Relief Printmaking: My First Attempt, Reasons for Trying and my Low(ish) Start-up Costs.

relief printing


Learning How To Do My First Relief Print.

 Quick links to areas in the post:
My Shopping List.
The Pfeil Chart
How to Sharpen your Tools.
How to Prepare the Paper For Printing
The 4 Types of Printing.
Go to Maarit's videos.
Short video of my first attempt.


I recently decided to try my hand at relief print making. I have thought about doing this a number of times but I always felt that I would need access to expensive equipment to do the job properly.


I watched a few YouTube videos of people printing from home and frankly thought they were not the result I had hoped for.

At this point, I didn’t even know what to begin with in terms of screen printing, etching, block printing, lithography etc..So I forgot about it for a while and just carried on with my painting and drawing.


The idea returned to me this year and so I took another look at printmaking. My research mainly revolved around which method was the easiest to setup that still allowed for a fairly complex drawing.


If you don’t know, there are 4 main types of printing

Relief printing – carving a relief into a block of wood or in my case Linoleum (which is essentially an oily cork substance that is very soft and easy to carve). Inking the raised areas (relief) and pressing onto paper or fabrics.

Intaglio – Incising a wax coating that covers a metal sheet, burning away the scratched areas with acid and then inking the impression for printing.

Lithography – drawing on a smooth surface such as a stone and using oily substances to press the image to paper. (offset lithography is very different and is the mass produced type for posters and merchandise etc..)

Silk screen ( or Serigraphy) - Pulling ink through a fine mesh (screen) onto a variety of surfaces. The areas of the screen that are blocked, prevent the ink from getting through and what is left gives the image.


Here is a link to more detailed descriptions of the different types of printing:


I settled on the idea of linoleum. It seemed pretty straight forward from a technical point of view and didn’t seem to require too much setup, space and time.

My initial concern however, was that it didn’t allow for as much intricacy, but as it turns out, I am pleased with how much detail I was able to achieve with just one small Pfeil.


linoleum block.pfeil 8/3.



I wanted to watch a couple of videos to get a rough Idea of what was needed and I stumbled across a series by Maarit Hanninen.

Maarit, at the time of writing, has about 4 very well put together montages, showing her printing process on linoleum. 


Here is one of Maarit’s videos.

I’ve also thrown together a short video of my own, at the bottom of this article click the link >> if you want to see how I got on with mine.



I was encouraged by the fact she wasn’t using a huge expensive press and didn’t appear to have an entire office block to do her printing in, yet what she produces is of a very high standard.


So, I thought I would post my shopping list to give a guide to how little you need to get started.

I was tempted to buy a whole set of Pfeil cutters and a small press, but I resisted this and my shopping list that went towards making the print in this article is below.

 A couple of things that need some explaining:

  • The Pfeil linoleum block cutters have a confusing chart that I will explain below.


 Pfeil chart.

 A-D are just grouped sets you can buy.   On the recommendation of ( I looked at the C group.

The number before the slash is the degree of curvature of the tool.

1 is a flat blade, while 5 is a shallow U-shape, 8 is a slightly deeper U shape, 12 is a deep V, and 15 a shallower V and so on.

Number after the slash is the size of the given shape so 1/8 is flat large and ¼ is also flat and half the size of the 1/8. 7/10 is a bigger flat U than a 7/6 and so on.


There is also another brand called Narex which I have not tried yet.


 I didn’t want to buy the whole set, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be for me, so I worked with just the 8/3.

I think I would have liked to have had a 15/2 or a 12/1 for finer details and sharper cuts.


  • How to prepare the paper  

Khadi Papers A4.


The particular paper which is 100% recycled cotton, as you will see from the YouTube videos, needs to be damp.

The wetting of the paper helps to soften it which seems to prevent tearing when you rub the back, it also makes the paper more supple, so the relief on the other side gets embedded into the paper more, thus producing a better transfer of the ink.


