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Getting the Best Linocut Print with your Pocket Press

linocut without a press

Sometimes, you set out to print and everything just prints right. The paper and the ink and and pressure all work together to churn out beautiful prints. More often than not, there is experimentation to be done regarding soaking time, ink type and even temperature, and pressure. Today, it felt like every printmaking variable was against me, but with patience and some craftiness, I solved each problem and got into the flow of printing some nice looking prints.

Warped Plate

When I switched from waterbased ink to Akua, I got the back of the plate wet scrubbing off the water based ink. After that, my plate became bowed and every print came out blurry. I tried setting the plate under a stack of books, but it wasn’t unwarping quickly enough. Double stick tape wasn’t working either, because it wouldn’t stick to the woven back of the linoleum. Finally, I applied duct tape to the back of the plate. The duct take stuck to the plate and the double stick tape held to the duct tape.

linocut without a press

Double Impression

After my plate was secure, I was getting nice prints with my cardstock. But, when I switched to a thick Bristol, the thickness of the paper caused shifting. Using my Registration Platen worked, but I didn’t feel like punching the holes it needs to do its job. So I opted to soak the Bristol for a couple of minutes before each print. Drying it well prevented….


Drying my paper very well between a folded towel and making sure to roll out my ink so that my roller wasn’t too saturated kept the ink from clogging my high detailed areas.

linocut troubleshooting


Banding is when you can see the tracks of your press on your finished print. Another term for this, if you’re an artists, is “evidence of process.” Banding occurred because I was pressing too hard, and applying too much pressure to just one side of the rollers. Pressing evenly and with a light touch, and overlapping the rows a lot solved this issue.

Eventually, I got the kinks worked out and settled on Akua ink with a light application and a one to two minute soak time. You can see me working on my Registration Platen here, but I just used its surface and clip for convenience. These troubleshooting tips all apply to the Printmaking Kit in a Box, too. Like my Cacti at Night print? They are available in the shop and cane be framed and hung or the blank back can be used as a card.

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Letterpress Valentines with a Pocket Press

letterpress without a letterpress

I’ve wanted to design and print polymer letterpress plates with my Pocket Press for a while now. So for Valentines day this year, I created a sheet of classroom Valentines for my son and me to press together. It’s not our first printed Valentine, and it probably won’t be the last.

card design


I settled on a standard kid valentine card size so I could create a sheet with 4 unique Valentines to cut out after printing.

A few years ago I illustrated a book of very short stories, called Legumes, for my friend, author Gabriela Knutson. I decided to use some of these drawings for this Valentines project. I looked through the illustrations and chose 4 that could put a spin on to say something positive or make a pun. Here’s a shot of my computer screen during the design process. I used Adobe Photoshop to create the designs, and then I decided which elements would be red or black.

Polymer Letterpress Plates

I uploaded my two files to the Boxcar Press site and about a week later my new polymer letterpress plates arrived in the mail!

polymer letterpress plates


The hardest part about doing letterpress without an actual letterpress is inking. Here is a great tutorial for inking without a letterpress by Boxcar Press: L Letterpress Printing Techniques. The tutorial explains how to ink by hand. “The solution always has been to put roller bearers to support the roller alongside the part that you want to ink” according to Boxcar- and they show you how. Their tutorial assumes you’ll be printing with an L Letterpress setup, but the inking advice applies to doing letterpress with any press that isn’t a letterpress.



The trickiest part, as always, is registration. For the first run, I marked where to lay each sheet of paper with tape. For the second pass, fellow printmaker and instagrammer 9inhandPress gave me (Printmakingpress) some great advice. “Use double stick tape on the printable side of the uninked plate and expose the sticky backing, place it on the print where it needs to register, roll it through your press and it should land (and stay stuck, [fingers crossed], where you’ll need it to be every time.”

