The secret of my linocut base art

(Updated March 2020) I get emails all the time from other printmakers and artists asking about what kind of linoleum carving material I am using. Actually, it’s no secret. It just might be hard to tell from the pictures and videos I post.

LINDA COTE-Carve ravenI have been sending out individual emails, but because I am getting so many inquiries, I thought a blog (and video) would help those who are asking.

At the bottom of this blog is my YouTube video on the subject. In the  description below the video on my YouTube channel, you’ll find links to common Canada and USA suppliers of the soft linoleum I describe here. If you are elsewhere in the world, the visuals and brand names in the video notes should help you find the products through Google.


My favorite base carving medium for printmaking is a product called Softoleum. ((UPDATE OCT 2020)) My favorite base carving medium for printmaking is a product called Softoleum. It is no longer available from Aboveground Art Supplies in Toronto, but a fellow printmaker helped me find it in Canada here in the Nasco website.

What I love about this material is that it is soft, but really dense. It holds an amazing line, washes up nicely without warping, and it was durable because it is so dense. That means my carving tools slip less while carving. If you’ve been using a traditional (hard) linoleum, it will take a bit of getting used to because the carving tools move quickly through the material. But, it holds an amazing line, washes up nicely, and it is pretty durable because it is so dense.

LINDA COTE-Garden Grow Carve2

My blog on the making of my print ‘How Does Your Garden Grow‘ shows me using Softoleum as a base material.

Since it is made of a water-repellent material, you can wash it up and reuse it without the base art warping, like can sometimes happen with traditional linoleum. For my art cards, this is great because I wash and reprint them over time. When I am doing a multiple-layer reduction print, like my ‘Three Sisters Summer‘, I wash the ink off between layers, and the Softoleum stands up very well.

Soft Kut

LINDA COTE-Penguing Card

Soft Kut is another soft linoleum that I use. I use Soft Kut mostly for my handmade cards (the material is slightly cheaper than Softoleum), but overall, I prefer Softoleum — especially for my fine art prints. Soft Kut is really soft to carve (think eraser) so takes a little getting used to. It can also be washed up with water or canola oil, depending on whether you are using a water-based or oil-based ink. I read that solvents ruin it, though, so avoid those.

Speedball Speedy Cut (beige)

LINDA COTE-Latte CarvingSpeedball makes a decent soft linoleum, but it can ‘crumble’ slightly, so just make sure you are using really sharp carving tools. One note of caution with the Speedball beige-colored soft linoleum is that after about 2-3 years, the block dries out considerably and parts of it can harden and break off. That’s OK if you are creating a one-time use limited edition print, but I won’t use this material for something I reprint all the time.

Speedball Speedy Cut (blue)

LINDA COTE-Ski block2You may find Speedball online or in an art supply store and see that it comes in beige, blue and pink block printing material. Although which type you use will be a personal preference, I don’t really like the pink one. I do use the blue one, which is a little denser. I recently carved my ‘Rockies Ski Day‘ print on this, and I would definitely recommend trying it.

Moo Carve

I don’t mention Moo Carve in my video because I don’t use it. It is (to my mind) quite different than Softoleum, Soft Kut or the Speedball products, but it is a newer product that seems to be more widely available. I have tried it and I personally find it a little too ‘rubbery’ to carve for my art prints or cards. One thing about Moo Carve, though, is that it comes in a thicker width (1/2″ thick), which is handy if you are creating stamps because you have more surface for your fingers to hang on to.

Watch my YouTube video for a walk through these products. And, don’t forget, the links to each of these products are in the notes at the bottom of the video if you are viewing it on YouTube (rather than just viewing it on this blog).

In the near future, I’ll be covering other materials — like printmaking ink and carving tools — on this blog and on my YouTube Channel, so be sure to check back in!

14 responses to “The secret of my linocut base art

  1. I wonder if what you call Softoleum might also be called Nasco SafetyKut? That’s what I use and I order it from ArtWorld in Victoria. Opus has it too but ArtWorld will cut you custom sizes. It’s as you describe, quite dense, holds fine lines very well. One side is very smooth and the other one has a tiny bit of texture. When I carve it, it looks almost like there are very small bits of something sand-like scattered throughout, but I don’t feel that with the carving tool (I use the regular Speedball tool too).

