(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.
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.
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 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)
Speedball 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)
You 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.
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!