I ended up having to move my tape registration marks a little, but I figured it out after some troubleshooting and the rest of the Valentines came out registered. It was also very handy that the surface I attached the second letterpress plate to was clear. I was able to lift it up and turn it over to get that registration right!

letterpress without a letterpress

I plan to do more letterpress in the future and to create a tutorial using a simpler project, like for invitations or for couples who want to make letterpress wedding invitations without a letterpress. Details like the best ink types and how to prepare your files for the plate maker will be covered, along with video footage and step by step instructions. With a smaller plate and just one ink color, single cards and invitations are a much simpler project than these relatively humongous two color valentines. But, they didn’t turn out half bad!

The Finished Print

letterpress valentines without a press

Even after I trim the roller bearer strip markings off the edges, my valentines will have  a few small smudges. Inking two color plates for letterpress without an automatic inking machine (a letterpress) is a challenge with any type of non-letterpress, but I’m quite pleased with the results. Anything is better, in my opinion, than purchasing advertisements disguised as Valentines and distributing them in the classroom. The beauty of letterpress is that quality that stands out from the noise of over designed colored clutter like a breath of fresh air. Need some classroom valentines for your tyke? We have plenty of extras in the shop.

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The Bench Hook

bench hook building woodworking plans plan

The Most Important (Missing) Part of your Linocut Toolkit

What is a Bench Hook?

Every day, relief printmakers place their hands in the line on danger. I know firsthand, and I have the scars to prove it. You probably do too. What if I told you there is an inexpensive way to protect your and your students’ precious phalanges? A printmaking bench hook is a board that holds your carving plate for you, keeping your fingers out of harm’s way. It catches on the edge of your desk (i.e. kitchen table) and cradles your plate in its corner, so you don’t have to hold it. You know that moment when you zone into carving, and you forget about where you’re holding your plate and then your blade slips? In this case, it nicks the wood lip along the bench hook, and not your hand. No band-aids. No stitches. You can keep on carving.

What Kind of Bench Hook is Best for a Printmaker?

First, let’s talk about what a printmaker wants in a bench hook. We carve at an angle, so it’s imperative that our bench hook have a corner nook. Make sure the corner is on the correct side of the board for you. The carving corner is on the left side for a right hander’s bench hooks, and on the right side for a left hander’s bench hook.

I recommend a bench hook made out of wood, rather than particle board, if possible. Over time, particle board gets stripped, causing the wood stops to wiggle and break off. This is why you need a wood bench hook. Unfortunately, these are hard to find,  and I’m not always able to keep them in stock.

How Can I Get a Bench Hook?

You have two choices- you can build it or you can buy it. I recommend building your bench hook. It is such a simple woodworking project, and not to mention, and investment in your health.

There are not many printmaking bench hook purchase options for purchase and I’m not always able to keep bench hooks in stock, so I now keep my Bench Hook Building Plans in the shop here. The video and illustrated step by step instructions are easy to follow and the materials can be found at most hardware stores.

left handed bench hook
Left Handed Bench Hook

right handed bench hook
Right Handed Bench Hook

Where Can I Buy a Bench Hook?

Here in the shop sometimes. When I build a batch of bench hooks,  you can be sure I’ll share it on Instagram, twitter, or in my newsletter. In the meantime, there are a few more options.

This Bench Hook, made by the Educational Arts company, is available in different places across the internet, from eBay to sites with names like BigaMart and Fishpond. A quick look shows that Americans get the best shipping rate from eBay sources, while UK residents should stick to the other aforementioned shops. The bench hook is usually priced reasonably, but be wary of astronomical shipping costs. It appears to be made from particle board, rather than wood, so consider it disposable. Some sites show that the side carving lip can be lifted out and switched to the other side to make the bench hook left handed.

