Here at Handprinted we are always getting asked to explain the difference between all the lino relief blocks available. It can be very confusing knowing
whether to choose traditional lino or try an alternative such as Softcut or Vinyl.
To help you decide on the right material for you, we’ve tested five different blocks in a variety of ways such as cutting fine lines and ink application
and posted our findings below. At the bottom of the page we’ve summarised each material to help you make an informed choice.
Traditional Lino –
hessian backed grey lino
Softcut – a softer, smooth rubber-like material
Easy Carve –
dark grey, soft carving material
Transparent Block – a see-through plastic carving material
Japanese Vinyl – double sided material that is blue on one side, green on the other and black in the middle
All of the blocks were fresh and tested with our versatile Japanese Cutting Tools which are inexpensive and cut very well.
Cutting Fine Lines
We used the V tool from our set to test how easy it was to cut very fine lines into the blocks.
Traditional Lino – When pressing fairly firmly a very fine line can be achieved by skimming the V tool across the surface
Softcut –Very easy to cut fine lines with less pressure needed than on lino
Easy Carve –As with softcut, very fine lines achieved easily
Transparent Block – Very fine lines can be achieved but are a little harder to control as more pressure is needed
Japanese Vinyl – Very fine lines can be carved easily but are too shallow to reach the black middle layer and so are not as clear to see
Traditional Lino – Smooth curves can be achieved but it’s a little tricky and needs practice
Softcut – Easy to cut, smooth curves, steeper curves can become a little jagged
Easy Carve – As with Softcut, curves are easy to cut but steeper curves can become a little jagged
Transparent Block – Stiffer to cut a curve and slightly harder to control
Japanese Vinyl – As with Softcut and Easy Carve, curves are easy to cut but steep curves can come out a little jagged if rushing!
The large, shallow U tool was used to clear a larger area of the blocks.
Traditional Lino – Easy to clear large areas
Softcut – Easy to clear but with a little bit of stretch when pushing the tools
Easy Carve – Easy to clear
Transparent Block – More pressure needed and a little slippy but clears well
Japanese Vinyl – Easy to clean and the black middle layer makes it very easy to see where you have cut deep enough
With the large U tool we carved to the edges of the materials to see how they behaved.
Traditional Lino – Easy to control when carving edges and close to the edge with a little pressure
Softcut – Easy to carve to the edges with less pressure but the slight stretch leaves a slightly raised edge that needs to be cut
Easy Carve – Easy and controlled to cut to the edges
Transparent Block – Stiffer and a little harder to control, left a slight raised edge as with the Softcut
Japanese Vinyl – Easy to cut to the edges, clear to see and controllable with not too much pressure needed
Drawing your Design
We tested three ways of drawing a design onto the blocks: with a white pencil, an HB pencil and a Sharpie permanent marker.
Traditional Lino – Can see both white pencil and HB pencil clearly
Softcut – Cannot see the white pencil, can see the HB pencil softly
Easy Carve – Can see both pencils in the right light
Transparent Block – Neither show
Japanese Vinyl – HB pencil shows, white pencil does not
Sharpie permanent marker can be used on any of the materials. The pen must be left to dry for a few seconds or it may smudge. It is worth noting that the
inside of the Japanese Vinyl is black so if using a black pen to mark a drawing, it may be a little confusing to see where you have cut. Another colour
would be better.
Transfer Paper or carbon paper can also be used to transfer a design. This works extremely well on Traditional Lino and quite well on Vinyl. The
design can be seen slightly on Transparent Block but not at all on Softcut or Easy Carve.
Cutting with a Scalpel
Sometimes you need to trim a block down to the correct size or shape. We tested how easy this was to do on each of the blocks with a scalpel.
Traditional Lino – 7 cuts needed to get through the block with quite a bit of pressure but easy to control
Softcut – Easy to cut in only 2 cuts
Easy Carve – Easy to cut in 4 cuts
Transparent Block – Harder to cut a straight line, 5 cuts needed
Japanese Vinyl – Harder to cut straight, 6 cuts needed
We tested each of the blocks for ink application using Cranfield Water-Based Inks.
All of the blocks covered easily in an even layer of ink with no separation or slippage.
All Five Materials Overall
Traditional Lino – pleasing
to cut, lovely detail and very controllable. Easy to draw onto with white pencil, HB, pen or transfer paper. A little more pressure is needed when
cutting, especially when the lino is very cold. Fresh lino is a lot better than old lino which will dry out and become crumbly. The edges snap off
when the cutting tool is flicked upwards to create a lovely edge to your marks. This seems unique to lino – when carving other materials, the tool
needs to be raised up through the surface to end your marks.
Softcut – Very
easy to carve with less pressure needed. Good for those with a little less strength or for younger printmakers. There’s a little bit of stretch when
cutting which can affect the edges slightly but does not crumble. Carve on the smooth side not the rough.
Easy Carve – Pleasing
to carve with less pressure needed than with traditional lino but a little more than with Softcut. Similar to Softcut with no crumble but with less
Transparent Block – A
little firmer to cut and slightly harder to control. It can be tricky to see where you have carved but the transparent quality of this material is
really useful when registering prints and when tracing designs onto the block. Brilliant for multi-layered prints but not as pleasing to carve as the
other materials. Does not crumble.
Japanese Vinyl – Pleasing
to carve with slightly less pressure needed than with traditional lino. Does not crumble. Either side can be used (the blue or the green). Potentially
both sides can be used for a multi-layered print as long as large areas do not need to be cleared as they may affect the pressure. The black middle
layer is very useful as it allows you to see where you have carved (as long as you cut deep enough!)