Tools & Materials
Tools & Materials
More than anything else, I get questions about my tools and materials. Below you'll find a list of everything I use most regularly, along with a little bit of commentary. These opinions are based on my experience, and I often stress to others that experimenting on your own is crucial. Your personal preferences might vary wildly from someone else's, and it's up to you to determine what works best for your technique and style.
I buy almost exclusively through Blick Art Materials*, with the exception of my Pfeil gouges. I find their prices are extremely reasonable (especially with a coupon code!), shipping to be quick, and customer service insanely helpful.
I spent my first year of printmaking using Speedball's lino-cutter, which comes with interchangeable heads and a comfortable plastic handle. Replacement heads are easy and inexpensive. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to start printing.
When I finally decided to invest in a set of premium tools, I chose Pfeil and am endlessly happy with the upgrade. I chose Set C because it included all the gouges I use most often, as well as a couple extras I haven't explored much. A little pricey, but worth it. Keep in mind these require sharpening!
I alternate mostly between two kinds of rubber and linoleum blocks, depending on the project. Each has its benefits, as well as its quirks. I buy all three from Blick.
Battleship Gray Linoleum is wonderfully inexpensive and can be found in extremely large sizes (24"x36" mounted). It tends to be a slower process, as the material is harder and more prone to cracking if you're not careful. The blocks can also harden over time if not properly cared for, especially with frequent use. I like to buy the pre-mounted blocks, as a personal preference; the mounting makes them really easy to handle while printing.
Blick makes a two-toned rubber called Ready-Cut that's a bit more expensive, but still reasonable. It also comes in a variety of sizes, with its largest being 12"x18". It carves smoothly and easily, with only a little snagging here and there. It has become my preference lately.
Speedball makes a pink rubber called Speedy Carve, which I find to be the smoothest to carve, extremely durable, and just a dream to work with. It's a little pricier to buy, but really worth it for particularly important projects. Unfortunately, they're a little more limited on sizes, with the largest being right around 12"x12". Also, don't be confused by their similarly named materials; remember to look for the pink rubber.
I use Speedball's Printmasters water-soluble ink the most often, as it provides great coverage and is easy to clean up. For some projects, I use oil-based inks, and Speedball has a new ink that combines oil-based qualities with easier cleaning. (I'm not convinced it's that much easier, to be honest.) Oil-based is especially important for mixed-media projects, like adding watercolor, as the ink won't bleed.
Next to material, I find inks to be one of the most finicky elements of printmaking - one printmaker might swear by a certain brand, while another can't seem to make it work. This is an area I really encourage you to branch out and experiment. All sorts of factors can affect what works for you personally, from your style to your climate.
I have three hard-rubber Speedball brayers (the thing you use to roll the paint onto your block). Two are 4.5" and one is 2". There are several other sizes available, but I like the control I have with the 4.5", while being able to cover a block quite quickly. I use the smaller one mostly for smaller projects.
Right around when I upgraded my gouges, I decided to buy a baren. I'd been using my hands exclusively for a year (that old wooden spoon trick never did much for me) and wanted to be able to apply firmer, but still even pressure. I bought the simple Speedball baren, and it has definitely helped. I don't know why I waited a year!
This is the item that varies most widely for me. I use acid-free cardstock, heavy watercolor papers (both cold and hot pressed), and Utrecht American Master's printing paper most regularly, but have tried (and will continue trying) quite a few others just to experiment. Each paper takes ink differently, so it's best to try them for yourself and buy enough for a solid experiment, but not too much until you know what you like.
*If you've followed me on social media, reached out, or visited this page before, you know I recommend Blick Art Materials constantly. They're my go-to supplier for just about everything. I've made that recommendation on my own many, many times, without compensation. That said, I recently joined their affiliate program, which means I can be compensated if someone buys through my link above.
I wanted to be fully transparent, but I also want to stress that I take my recommendations seriously and would not suggest something that I myself would not use. The opinions I share are based solely on my experience and preferences, written with no regard to the affiliate program. Blick has extremely reasonable prices on a massive selection, along with fast and cheap shipping. It's kind of a no-brainer.