Speedball offers a metal bench hook, but you will still need to secure the plate with your non dominant hand when carving because it has no side bar. My objective is to keep those fingers out of the picture entirely, though, so it is not my top choice. It does doubles as an inking plate, but without the side bar, it cannot be used for quick registration, either.

speedball bench hook

More Bench Hook Uses

My favorite alternate use for a bench hook is as an quick registration system for spoon and baren pressed prints. This only works for printmaking bench hooks that have a side bar. Use the cozy corner to perfectly  line up your paper and your plate. This works great for cards and other projects where the paper is the same size as the plate. I also use my bench hook when building presses because it keeps the wood block from spinning around when my drill has too much torque!

If you’ve been printmaking without one, watch where you place your hand when you first start using your new bench hook. Out of habit, you may still place your hand in the path of the blade, even though the bench hook holds the plate steady for you now. Keep that non dominant hand safely wrapped around the handle of your mug.

bench hook
bench hook

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Printmaking on Fabric

printmaking on fabric

Linocut Printmaking on Fabric

I recently made a linocut that I think would be nice on a t-shirt, and that got me thinking about finding a simple way to use my linoleum plates for printmaking on fabric. Block printing on fabric is a similar idea. With block printing, a small stamp is used and the image is repeated. My goal is to find a way to consistently get a good transfer on any fabric when pressing a large linocut plate.fabricblog2

I had some Jacquard Fabric Color on hand, so I rolled that out with my brayer and applied it to my heart linocut plate. First, I tried hand stamping it (top), but that didn’t turn out very well. Using my Pocket Press and treating the fabric as paper worked pretty well. I could tell from rolling it into the plate that the consistency of the ink was the is issue here. Pressure helped, but the fabric color doesn’t have the coverage needed for relief printmaking on fabric.

Next, I tried house paint. I’ve had great luck using house paint to create canvas tote and t shirt designs using monoprint plates and using DIY silkscreens. The house paint had a really cool look, but it was runny and mostly filled the gaps around the hearts. Filing this away for future experiments in intaglio fabric printing.

I thought I was out of ink, but I decided to look through the ink drawer and read the packages. Akua says nothing about fabric printing. Neither do Blick or Speedball water based inks. However, Speedball Oil-based Printmaking Ink says on the tube that it is intended for use on fabric (just allow a 2 week cure time).

Using a Pocket Press and Speedball Oil-Based Ink to Print on Fabric

printmaking on fabric

Speedball Oil-Based ink needs a lot of pressure to transfer well. The Pocket Press was really handy here. I had to be very aware of pressing evenly with both sides of my body, and making sure I applied pressure evenly over the entire plate.

If you look closely at the print below, you can see that I pressed harder with the left side of my body. Being just a little more aware remedied this problem, as does rolling over the plate a second or third time. Also, I have to press HARD. I pressed as hard as I have to when I print really deeply etched intaglio plates. The resulting fabric prints were just lovely. They have a delicate and obviously hand printed look that I will be using even if I find an ink that transfers onto fabric as well as standard inks adhere to paper. I have just ordered a tube of Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink to see if this can create a darker print.


The Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink arrived. I tried 5 different approaches. First, I rolled out the ink normally, set the plate on top of the fabric and stood on it. I wanted to give personally applied pressure a fair shake (bottom right). Then, I rolled the ink out normally, and pressed. I got a more even transfer, but it was lighter than the silk screened look I was hoping for. So I tried wetting the fabric. This made a big difference (top left) but so did simply being more generous with ink application without wetting the fabric (bottom left). Just to make sure that more generous ink application wasn’t the only reason I was getting a better transfer, I tried applying a lot of ink and pressing with my body weight again. The results were more like the image on the top right. To get a nice, dark transfer like the toasters on the left, I found I needed to use my pocket press and to press my strength into the press using both hands. I’ll add a video below shortly.

printmaking on fabric

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How to Press a Linocut with a Pocket Press

linocut registration pegs

After weeks of contemplation and hours of experimentation, I have created a way for linocutters to print multiple color passes and use dry paper! First, meet the new Magic Platen for Linocut Plates and Multiple Passes! This blog will show you how to press a linocut using this setup. This printmaking press and platen is unique because it has built in registration, and it can also print etchings, monoprints, collagraphs and more.

linocut pressSee those pegs at the bottom? Those are the key. The original Magic Platen can be used for linocuts, but you have to use damp paper or tape down your paper on all sides because dry paper will shift a little while pressing. With this version of the Magic Platen, the built in registration bar keeps the paper from shifting, and it makes registration a cinch because your paper will always lay down in the exact same spot. Just make sure your plates are the exact same size, and mark where you put your plate with tape or a grease pencil.

