Is Linocut Eco-Friendly? 3 Things To Know

Linocut — or a woodcut-making technique that makes use of linoleum — is a popular way to make art that dates back at least 100 yearsOpens in a new tab.. If you’re a skilled enough artist to make use of this technique, you can produce works that won’t look out of place in a history of art book. (I mean that as a compliment, by the way: Have you seen pretty much anything by artists from hundreds of years ago?).

However, there’s an ongoing debate on the eco-friendliness of linocut (or the lack thereof, I’m afraid). If you look up information on whether linocut is eco-friendly online, you either won’t find much or you’ll find contradicting information on the subject. To be fair, I think it’s a little bit of both.  

Is Linocut Eco-Friendly? 3 Things To Know

Linocut may not be eco-friendly since the ink and materials used are not biodegradable, and release harmful chemicals into the environment when they are used and cleaned. However, you can make your linocutting more eco-friendly by using vegetable ink and reusing and recycling materials. 

Read on for an in-depth answer to the question “Is linocut eco-friendly? 3 Things to know.” I’ll also discuss why linocut is environmentally friendly on its own, and what you can do to make linocut more eco-friendly. 

How Linocut Harms the Environment

While linocut is a fun and versatile method to make prints, there are a few ways it can harm the environment.

The Process of Making Linocut Releases Harmful Chemicals

The ink used for linocut releases hazardous chemicals into the air. Specifically, they release VOCs, which have adverse health effects. That means the more often you are doing linocut prints, and the more ink you use, the more VOCs are released into the airOpens in a new tab..

If you’re always working in an enclosed studio, wear protective gear or open windows so the harm from VOCs is kept to a minimum. Better yet, make sure the chemicals you use are VOC-free.

Cutting and Cleaning Linocut Increases Waste

As I mentioned earlier, the ink coming off your materials as you clean can harm the environment. Also, the scraps and material containers you’re left with after making linocuts can lower the eco-friendliness of the otherwise popular printing technique.

In this Youtube video from Handprinted, Holly from Handprinted explains the difference between water-based and oil-based ink, including which is easier to wash and clean up without chemicals.

HandprintedOpens in a new tab.

Linocut Materials Are Not Biodegradable

Even the newest linocut inks are not biodegradable. You also can’t compost the materials used for linocut unless they’re real lino sheets. The latter can be hard to find, and, if you do find them, can bore a big hole through your wallet. 

What Can Make Linocut Eco-Friendly?

If you ask different artists about their opinions on linocut, you’ll get varied answers. Some of them will say that it is, while others will vehemently argue otherwise. As for me, I think there’s merit to both sides of the argument. 

Linocut is eco-friendly on its own. It’s made from materials that can biodegrade and be recycled easily. But if paired with harmful inks that release VOCs, the process of linocut printing can neutralize the environmental benefits of using linocut.

Of course, you don’t want to swear off of linocut printing entirely. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a popular technique, and for good reason: Linocut prints are spectacular when made by skilled hands. 

How To Make Linocut More Eco-Friendly

Although linocut printing can harm the environment, there are ways you can make it more eco-friendly. Some of these ways include using eco-friendly ink, planning out your linocut projects, recycling and reusing anything you can, and using linocut substitutes. 

Use Eco-Friendly Cleaning Ink

First, there are ways you can be more eco-friendly when you clean up from linocut. If you can find vegetable and VOC-free ink, you’re less likely to make linocut less eco-friendly. It’s worth noting that vegetable inks can make your art pop more by increasing its brightnessOpens in a new tab..

For example, you can buy the Speedball Water-Soluble Block Printing InkOpens in a new tab. (available on The consistency ensures that you get great results every time, and it’s also easy to clean.

Speedball Water-Soluble Block Printing Ink, 8-Ounce Jar, Black
Opens in a new tab.
729 Reviews
Speedball Water-Soluble Block Printing Ink, 8-Ounce Jar, Black Opens in a new tab.
  • PERFECT FOR THE HOME STUDIO OR CLASSROOM - Inks print bold color and dry to a rich, satiny finish
  • CREATE GORGEOUS PRINTS - Great for printing on paper or cardboard with linoleum, wood or soft block...
  • GROUND AND MILLED TO THE PERFECT CONSISTENCY – Ink has a tack that ensures even coverage and...

Last update on 2024-04-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Plan Your Work in Advance

When you plan your work in advance, you’re less likely to waste any materials. Although it’s not always a realistic option (since, for example, you may change your mind about a project at the last mind), it’s an essential step if you want to cut your carbon footprint. 

Plan out your materials, and see what you already have and what you can reuse from old projects. Check what you need for other projects and see if there are any materials that you can use for your current and upcoming works. 

If you need to buy new materials, only get as much as you need so you don’t have extra bits going to waste. Alternatively, design your projects in such a way that they’ll use up as much of the planned materials as possible. 

Recycle Materials

When you’re done using a material, there are leftovers, and you’re sure you won’t be able to use it in a future project, do your best to recycle it. For example, if you still have scraps leftover from a previous piece, you may be able to incorporate them into future works and create something interesting. 

Use Linocut Substitutes

If you’re leery of linocut for any reason (whether it’s because of the cost or because you have reservations about its eco-friendliness), consider using alternatives. Basically, anything that can function as a printing block should work — like cardboard, wood, and felt.

Final Words

Unfortunately, some parts of linocut printing are not eco-friendly. These include the harmful chemicals in the ink and the lack of biodegradable materials. 

But, there are some ways you can be diligent when you are doing linocut that can help make the process better for the environment. You can be more eco-friendly by using vegetable and VOC-free ink, reusing and recycling your materials, planning out your projects in advance so you only use what you need, and using linocut substitutes. 

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

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