As much as I love working in Illustrator and Photoshop, sometimes there’s nothing better than getting my hands dirty with some crafts and linocut printing is my favourite. Carving a design into the lino is incredibly relaxing and then seeing how the final prints turn out is so much fun.
My latest linocut is a Christmas card inspired by my favourite festive song, “Ring out, Solstice Bells” by Jethro Tull (printed cards are available now in my Etsy shop, by the way!) Today we’re going behind the scenes to show you how I created it and you can use the same process to design and print your own unique Christmas cards.
Before we get started, here’s the equipment you’ll need:
- Paper and pencils or pens
- Lino, cut to A6 (105x148mm)
- Lino carving tools (a fine v-gouge and a medium u-gouge)
- Tracing paper
- Ink roller
- Ink tray or a piece of glass/acrylic/acetate to roll out ink on
- Ink (I like water–based ink, as it dries quicker and is good for beginners)
- Blank A6 cards
1. Get sketching
All my designs and illustrations start as a sketch. Initial sketches are usually really quick and rough, just to get the basic idea and layout down, and then I’ll refine it to sort out the details. As this card is mainly typographic though, a rough layout is fine.
So grab some paper and pencils/pens and sketch until you’ve got an idea you’re happy with.
2. Create a template
Next, in Illustrator, I created a new document at 105x148mm, the size of the final print. If you don’t already have Illustrator, try Inkscape as it’s free to download.
Using the pen tool I drew the outline of a bell, taking up most of the page to give the text inside it plenty of room.
Tip: If you want a perfectly symmetrical shape, draw one half, copy and flip it, then join the two halves together.
Then I chose a nice font (in this case it’s Alek Regular as the “S” fit with my sketch and the decorative “t” is lovely!) and arranged the words roughly within the bell, resizing and rotating each one to fit the space.
Although the font was really close to the image I had in mind, I still wanted to tweak it so I printed out the template and then traced over it, editing some of the letters. (Feel free to skip this bit though if you’re happy with the layout you get on screen.) I then added some stars around the words for a bit of decoration.
3. Trace it onto your lino
Next I used some tracing paper to transfer the design to the lino. The design goes onto the lino in reverse so that when it’s printed, it prints the right way round. I then went over the pencil lines in marker pen, which won’t rub off as I carve the lino.
4. Start cutting the lino
Now for my favourite bit! I used a really fine v-gouge to carve out the letters, then the outline of the bell. It’s easier to work out from the centre like this.
Tip: Lino cutting tools are really sharp so lay your lino on a non-slip cutting mat or a board to protect your table/work surface. And always cut away from yourself, keeping your other hand out of the way – if the gouge slips you don’t want it gouging your hand!
Then I used a medium–sized u-gouge to carve away the background. After cutting away a layer of the background I went over it again lightly to smooth out most of the ridges. With some designs it’s nice to have texture in the background but I didn’t want too much in this one.
5. Time to print
Now it’s time to print the design. It’s good to do a test print on some scrap paper first to check the design. Then, if there are any bits that need to be tidied up you haven’t wasted one of your blank cards.
Roll out a little ink onto the tray and work it until it’s smooth – if the roller makes a hissing sound it’s good but if it sounds more like velcro then you’ve probably got a wee bit too much ink there.
Roll the ink over the lino and then lay the paper over it. I use a small printing press to make the print, but you don’t need one – use the back of a spoon to rub all over the design and transfer the ink to the paper. Then smile (hopefully) as you reveal the finished print!
Leave your prints to dry for at least a day and then your cards are ready to use.
It would be awesome to see what you come up with so why not take a photo of your prints and post a link to it in the comments here or over on my Facebook page. Happy printing!
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