To create the powerline plate, I started with a photograph that I took and some carbon paper. Carbon paper is a must have for every printmaker’s toolbox because it makes it possible to transfer an image without obliterating the original. It also makes it easy to work from photographs. I include a sheet with every linocut kit.

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You actually can’t even see the pencil lines on the photo, but to really preserve your original image, use something like the other end of a paint brush- something pointed enough, but that has no lead so it won’t leave any marks.

I carved my plate in about 5 minutes with help from my bench hook.

bench hook


Watch to see how to set up your paper and press a 2 color print using a Pocket Press and Magic Platen:

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I know that you’re thinking. My registration is off. Yes, I have the opportunity for perfect registration with every print run… but I failed to make sure my plates were the exact same shape. Hey, at least I didn’t carve anything backwards.

Tips on how to press a linocut with this setup:

  1. I put a small amount of ink on the top of the registration pins so that I can lay my paper on top of them and see where to punch the holes. Remember, slide your paper down the pins first, then clip it at the top.
  2. Use matboard and create a frame for your plate. This way, the press won’t push the paper down on either side of the plate. If you skip this you will need to make sure you only apply pressure on the plate.
  3. Be mindful of pressure. It doesn’t take much pressure to transfer linocut images. But really overlap your rows when you print. And only press away from your body, away from the registration pins. I used Akua ink and oil based ink for the 2 color layers in my print. The Akua ink requires barely any pressure to transfer, but the oil based ink is thinner, so I press a little harder.

Like my prints? I sell them on Etsy!

How to press a linocut

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Big Printmaking at Home

How to Press Large Etchings, Linocuts and Monoprints with a Pocket Press

My pocket press is great for smaller printmaking at home at the kitchen table, but it can also print large. I usually recommend using plates that fit my Magic Platen or rubber platen because a good print is dependent on the printmaker (you) pressing steadily and evenly. This recommendation didn’t phase artist Chelsie Dysart, who jumped right into printing big with her Pocket Press, starting with a 12″ x 16.5″ print that you can see on her art page. Most of us need a little more practice to press big because you need to be very mindful about maintaining pressure and staying even when you roll over your plate in your straight overlapping rows.

large printmaking without a pressI usually use my Magic Platen to create large prints. The rubbery coating causes the plate to resist movement when pressure is applied, and it is quite strong. So strong, that you can extend your platen’s surface simply by laying a board or book that is the same thickness next to it. If you will be extending your magic platen on either side, and not at the bottom as pictured, you can clamp your felt and paper to your extending boards using large binder clips, clamps, or C clamps. The binder clipped portion will need to hang off the table edge so that it does not cause your extension board to wobble. Most kinds of clamps should be able to open large enough to secure the felt, paper, and extending boards to the table itself.

You will need 2 felt blankets large enough to cover your plate. Felt is the only material that will work, and skipping it will create banding. The variety of felt they sell at your local craft or sewing shop should work.

Here is a video of me pressing this plate in my home studio. I soak the paper first, and dry it by folding it into a towel and rolling over the back of the towel with a rolling pin. For this print, I used my bulk bottle of Blick block printing ink.

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large etchings without a press

If your plate is HUGE, or your don’t have a Magic Platen, there is another, inexpensive setup for printmaking at home with a Pocket Press: shelf liner. You need the thicker, rubbery kind with the holes in it and no sticky side. This stuff is available at most hardware stores and dollar stores. You might need to place two sheets side by side if your plate is very large.

