Gift Ideas for Beginner Printmakers

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Gift Ideas for for Beginner Printmakers

When I started posting printmaking tutorials on my youtube channel, I got a flood of emails asking where one could buy a comprehensive starter set to try printmaking without breaking the bank. Finding gift ideas for beginner printmakers without already knowing printmaking is a challenge.

I’ve searched, and there isn’t a complete set in a box that includes all of the parts I’d recommend to try making a linocut or a woodcut for the first time.

But a kit can be assembled a la carte to get you, or your beginner printmakers started on the right foot!

Printmaking is a wonderful art-making method that allows the artist to print in multiples. More than that, the sequential steps are very specific, like assembling the ingredients to bake a pie.

The step-by-step instructions can be very meditative and relaxing to folks who enjoy being immersed in a successive creative process with beautiful results.

A wood block with a carving of a woman's face
What remains of the wood block used to create Carnelian above.

Printmaking Inks

If you want the option of enhancing your print by adding color with a wet-media, like watercolor, after the ink dries, be sure to get the right printmaking ink.

Some water wash-up printmaking inks will re-wet after drying. If you paint over them with watercolor (like I’ve done on the little landscape woodcut below), or if you’d like to tint the print with alcohol inks, or thinned acrylic, you’ll want a printmaking ink that dries permanently, and doesn’t re-wet.

Painting over water soluble printmaking ink leads to lost integrity of the print, and muddy passages of color when the ink bleeds into your paint. Very frustrating.  Akua inks (a Speedball Company) will clean up with dish soap and water, and after they dry on paper, they do not re-wet. But Speedball water based relief inks will re-wet.

adding watercolor to a woodcut
Adding watercolor to a woodcut print titled “Grange”.

Printmaking Ink Drying Time and Solubility

Speedball water-soluble printmaking inks dry so fast, you can’t print a large edition without having your ink dry-up on your roll-out surface, and your brayer, and your block.

They also re-wet after they dry. Which is fine as long as you use only dry media on them to enhance your print (like colored pencil).

 Caligo Safe-Wash inks are oil-based, but they wash up with soap and water, they stay wet on your roll-out surface, and they do not re-wet after they dry, so you can paint over the inks with wet media. 

Two Color reduction woodcut print, ready for added color with watercolor and colored pencil

Get Inks That Dry Permanently

Many oil-based printmaking inks don’t re-wet after drying either, but they take much longer to dry, depending on the color (reds and white take up to a week to dry in some cases, depending on the humidity in your art-making space). 

Clean up of traditional oil-based printmaking inks require either solvents, or a two-step process of vegetable oil to break the ink down, and then dish soap to wash it off your table and brayer and blocks.

Both oil-based and some of the water-wash-up relief inks work well if you choose to add watercolor on top of the prints,  so either type of ink will work.

Just be sure to get stuff that dries permanently if you want to hand color your prints.

A woodcut of a red headed woman looking down with hair over her eyes
Carnelian 4×4 framed Reduction Woodcut with Watercolor and Colored Pencil – Available in my Etsy Shop

Make a List of What you Need

A first-time printmaker needs a block to carve, a knife with a few, assorted blades, a brayer, some ink, a bench hook, and good printmaking paper with a spoon (either wood or metal) to transfer the image.

You can also use a baren, but I prefer a good old fashioned spoon. 🙂

A decent book on the art of relief prints is helpful too, for both the guidance, and the inspirational survey of other artists’ printmaking examples.

A few clothes pins or spring clamps and a length of non-stretch twine will also be handy to hang prints to dry.

I’m listing a selection of gift ideas for the beginning printmaker in your life below – (even if you are the printmaker). Especially if the inclination is to try making a linocut.

It’s a good place to start, and you can graduate to a woodcut after you get cozy with the carving process.

Prints drying on a closetmaid shelf with wooden clothes pins. You can also suspend a length of twine and attach the clothes pins to that with your prints, just like clean laundry hanging in the fresh air. 🙂

Speedball Printmaking Kit

This package contains a brayer, a styrofoam tray (to roll out your ink), a knife handle with a couple of different blades, a small block of linoleum, and a tube of ink (water-soluble, and will re-wet), which is almost everything you need to make a linocut, but not quite.

