/1 mentioned above.

The other is the smaller L 11/1. It provides even more detail than the L 11/3, and can be used effectively as an outlining tool with some practice. Don’t bother with the L 11/.5, it’s simply too small to be useful in most cases.

Best Pfeil gouges: L 5/8 and L 9/5

The final essential Pfeil carving tool is a gouge, and I’ve included two distinct options.

The L 5/8 is a wide, shallow gouge that’s perfect for clearing out large areas. This also flattens any remaining peaks so they’re less likely to mistakenly get inked and ruin your prints.

If you want a multipurpose gouge that can also cut some interesting textures, the L 9/5 is another solid choice. It’s more of a U cutter than a true gouge, but it can still scoop out large areas with ease.


Best linoleum blocks for printmaking

Now that you have a great linoleum cutter, you need to find the right material to cut into. Nowadays there is a variety of linoleum (and rubber) blocks for printmaking, catering to both beginners and experts.

I’ve broken down the most popular types of blocks below, and who they are ideal for. Also, remember to warm up your lino before you start cutting!

Beginner’s choice: Speedball Speedy Carve blocks

Speedball speedy carve lino blocks

Pros

  • Very easy to carve
  • Hold detail well
  • Come in many sizes
  • Ideal for beginners

Cons

  • Thin and flexible
  • Not ideal for fabric prints

These pink Speedy Carve blocks from Speedball are an incredibly popular choice, and for good reason. They are soft and easy to carve, but still hold detail much better than similarly priced blocks.

The only downside is that they are fairly thin, so you may struggle to print on fabrics or other materials. For standard paper printmaking though, they always get the job done.

Grab these if you’re a beginner or just want to have an easy time creating block prints. They’re available in a variety of sizes, and you can get 10% off your purchase at the link below.

Traditional choice: Backed gray linoleum block

Traditional linoleum block Speedball Red Baron Battleship

Pros

  • Holds detail very well
  • Readily available everywhere
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Somewhat difficult to carve
  • Requires practice
  • May dry out over time

While softcut materials are relatively new (and not actually made of linoleum), traditional linoleum blocks for printmaking are still a popular material for linocut prints. It’s also the only material that enables the “flick” technique of material removal.

They typically come in a gray finish with a fabric backing, and are available in many sizes from a variety of manufacturers. You can even buy it by the roll and cut it yourself.

The downside is that they are significantly more difficult to cut. You can still cut and print with them by hand, but it will take some practice to get right.

You can count on these blocks to hold every detail without putting too much of a dent in your wallet.

Softcut alternative: Japanese vinyl

Japanese relief printing vinyl block

Pros

  • Easy to see where you’ve cut
  • Very easy to carve
  • Doesn’t break down

Cons

  • More difficult to source

Japanese relief vinyl isn’t very popular in the West, but it’s a great alternative to other softcut materials. Since it’s made from vinyl, you don’t have to worry as much about warming it up or deterioration over time.

The core of the block is a deep black, so it’s very easy to see where you’ve carved. They also take markings from pencils, pens, or carbon paper very well. Many blocks are also double-sided, so you can carve on either side (or both).

In the past these were difficult to come by, but nowadays they can be purchased at many specialty printing and art shops. If you’ve never used them, click the link below to give them a shot and get 10% off your purchase!


Best brayers/ink rollers

One indispensable but often overlooked lino printing tool is the brayer (or ink roller). These simple tools are only used to transfer ink to your carvings, but knowing which one to buy can be tricky.

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There are basically two main categories of brayers: cheap, soft rubber brayers and expensive, hard rubber brayers. Both have their advantages, so let’s get into it.

Cheap and cheerful: Soft rubber brayers

Speedball lino printing brayers

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Readily available everywhere
  • Three standard sizes
  • Ideal for stamps and small prints

Cons

  • Possible uneven inking
  • Handles prone to breaking
  • No larger sizes available

If you are new to linocut and don’t want to spent a lot of money on tools, these are the ink rollers you’ll get. In fact, all of the lino cutting kits for beginners in the first section include a soft rubber brayer of some size.

They typically come in 2-inch, 4-inch, and 6-inch sizes, so they’re a great choice for smaller prints and stamps.

It doesn’t matter too much which brand you get, but both Speedball and Essdee make good options. Speedball’s ink rollers tend to be a bit better, but are also more expensive. Check prices for both below (with a 10% discount).

The professional’s choice: Japanese hard rubber ink rollers

Japanese hard rubber brayer

Pros

  • Even ink application
  • Easy to clean
  • Large sizes available
  • Ideal for large linocut prints

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Harder to find

After a few months of using cheap soft rubber brayers, you’ll likely start to see the limitations. They don’t always apply an even layer of ink, they only come in a few sizes, and they are prone to breaking.

If you want to start taking your printmaking more seriously or consider selling your work, you should upgrade to a better brayer. And the best brayers are Japanese hard rubber ink rollers.

They still come in several sizes, but for linocut you should get one larger than the 6-inch limit mentioned above. I recommend this 210mm (~8.2 inch) roller, which also has a bigger diameter roller to pick up more ink. This will lead to better, more even coverage.