You will also need 2 sheets of felt to fit the size of your plate, as well as large binder clips or clamps to clip the shelf liner, paper, and felt sheets to the table.

This method will leave the impression of the shelf liner all around your plate. If you’re not a fan of “evidence of process” like I am, one solution is to cut a matboard to go all around your plate. You can also contact me about creating a custom rubber platen or Magic Platen to fit your needs.

I use an etching plate in this example, but the printmaking setups described in this post will work for pressing all kinds of prints. You can press linocuts and monprints this way. For linocuts, you will need to use damp paper and be aware of banding. You may need to press your plate a couple of times, or really overlap your rows to avoid the appearance of tracks in your large prints. For large scale monoprints, remember that it is possible to press too hard. You’ll have to be very aware of holding even and consistent printing. But don’t let this discourage you.

Here’s the video that shows me pressing my large plate using the non slip liner I purchased at my local hardward store.

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How to Print Drypoint with a Palm Press and Akua Ink

drypoint plexiglass etching

Scotland artist Lucy Johnston wanted to know how my press works when I print drypoint with Akua inks. Lucy currently uses Akua ink and a die cutting machine to press her tiny, elegant prints. The pocket press would give her the ability to work larger, but the small rollers would also be well suited for pressing her delicate pieces, sometimes made using silver! Interestingly, Lucy mentioned that she prints her intaglio prints on dry paper because she has had difficulty getting Akua ink to adhere to damp paper when pressing her drypoints. She wanted to know if she’d run into the same problems with a pocket press. I’ve been wanting to learn more about printmaking inks, so I ordered some Akua and got to work.

I was eager to print right away so I used the bulk vellum paper I keep on hand. You only need to soak it a minute or two to get a great ink transfer every time. This happened with the Akua ink too. I think I’ll start including some of this paper with my press kits, come to think of it. Here’s a video of this print run. You can see how much less messy it is when you have a Magic Platen to hold your plate while you ink it up.


In the video you can see that I lifted my paper up several times. First, I began to lift the paper and I saw that I wanted more ink the adhere in one area, so I pressed that section again. Then I decided to try lifting the paper and re-pressing just to see if it would cause a double impression. It did not. This means you can lay your paper back down and press more when you’re using the Magic Platen and Pocket Press. This is simply not an option when using a traditional etching press.
Then I realized that Lucy probably isn’t using inexpensive vellum for her etchings so I decided to try the Akua inks with Kelsey Pike’s All paper. This is going to behave more like Reeves or another thick, cottony printmaking paper. I’d like to compare Pike and Reeves papers because I have a feeling that Kelsey’s paper will win. It just feels fresh. But that is a blog for another day.
I soaked the All Paper for about 10 minutes and turned out another print. It wasn’t a bad print, but it was a little bit light. I could see what Lucy meant about Akua ink having an issue with damp paper. Upon very close inspection it almost looked like the ink resisted adhering, like you’d think an oil based ink would act, but for whatever reason, doesn’t. There was only one more thing to try: soaking the paper longer.
I let the paper soak for nearly an hour and turned out a great looking print. When pressing drypoint with Akua ink, I recommend soaking your standard high quality printmaking paper about 45 minutes, if not an hour. Or you can try using some Bristol or Vellum if you’re short on time.
drypoint plexiglass etching
akua ink intaglio etching
You don’t have to soak as long when using other intaglio plates, though it probably won’t hurt. I soaked the paper for about 20 minutes before pressing printmaker Erika Chamberlin’s acid etched plate and got a nice print.
printing etching dry paper
Then I got curious. If Lucy wanted to know if the Pocket Press can press etchings with
damp paper using Akua ink- that means she prints her miniature drypoint plates on dry paper. I wondered: can my press print drypoint etchings without dampening the paper? I have to say, this is not too shabby for an intaglio with bone dry paper.
After many print runs with my Pocket Press and Magic Platen, I can’t believe this is the first time I realized that when you’re using a larger or heavier plate, like my 6” x 9” plexi plate or Erika’s 4” x 3” zinc plate, you can ink it and wipe the plate directly on the platen board without holding it. No inky fingers! When you apply pressure to objects on the Magic Platen, they respond by resisting movement. As you can see in the video, the plate just stayed put on the platen while inked it and wiped it. This also explains why I was also able to lay my paper back down and press my plate more without getting double impression. The Platen just doesn’t want your plate to budge.
Are you a printmaker with a question about my press? Send me a message at diana (at) printmaking press (dot) com. Learn more about my pocket presses at
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Styrofoam Printmaking with Pocket Press

