How To Know Which Side of Lino You Need To Carve

You went down a YouTube rabbit hole and came across incredibly satisfying videos of linocut, didn’t you? No matter how easy those online creators make it seem, this art form may not be straightforward if you are unfamiliar with printmaking techniques.

Linocut printing is a printing technique that produces works of incredible depth and complexity. However, it is easy to know which side of a lino sheet will hold the ink for printing by feel.

You’ll know which side of lino you need to carve by its smooth texture. The other side is usually covered by a backing made of hessian or other fibrous material. This backing is far too rough to carve or to hold any ink.

Let’s find out how to prepare lino for carving, what tools you will need, and the correct techniques and safety precautions to keep you from injuries.

Know Which Type of Lino You Are Using

Also known as battleship gray lino, traditional artist linoleum is somewhat rubbery to the touch and smells a little like linseed oil. As the name suggests, it is a rather dull gray, but you can also find it in a gold-like ochre hue.

Lino usually has a tan-colored hessian or jute backing as support. The backing feels rough to touch, while the lino is smooth and somewhat flexible. The soft panel is the side of the lino sheet you need to carve.

Things become a little more complicated if you are working with non-traditional lino. These PVC or vinyl print materials include:

  • soft-cut vinyl
  • Speedy-Carve
  • Japanese vinyl

You can even carve a type of transparent vinyl that has a similar consistency to traditional artist lino.

Let’s find out what these modern alternatives are and which are more appropriate for your print project.

Choosing A Lino

Traditional artist lino is made of linseed oil, natural rosin, wood flour, and limestone mixed into a paste or cement and stretched out onto a roll of jute or hessian backing. If you cannot get hold of traditional lino, you might consider flooring material. 

However, this is not recommended because flooring undergoes additional treatment with chemicals that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when you carve the lino plate.

VIDEO. This Forbo video explains in great detail how this linoleum flooring is manufactured. WATCH – Marmoleum – How It’s Made | Forbo Flooring Systems

Forbo Flooring Systems

Art print lino can cure and toughen up if stored incorrectly, so some people choose flooring lino because it’s soft and easier to carve. However, that choice comes with one caveat: flooring lino does produce prints that decrease in quality over time and use because it doesn’t accept ink very well. 

While insoluble, traditional lino is fully biodegradable. You can dispose of offcuts in the compost or by incineration. This isn’t possible for flooring lino offcuts or the lino alternatives below.

  • Soft-cut. Soft-cut is usually beige, with one matte side and one glossy side. It offers a soft carve while sustaining quite a bit of pressure. You carve soft-cut on the glossy side. 
  • Speedy-Carve. You’ll recognize Speedy Carve by its bright pink color and thicker, spongy texture. It is engineered for a softer carving experience and more delicate detail work. You can carve Speedy-Carve on both sides of the sheet. 
  • Japanese Vinyl. Also known as relief printing vinyl, Japanese vinyl is softer and easier to carve than traditional lino. It is blue on one side and green on the other, and a black inner core is revealed when you cut either side of a sheet.

Materials You Need To Carve and Print Lino

Now that you have some lino plates, you will need these tools to bring your design to the surface: 

  • carving tools
  • a roller
  • relief printing ink
  • some printing paper

Linocut is a variant of woodcut, so you can use regular woodcutting tools. A wide range of tools is available, no matter your experience level or budget. You can try a single plastic handle with interchangeable blades or invest in an intricate twelve-piece set made in Japan. 

Choose the tools with the most comfortable grip for you. If you work on a time-consuming carving, you’ll want to avoid cramps or injuries. Also, remember that good-quality tools can be sharpened and used for a long time.

Next, you’ll need a roller or a brayer. It comes in different widths ranging from 50 to 200 mm (1.9 to 7.8 in.). Your roller’s rigidity, width, and circumference will affect how it accepts ink and loads it onto the lino.

Use a more rigid roller to avoid loading ink in the lino plate’s grooved sections—also known as chatter or noise. A softer roller will load ink more evenly onto the lino, and a larger brayer will put down more ink at each pass.

VIDEO – You’ll want to use relief printing ink if you want crisper prints. You might not get the desired results if you use acrylic paint like Jazza in this video: WATCH – | Try BLOCK PRINTING: Cutting Lino into Art Stamps!


Linocut ink can be water-based or oil-based. Your choice depends on the project you have in mind. Oil-based inks take longer to dry than water-based printing inks. You’ll need to work much faster and efficiently with water-based inks. 

Oil-based inks can produce prints with a gloss or sheen. There are oil-based lino inks that are water-washable for easier cleaning.

How to Carve Lino

You’ve chosen the lino, have your tools in order, and it is time to get carving. 

It’s a good idea to use a bench hook to prevent injury if your blade slips while you are carving. It will also protect the surface on which you are carving the lino. The Jack Richeson Lino Block Stop from is large enough to be used as an inking surface and is easy to clean.

Jack Richeson Large Metal Lino Block Stop and Ink Plate 12-1/2 X 14-1/2, 12-1/2' x 14-1/2'
17 Reviews
Jack Richeson Large Metal Lino Block Stop and Ink Plate 12-1/2 X 14-1/2, 12-1/2" x 14-1/2"
  • 12-1/2 X 14-1/2 Plate Size
  • Makes Cutting Into Lino Blocks Safer
  • Can Also Be Used As An Inking Surface

Last update on 2022-09-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Take your time as you carve. Hold the carving tool firmly in your dominant hand, and use your other hand to guide the blade and rotate the lino plate. 

VIDEO – An art teacher offers a fun demonstration in this video: WATCH – Linoleum Carving 101 (Basics)

Bethany Thiele, Art Teacher

Final Words

Practice makes perfect, so improve your carving techniques and get familiar with each blade. Making lino is a bit like cooking with natural ingredients—the proof is in this tongue-in-cheek video.

WATCH – Forbo Flooring Systems – Making linoleum is like xooking with natural ingredients

Forbo Flooring Systems

Bring that natural element into your printmaking and work with traditional artist lino. It will make your art practice as sustainable as your creations.


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Ines is a self-taught artist based in the UK. Originally from Caracas, she has dabbled in the world of arts and crafts in a diversity of ways participating in city intervention projects, sustainable practices’ open exhibitions, and her illustrations being featured in anniversary editions of literary magazines.

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