Five Best Linocut Shading Techniques

Five Best Linocut Shading Techniques

Linocut and its parent art form, woodcut, have been around far longer than the pandemic. Linocut was first developed in the mid-1800sOpens in a new tab., but woodcut printing was first created and used in China and JapanOpens in a new tab. in the seventh and eighth centuries, respectively. Due to the method of printingOpens in a new tab., special techniques need to be used to create specific effects, like shading.

Here are five of the best linocut shading techniques:

  1. Cross hatching.
  2. Creating Texture.
  3. Bokashi Techniques.
  4. Using Color.
  5. Applying shade freehand after printing.

Are you interested in learning how to shade your linocut prints? Continue reading for an overview of our Five Best Linocut Shading Techniques:

A Brief Overview of Linocut

For those just jumping into the world of block printing, it’s helpful to understand what linocut is so you can understand the various shading techniques.

The original method of block printing used woodblocks. The process nowadays is very much the same, but many people find linocut easier to work with and carve. The artist carves a design into the linoleum, then rolls on a coat of ink. The block is used similarly to a large stamp, except the paper is pressed on top of the carving. This method then creates a mirror image on the paper.

Now that you know the process, it may be easy to see why creating variations of light and dark might be tricky. Luckily, artists have explored different methods for this particular medium over the centuries.

Cross Hatching

Cross hatching is a method used in many different types of art. This method involves using a series of parallel and intersecting lines Opens in a new create shadow. Usually, the density of these lines creates a darker shadow. When cross hatching while sketching, the white, open space creates the look of light, while the dark lines create shadow. When these lines are close together, there is less white space, and the shadow looks darker. 

However, in block printing, the more lines there are, the lighter the area will beOpens in a new tab.. Each line carved is a space the ink doesn’t penetrate. As a result, those lines create white space within the image when the piece is printed.

The difference between cross hatching for drawing and cross hatching for printing is important to remember when sketching out the piece beforehand. Many of us are used to cross hatching for shadow, but everything is the opposite when creating an outline for linocutting. 

Creating Texture

There are many reasons artists choose to add textureOpens in a new tab. to their linocuts. Texture can make a piece more realistic or more interesting. In many cases, texture can also be used to create shading.

Remember, the raised areas are the areas that will be inked, areas that will remain white. The more you carve out, the more white space there will be. It’s very similar to the idea of cross hatching, but creating texture doesn’t have to be done by cross hatching. You can use texture to add dimension to things like animal fur, tree bark, blades of grass, and ripples on the water.

Bokashi Techniques

Bokashi is a technique developed in Japan during the 19th century to create gradientsOpens in a new tab. in block printing. This can be done in two ways: the fukibokashi method involves applying gradation directly to the block, while the itabokashi method is done by hand.


Another term for fuki-bokashi is “rag shadingOpens in a new tab.” because rags are often used to create this effect. However, the key to fuki-bokashi is actually the water on the rag rather than the rag itself. To create this effect, a damp rag is brushed over the area that is meant to be lighter. Next, a minimal amount of pigment is applied to the area. The water creates a blurring effect with the ink, allowing it to blend softly with the pigment around it.

This technique can also be done by using the rag to wipe awayOpens in a new tab. some of the pigment in the areas you are trying to make lighter. Whatever methods you use, know that fuki-bokashi is impossible to replicate. Every print that you do will be slightly different.


Another bokashi method, itabokashi, is done to the block itself rather than with ink. The technique is accomplished by first carving the area slightly larger than you want it to be, then using sandpaper or a knife to carefully wear down the edges. The sandpaper will create more of a gradual effect, but the ink may not stick to the area you have sanded down, so you may need to finish with a knife.

Like fuki-bokashi, itabokashi creates a blurring effect, allowing one area to blend into another.

Using Color

Adding more than one color to your print can also allow you to create shading. By using variations of different colors, you can add dimension and create the effect of light and depth. 

There are many ways to add more than one colorOpens in a new tab. to your block print. In multiblock printing, separate blocks are created for each area of color, and each block is applied separately. 

Reduction printing is a technique where the artist uses the same blockOpens in a new tab. for all colors. The artist carves the first layer, applies the color, and prints. Then the artist wipes the block clean and carvesOpens in a new tab. the next color layer, applies that color, and prints, continuing until all layers are completed. 

Using the jigsaw method, the artist carves their block and then cuts it into pieces. Each piece is colored separately before the image is reassembled for printing. 

The rainbow roll technique is a lot like it sounds. The roller is loaded with more than one color, so it produces multiple colors when rolled onto the block.

Applying Shade Freehand After Printing

You always have the option of going back over the print and making adjustments. Shading can be done by adding darker or lighter shades to an area to create shadow. While not necessarily an ideal method, it’s an option for small or particularly tricky areas. Freehand shading can also give you more control over the final piece.

Laura BoswellOpens in a new tab.

Final Words

When it comes to linocut and other types of block printing, there are several methods you can use to create shading. Cross hatching or creating texture is an excellent way to lighten or darken an area. Trying one of the bokashi techniques from Japan allows you to create a gradient effect with your ink. Using different colors and shades may allow you to achieve a variety of depth and light.

Finally, if all else fails, going in and freehanding will allow you to achieve the results you desire.


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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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