It presses etchings, but how about Styrofoam Printmaking?

Artist/Printmaker Brad Schwartz wanted to know how my press works with styrofoam printmaking. I have been using this press for etchings, and an occasional small woodcut, so I had to try it out in order to answer his question. Using styrofoam plates is a popular printmaking method for schools and other often press-less places. Usually, a line based images is drawn onto the plate using a pencil or chopstick, and then the plate is dipped or painted with tempera paint and the pressed on paper. The results aren’t half bad! But, let’s take it to the next level.

20151227_191627I went hunting around the house for some Styrofoam and found some in my studio (of course) in the form of an egg carton. I cut 2 roughly 4″ x 6″ plates and got to work. My first plate portrays an alley scene. I drew the image onto paper with pencil, then set my paper on top of my plate, transferring the drawing by quickly covering the backside of the paper with the graphite. This is a great printmaking tip for keeping your final masterpiece facing the way it was intended. 20151227_192952I used a very dull colored pencil to create white areas between the power lines, then scratched and pulled away pieces of the plate to create the rooftop forms and
the ground.For my second plate, I just drew the image directly onto the plate. I created tones by quickly sketching over the bottom area with a etching needle, and pulling away a layer of Styrofoam behind the vents in the top of the plate.
The first print received the perfect storm of printmaking set up- the paper was soaked a good 5 or 10 minutes, and laid on the plate before the ink had dried out. Also, I pressed lightly, so that it didn’t feel like I was pressing the foam into the platen. This turned out to be the best touch.

styrofoam printmaking

The next 2 prints I pressed too hard. It turns out you should just firmly roll the press across without really pressing down. More like a baren, but oh so much faster. If you don’t get enough ink transfer, you’re safe setting the paper back down and rolling back on forth over the felt with these prints. Just hold the felt in place with your hand when you press backwards.

Here is a print pressed with a steady yet light touch next to the one from the video, where I depressed the foam too much. I really recommend Styrofoam printmaking for any printmaker wanting to get back into it quickly. These took me maybe half an hour to create and press.  In my usual style, I’ll leave printing the rest of the edition until later…



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Embossing Without a Press

Embossing a Thank You Card with a Pocket Press!

letter pressI got some super generous and thoughtful gifts this Christmas, so I decided to make thank you cards myself. I love letterpress, but I don’t have the funds or the focus to invest in a letterpress. So, I decided to think about ways my pocket press can be used this way. The heavy emboss makes me swoon, and I just got some cotton paper from Kelsey Pike Paper+Craft so I started poking around my studio.

These marquee letters I found at a thrift store once were perfect. It was easy to break the little tabs off the back. The only problem was that the “N” would turn out backwards… so I found a “W” and took saw to it. Take a look- the “N” looks italicized. The next puzzle was getting it all onto one card- so I decided to squeeze the lettering together. No adhesive needed because my Magic Platen’s magic coating holds the letters in place when pressure is applied.

I soaked the paper for about 20 minutes, and I was careful to locate the letters underneath the felt before pressing each row. I wanted to keep in mind where the letters stopped so I wouldn’t cause the paper to break when stepping from the letter to the platen. I think I could have put down a layer of craft foam under my felt to help absorb and apply pressure. I will try this on the next card! Look how well this turned out! Who needs a letterpress?

letterpress without a press

letterpress press