If the paper is too wet, you will end up with a blotting effect on the printing side and the paper will start to break down as you rub the back. You will see my failed attempt in the video at the bottom.


I discovered that submerging the paper, one by one and stacking them together between a pad of watercolour paper (or newspaper) worked best. By the next day, it was damp but not dripping wet.

(No doubt this could be achieved without having to wait overnight.) 




Here is the shopping list.

If you’re on a smaller budget and just want to give it a go but using good quality materials.


Pfeil 8/3          Pfeil 8/3                                                                        £14.94
Flexcut Sharpening Kit                                             flexicut sharpening             £17.36
Linoleum block 20 x 30 cm                                 Lino Block.                £5.95
Japanese Baren                                                      Barens                 £5.58                               
Rubber Roller Standard 4 Inch                                4 Inch Roller            £5.58 
 Khadi handmade paper 100% cotton A4 20pk                Khadi Papers. 20pk      £10.50                                        
Total                                                                                                                                     £59.91



The A4 block from Jacksons which was a 20 x 30 cm 3mm linoleum mounted on a board, gives you a nice working platform that you can use on most flat surfaces without too much moving around.

The sharpening kit might seem like an extravagance but there is a saying in drawing that dull pencils make for dull drawings.

Here is a video on how to sharpen your tools. 



Why I Have Decided to Make Relief Printing Part of My Regular Artistic Practice. 

If your interested to know, I haven’t decided to pack up painting, I will always go back to painting and drawing.

It's partly in response to the feeling I get of mass production when providing prints of my original paintings.

There is a real connection between artist and the person buying my work that I just can’t get with run of the mill print reproductions of paintings.

Painting an oil painting or doing a drawing is a one shot situation, and the price charged does not really cover the time and effort put in, especially if the artist is just starting out.

I've always felt that once a painting is sold, there isn’t really an authentic way to continue to earn from it. All that work, all the experience that led to that one piece, is gone.


Yes, it is possible to supplement the sale of paintings by providing prints, even limited editions, but we all know that ltd editions are not always what they seem.

Many of them only refer to the size of that particular print and so the supply can be expanded just by altering the size.This devalues the whole prospect in my view.

Signed ltd editions are a possible exception, but most of us aren’t in a position to be charging for signatures.

 The same goes for the mugs and t-shirts, I just feel that If I buy art, I want to get something from the artist. With commercial printing, the artists involvement is little more than copy and pasting to a factory somewhere that belts out t- shirts and what not, for tiny profit margins.


I will concede, from a buyer’s perspective, It is still an option, and a cheaper way for people to buy into art. But really, I think if a buyer has money to spend, it's better to get something original.

These days,  reproductions can be done by large print houses at competitive prices. The trouble is, even with a genuine ltd edition, it doesn’t have the same feel of exclusivity or rarity that original printing has.


With original printmaking - in this case linoleum, or relief printing - the block is carved and then manually pressed by the artist, to the paper, either by a hand wound press, or in my case a Japanese baren.

Each print is original, it has subtle inconsistencies, and the print “run” is for that size alone, as it isn’t really a scale-able thing.

It’s possible that a whole new block of a different size is re-carved, if the artist really wanted to, and it would still be unique. It is still, after all, the artists own hand and not that of a mass production. The risk however of devaluing the previous prints is a deterrent to this, not to mention the artist having to go back and carve out all the artwork again on a differing scale, instead of moving on to fresh new creations.


Obviously being able to draw, or at least having some idea about design is what separates the good from the not so good.

The technical side, whilst important, is mainly down to trial and error and, especially for new starters, the cost of set up.

This is especially true if you haven’t had any formal training.




So in light of this, and because there is something very satisfying about the whole process, I have decided to make it a permanent part of what I do. Hopefully it will inspire you to try it as well.


Please enjoy my short video on the creation of 'Vision of The Beast' 2018. 

If you want to keep up to date on my next creations, please sign up to my mailing list. (no junk mail)




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