The price is right for a starter kit, so I’d recommend this as a gift for someone interested in giving printmaking a go.

But I’d also recommend purchasing a bench hook, and paper, as well as a little Akua or Caligo Safe-Wash ink, especially if the artist wants the option to add water-based media to the prints after the ink is dry without re-wetting the printmaking ink and ending up with muddy art.

Speedball Super Value Block Printing Starter Kit

Speedball Bench Hook and Inking Plate for Block Printing

Speedball Bench Hook

This bench hook (also called an S-Brace) has two uses; it will hold the block steady while carving when the linoleum is nestled against the curb on the upper side of the metal plate.

The lower curb will stay hooked against the table edge to keep the block from sliding forward while you’re carving.

This type of block support makes a big difference and prevents the carver from holding the block with one hand while pushing the knife with the other, which often leads to stab wounds in the holding hand. (Never put your hand in the path of the carving tool, ever.)

I use a wooden bench hook a friend made for me, which is explained in this video on my YouTube channel. The metal version bench hook featured here can also be used as a flat surface for rolling out ink with a brayer, so it’s got two uses, both of which are pretty important for the ease of learning this fun printmaking method.

My wooden bench hook was made as a gift from a neighbor with a woodshop in his garage. I use a slab of plexiglass to roll out ink. Whether you make one from wood or buy a metal version, I think this is a must-have for anyone who carves blocks and wants to avoid accidental jabs and cuts to the fingers.
a printmaking bench hook in a printmaker's studio
My wooden bench hook in action, with a brace block, some non-skid, and both hands free to guide the knife.

Speedball 9-Inch-by-12-Inch Fine Printmaking Paper, 25 Sheets Pack

Speedball Printmaking Paper

Paper choice makes has a big impact on the success or failure of a printmaker’s first-time experience, especially when the print is transferred by hand (as opposed to using a press).  

Rubbing the back of the paper against a carved and inked block takes time.  If the paper is too stiff or has a bit too much texture or “tooth” to bond with the intricate line work of the inked block, passages of the image will not transfer to the paper. Or they’ll be too faint and ghosty.

Paper has to be thin enough to press into the ink with pressure applied from the curve of a spoon (or a baren), so printmaking paper with flexibility and strength is important.

In this packet of 25 sheets, if the block is small, each sheet can be torn in half to 9×6 or even quarters (4.5 x 6) to increase the number of prints to 100.

soaking printmaking paper for a few minutes before blotting and printing on it.
Soaking printmaking paper for 5 minutes before blotting and printing on it

Speedball Linoleum Block, 4 X 6

Speedball Linoleum Block

It would be swell to have a handful of these blocks to try a variety of printmaking methods. The kit featured above supplies just one block to carve, but once you get started, it’s kind of addicting, and the practice reveals ideas for improvements and even better designs. This gives the printmaker a sweet itch to make another print before the first one is dry. If this sounds like you, order a few of these, so they’re at-the-ready for your next Big Idea. 🙂

Akua Black Intaglio Printmaking Ink

Akua Intaglio Printmaking Ink

If your printmaker is likely to add a little mixed media to the first print they make, and any of it is water-based (watercolor, acrylic, inks, etc.) then Akua ink would be a swell addition to their printmaking starter pack.

The speedball ink included in the super value starter kit above will re-wet and bleed black ink if you apply water-based pigments to it, but this ink, by Akua (now owned by Speedball) will not re-wet after it dries, and it still cleans up with soap and water.

Block Printing: Techniques for Linoleum and Wood

A Book on Block Printing

This is a great art-reference book for beginning printmakers, especially at just under $20. It’s emphasis is on the mechanics of printmaking and the author covers materials, tools, paper, inks, transferring drawings to the block, cleaning and caring for tools, and a variety of methods for printing both linocut and wood blocks. Check out the reviews to see lots of satisfied testimonials. Using a book in conjunction with online tutorials is an excellent way to pick up tips and tricks that will lead to success, and that will encourage continuing in your printmaking journey.