    • Hi Sophie. Yes, that definitely sounds like the material! I had someone in the US track it down from a Nasco teacher’s supply store, too, there. It’s funny how it has different names depending on the art store! Thanks for the lead on Victoria. I will definitely check that out, too!

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  3. On the Above Ground Art Supplies site it says Softoleum can be carved on both sides. Did you ever try that? I am new to printmaking, thanks for a great blog! 🙂

    • Hi Therese, you can carve both sides, but check the softoleum carefully if you buy it and you will see that one side is completely smooth and one side has a bit of texture to it. Since I prefer the smooth side for solid ink coverage, that’s the side I use almost exclusively. Sometimes, also, the pieces aren’t that thick and my cuts can be a bit deep, so I only use the one side so I don’t go right through the Lino. If you want something where you can carve both sides, try the Moo Carve as it is a lot thicker and both sides have an equal smoothness. Not as good a product for my fine work, but Moo Carve can be great for someone just starting out. Glad you are enjoying the blog!

  4. I would love to know what inks you can use with the softoleum or safety cut? I also wonder if it would hold up to a platen press for printing?? I love to cut with the few pieces I’ve found, but am not sure if I will be able to print them on my press, it’s a Kelsey 5×8 that I am setting up. I, sadly, am allergic to linoleum, it breaks my heart and gives me horrible breathing problems, so this is a great alternative for me, but really would love to set it up in my press to print eventually

    • Hi Heidi, I use an oil-based printmaking ink called “Caligo Safe Wash Relief Ink” available through most art stores that carry printmaking inks. I have no experience printing the softlinoleum base on a press (all my work is done by hand without a press) so I’m afraid I can’t help you there. The best thing to do might be to try it? If it doesn’t work, you could always pull hand prints? I know the love of a press, so understand wanting to use this method, but it’s just not one I’m familiar with. You might also try joining/asking a Facebook group available called “Linocut Friends” if you are on Facebook. You request to join, but then can post any question to printmakers around the world. Very helpful. Here is also a link to my blog that goes into more detail on the inks I use:
      Best of luck!

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  6. I’m a bit new to linocuts in general and decided to try out the softoleum you mentioned from Above Ground – it’s super easy to carve in comparison to typical lino. Thanks for the tip! One question – do you transfer your images onto the lino, if so, what method do you use? I’ve tried both carbon and graphite paper but neither of which work with the softoleum… would love some advise 🙂

    • Hi Tamara, so glad the tip for the softoleum is working for you. There are a number of methods, as you say, but I draw my design on a sheet of tracing paper with a heavy graphite pencil (like a 4B-7B drawing pencil). Draw the design “right way around”, then flip the tracing paper over on your block (so you can see the lines) and rub the back of the drawing with a bone folder or the back of your fingernail. This will transfer all the design to the soft linoleum so you can begin carving, and it will be in reverse, too. I keep this key drawing in case you have to go over the lines again (sometimes it can smudge on the block, but I also lay down a piece of bond under my hand if it is rubbing the block while I carve). It’s simple but it really works. The darker the graphite pencil, the darker the lines that transfer. Hope that helps! You can see a visual of it on my blog here:

  7. i enjoyed reading the Q&A on your site. I was hoping someone would ask about the life span of the product I have been using referred to as Safety Kut. Also, I am wondering what is the best way to store the used and unused product? Does leaving the oil based ink on the product lessen its lifespan?

    • Hi Sylvia, Although the block that I use comes in under a different name, I believe the soft linoleum I use is the same as your Safety Kut. Without seeing it, I can’t be 100% sure, but I have been using some of my card blocks with this material for over 5 years (cleaned after use). I definitely have seen other manufacturer’s products, like Speedball, crumble after several years and go hard. I never store my block with the oil-based ink on it, really just because it’s messy, so I don’t know if that would impact it or not. One thing you could do is contact the manufacturer of Safety Kut, and ask them if they have this information. Here’s a link to their website: 😁

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