The rubber part is also significantly thicker, which helps when working on slightly uneven surfaces. The handle also unscrews to make cleanup an absolute breeze.

Japanese brayers aren’t cheap, but if you clean them properly they will last you a lifetime. Click the link below to get 10% off your first purchase.


Best ink for linocut prints

No matter how great your roller is, you won’t get great prints unless you buy a good, quality ink. The good news is that quality ink is very easy to come by, and there are tons of colors to choose from.

I’ve listed three of the best inks to add to your collection of lino cutting tools below.

Easy-to-find choice: Speedball Professional Relief Ink

Speedball professional relief ink black

This isn’t the first time I’m mentioning Speedball in this article, so by now you should know that it’s one of the most trusted brands in block printing. The same is also true when it comes to inks.

Speedball offers a cheaper brand of inks that typically comes in smaller tubes (which can be found in this starter kit), but if you want better results spend a bit more on the Professional Relief Ink line.

It features 10+ ink colors, all of which can be mixed and matched to create new colors. Click the link to see the full lineup, or just pick up a jar of Supergraphic Black to get started.

Non-toxic choice: Caligo Safe Wash Relief Ink

Caligo Safe Wash Relief printmaking inks

Inking can be a sticky mess, but it doesn’t have to be bad for your health or the environment.

These oil-based printmaking inks are made from polymerized vegetable oil and artist-quality pigments, so they’re easy to clean up with just soap and water. Keep those nasty solvents out of your home studio!

There are many, many colors available, and you can buy them in 75, 250, or 500ml quantities. The same company (Cranfield) also makes traditional linseed oil-based ink, but swing for the Caligo line if you can.

Soy-based joy: Akua Intaglio Inks

Akua Intaglio printmaking ink

Although they were initially developed for intaglio printing, Akua Intaglio Inks are a great option for relief prints, as well.

Like the option above, these soy-based inks are non-toxic and clean up with just soap and water. Since it has no added drying element, it has a longer working time than most other inks.

These inks come in a wide variety of colors (including four different blacks) and two sizes. Check out the full list of colors at the link below, or grab the seven-piece starter set to try them out right away.


Best paper for lino prints

When it comes to the best paper for lino prints, personal preference plays a strong role. Each paper has its own personality and characteristics, so the best thing to do is try a few and find one you like.

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To help you get started, I’ve listed a few of my favorite brands below. Keep in mind that lightweight options are most suitable for hand printing, so lean towards those if you don’t have access to a press.

Zerkall printing paper

Zerkall printing paper

German-made Zerkall papers are the perfect mix of smoothness and texture, adding a touch of character to your prints without overpowering the imagery.

They’re available from 120 gsm to 225 gsm, so they’re a great choice for hand-printers.

Awagami Washi Paper

Awagami Washi Japanese Paper

Paper has played a significant role in Japanese culture for well over a thousand years, and these “washi” papers are a very popular choice for printmakers today.

These lightweight sheets are made from natural fibers like kozo, gampi, bamboo, and cotton, and no two sheets are ever alike. Grab a 20-sheet sampler pack (2 of each type of sheet) at the link below.

Somerset printing papers

Somerset paper

Somerset is a popular brand among printmakers, offering a smooth surface with no imperfections. This makes them a great choice for those who don’t want any extra character in the paper itself.

These papers are all quite thick at 250 gsm or more, so be aware that these are better suited for use with a press. These are truly premium sheets, and carry a price to match.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge fine art papers

The last brand of paper I’d like to mention is Stonehenge, which once again have a smooth surface free from character.

However, they come in a variety of colors, which is one way to add character to your prints. A personal favorite is black, which looks incredible with a gold-colored ink.


Other useful lino cutting tools

There are countless other lino cutting tools that you might want to pick up at some point, but I’ll list a few below. Most of these aren’t essential, but can improve your prints or make the experience more enjoyable.

  • Baren: Some lino cutting tool kits come with a cheap baren and you can get by with a spoon for a while, but upgrading to an inexpensive Japanese bamboo baren is the next best thing to a full-fledged press.
  • Carbon transfer paper: Transfering your work onto a lino block doesn’t have to be complicated! This pack of 10 A3 sheets of carbon paper will last you a very long time.
  • Cutting mat: Self-healing cutting mats are great if you don’t want to damage your work surface. They come in many sizes, so get the biggest one that fits in your workspace.
  • Non-slip fabric: Non-slip surfaces are a great alternative to a bench hook for carving (in fact I prefer them). They can also prevent things from moving or rolling off the table while inking, and are an inexpensive addition to your stock of lino cutting tools.
  • Palette knife: These are great for getting that last dollop of ink out of the tub and warming it up before rolling. They’re also cheap and come in a wide variety of sizes, but really any will work.

That’s it for this list of essential printmaking tools for linoleum cut prints! Do you have any favorite lino carving tools, blocks, inks, or other products? Let everyone know in the comments below!

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