A print is an image created by transferring ink from one surface to another. It’s a process that can be repeated to create an “edition” of prints, or multiple prints that look alike. There are many different processes and techniques that can be used to create a print, including etching into metal, drawing onto limestone, or carving into a surface. To create a relief print, an artist carves the image into a substrate such as a wood or linoleum block and then inks the surface to print. In this process, the information that is being carved away is the white or negative space of the image. To print the block, ink is spread across the surface, touching only the high, uncarved portions of the block. Then pressure is applied to transfer the ink to paper. The process is then repeated to create multiple prints from the block. In Japanese prints, ink is spread onto the woodblock using a flat brush. In the instructions below we’ve used a brayer to roll ink onto the linoleum.

Today, it’s common for a single artist to complete all the printmaking steps themselves. But in 19th-century Japan, when Katsushika Hokusai created The Great Wave, prints were considered commercial products more than works of art; they were mass produced with different people completing different steps for efficiency. One artist drew the design, a block cutter carved the wood into printing blocks (one block for each color), a printer inked the blocks and took the impressions, and a publisher coordinated everything along with selling the prints in his bookstore. Cherrywood was often used for creating woodblock prints because it could be used for hundreds or even thousands of impressions before it wore out! What images will you create in your print?

Photos and instructions courtesy of Stacy Friedman.


relief block depicting potted plant next to window, next to resulting print on paper in blue ink

You will need:

  • 4 x 6 inch Soft-Kut linoleum
  • linoleum cutter and blades
  • no. 2 pencil
  • rice paper or drawing paper
  • water-soluble block printing ink
  • brayer
  • palette paper, wax paper, or a piece of plexiglass
  • plastic palette knife, plastic spoon, or popsicle stick
  • baren or a wooden or metal spoon (optional)

About the Materials

linoleum cutter with various blades

Linoleum cutters typically come with different blades stored in the handle of the tool. Simply twist and remove the rounded bottom and carefully empty the blades onto a table. These blades are sharp—be careful when handling them!

metal head of linoleum cutter where the blade is inserted

To attach your selected blade to the handle of the linoleum cutter, start by loosening the metal piece at the top of the handle while keeping it engaged. Be careful not to loosen it completely, otherwise all of the metal pieces will disconnect and come apart.

curved blade inserted into linoleum cutter

Look down at the metal tip: you will notice there are two half-circle pieces of metal, one thinner than the other. The rounded end of your blade is meant to slide in between the center circle and the thinner half circle. Once the blade is in position, twist and tighten the outer metal piece to lock everything in place.

Examples of materials that may be used to create relief block: wood, fiberboard, and linoleum

Relief prints can be made using a variety of materials, such as wood, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and linoleum. There are many options for easy-to-cut linoleum blocks at an art supply store. They come in various sizes and colors. Any of them will work for this project.


Step 1

hand holding pencil to sketch image onto linoleum block
With a soft pencil, lightly sketch your image, pattern, or design onto the relief block. Be careful not to press too hard. Any indentations in the block could show in your print.

Step 2

Using linoleum cutter to carve image into block
Once your sketch is complete, begin carving the block. See About the Materials for info on how to set up your linoleum cutter and blades. Remember, when printing a relief block, the high parts of the block are what show in the print; you are carving away your white or negative space and leaving the areas you would like to print untouched.

Step 3

Using a different blade on linoleum cutter to carve different types of lines into block
If you have additional blades, feel free to swap them out to achieve different line quality and width. To keep your block from moving while carving, you can put a nonslip shelf liner underneath it. When carving, never put your hand in front of the blade. They are sharp and can cut you if the tool slips!

Step 4

relief block next to plexiglass with brayer, palette knife, and splotch of blue paint on top
When you’re ready to print, grab your ink, brayer, palette knife, and palette paper or a piece of plexiglass. Tape your palette paper to the table or surface you’re working on so that it doesn’t slide around as you roll the ink out. Squeeze a small amount of ink out onto the corner.

Step 5

using palette knife to spread paint on plexiglass; then rolling brayer back and forth on paint
Use your palette knife to spread the ink to the width of your brayer, then roll the brayer back and forth in the ink. Be sure to lift the brayer and give it a small “kick” when rolling it toward yourself. This helps ensure an even layer of ink on the brayer. If you don’t lift the brayer while rolling, you won’t spread the ink out evenly.

Step 6

applying paint onto relief block using brayer
Once your ink is evenly spread along the brayer, begin to ink your block by using the same motion, rolling back and forth. Feel free to roll the ink onto your block from different directions to help ensure an even layer of ink, or roll the brayer in the ink on the palette again to pick up more ink and transfer it to your block if you need to.

Step 7

using a baren and a spoon to apply pressure onto paper laid on top of inked relief block
When you’re finished adding ink, place a piece of paper on top of your block and be careful not to move the paper around so you don’t smear the ink. With your hand, a baren, or a spoon, rub the back of the paper, applying firm pressure. Move around the entire block as you apply even pressure.

Step 8

peeling paper off relief block to reveal print; identical prints laid out side-by-side
Carefully peel back your paper to reveal your print! Repeat the inking and printing process to create multiple prints that look alike.


Using paper towel to wipe clean brayer and plexiglass

When you are finished printing, remember to clean the ink off of your tools or the ink will dry, making your tools unusable in the future. Water-soluble inks can be easily cleaned from your brayer, palette, knife, and block with dish soap, water, and a rag or paper towel.

About the Artist

Stacy Friedman is an artist and collaborative printer based in the Boston area. She holds a BFA in Printmaking and Art History from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. In 2020 Stacy was awarded a Mass Cultural Council Fellowship in Drawing and Printmaking. Stacy has worked with many artists as a collaborative printer at Mixit Print Studio and Muskat Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts. She is an owner and manager of New Impressions Print Studio, a community printmaking studio in Somerville. Stacy shows her work nationally and has taught numerous printmaking classes and workshops at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Maud Morgan Arts (Cambridge, MA); MassArt; the Weston Art and Innovation Center (Weston, MA); Mixit Print Studio (Somerville, MA); and Artist Proof Studio (Johannesburg, South Africa).