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 (hopefully helpful) 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 everything through Blick Art Materials, Amazon, or Legion Paper. When looking for the best places to buy tools, I obviously look for quality, but also good prices, quick shipping, and helpful customer service. I try to strike a balance between quality and accessibility. You'll find links throughout this page, and in the interest of full transparency I want to state that I participate in two affiliate programs. To me, it's a no-brainer: I provide links to make it easier for you, knowing I would honestly shop through these sellers myself, and I can earn a few extra bucks at the same time. Win/win.
Rise + Wander is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. We also participate in Blick's affiliate program. This said, the following opinions are based solely on my experience and preferences, written with no regard to the affiliate programs.
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 four Speedball brayers (the thing you use to roll the paint onto your block). Two are the Speedball Deluxe 4" Soft Rubber Brayer, one is 2" Soft Rubber Brayer, and the last is the 4" Hard Rubber Brayer. There are several other sizes available, but I like the control I have with these, 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 Speedball Baren for Block Printing. 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 took the longest to find something that really worked for me. I tried many brand and types, with different results. Ultimately, I've come to love pretty much everything from Legion Paper. I use their 100% cotton Stonehenge line for most prints, but I'm also in love with natural Nideggen, which is intended for bookmaking and has the most beautiful texture. Along with ink, I think paper can be one of the biggest variations between artists. It really depends on an individual's preferences, but what I love about Legion Paper is that they will work with you to find your perfect match.