Making an Impression: Designing & Creating Artful Stamps

Block Printing and Stamping Book

If carving linoleum sounds like it could be too hard on tender fingers, arthritic hands or weak wrists, carving rubber stamps might be easier, and it’s just as much fun as linocut. This book is designed beautifully, and the colors, graphic layout, ideas and lessons are full of inspiration.  I’ve followed Geninne’s beautiful work for years, and she is much loved (and often imitated by those who love her unique style). Grab a handful of rubber stamps, some ink pads and a carving tool to make your own set of whimsical embellishments for envelopes, notecards and fabric.

Speedball 4-Inch-by- 6-Inch Speedy-Carve Carving Block

Extra Soft Carving Blocks

This soft, rubbery block is the same consistency as a gum eraser; very flexible and easy to cut, so this is great material for rubber stamp carving. If you get the book by Geninne above, and a carving knife and ink pad, be sure to try this carving block too. It can be cut down into even smaller blocks if you want to make tiny prints, or place an order for a larger piece, and cut that down to save dollars.

pulling a linoleum block after transferring ink to paper on a press
Pulling a print from a piece of unmounted linoleum you can Purchase in rolls and cut down to various sizes.

Printmaking Video Demos and Tutorials

You can also send a link to this playlist of relief printmaking tutorials on my YouTube channel. There are plenty of tips and mini-demos of carving, inking, and printing methods to get a beginner printmaker started on their first project, and each video has a list of supplies with links under the video window in the Show More link. Be sure to subscribe to the channel and click the little Bell Icon to be notified when the new tutorial video gets posted.

So, that should get you started, eh? If you’re still stumped and looking for some info, leave a comment, and let me know what you’re looking for. In the meantime, I’ll see you in the next post! Thanks for stopping by!


P.S. You can subscribe to get these posts as an email (it’s free) by signing up here.

a block in process and a knife nearby with the flexcut logo on the handle
My favorite carving knives for both lino and wood are made by Flexcut. I have a set of the Micro Palm knives, and they are amazing.

Art Quote

Every Autumn we spent together, the routine was the same: breakfast at 7:30, afterwards work literally all day till the light faded. At rare intervals, an excursion – if very hot, a siesta after the midday meal, but work was the order of the day. After dinner, piano duets & chess, and early to bed.

Eliza Wedgewood, on accompanying John Singer Sargent around Europe during the 1900’s

how to title your art
Click the kitty to see more about this short but impactful online course to help you title your art without that blink-and-stare wonder, and you’ll never be dependent on your pets to name your art again!

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9 thoughts on “Gift Ideas for Beginner Printmakers”

  1. A timely post Belinda. I’ve been tasked with pricing up suitable lino-printing equipment for one of our art society’s “taster” workshops next year. I had made a list, but this will help make sure I’ve covered everything needed, as well as the most suitable products. Thank you.

    1. Hi Sonia – Well, how about that! A Taster Workshop? Is that like a mini introduction to a particular art-form? If so, it sounds fabulous! I hope you find everything you need, at a reasonable price, and your workshop attendees become printmakers for life!

  2. Hi Belinda, I just got the Speedball printmaking starter kit and I’m loving it!

    You were right, linocut can become addicting. Your videos are a great source of inspiration.

    I hope you continue posting videos on youtube 🙂

  3. My wish for this season is more of your wonderful printmaking videos! I use (and love) Akua inks, too.

    A book I’d recommend, especially for anyone just starting out in printmaking or if carving lino is too hard on the hands, is Foam Is Where the Art Is: New Ways to Print by Annette W. Mitchell. Creative Catalyst in Oregon ( carries both the book and a terrific dvd on using polystyrene foam trays (the kind take-out sushi comes on). Detailed and sophisticated prints can be created by “carving” into the foam with something as simple as a pencil and then printing with nothing more than hand pressure.

    1. Hi Louise, I’ll be posting more printmaking videos, I promise! Thanks for the encouragement! And Thanks for the book and DVD recommendation too! I’ve seen and experimented with foam plate printmaking, but I wasn’t familiar with Annette’s work till I watched the intro to her video on your link, and it looks excellent!

    1. Hi seamustheone – I think it’s from the book by Carl Little – The Watercolors of John Singer Sargent. Eliza was a close friend of JSS’ sister Emily, so she traveled and got to hang out with them often. Lucky duckling.

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