Block Printing Basics: How to Create a Linocut Printed Tote Bag

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This is Part 1 of 2 of the Craft in Style Subscription Box Instructions for May 2021. Find the Craft in Style Subscription Box here. Read Part 2: How to Make a Wood Block Printed Zipper Pouch here.

Block printing is such a stylish and fun way to get started with printmaking. With linocut printmaking, you can use a linocut tool to carve your own block to print with. The block is a lot like a rubber stamp.

They are easy to cut and fun to make compared to other block printing techniques like wood block printing. They are soft and easy to cut. Plus you can use all kinds of illustrations for your block. So let’s make it!

supplies to make a block printed tote bag beginners linocut

Supplies to Make a Linocut Printed Tote Bag:

May 2021 Craft in Style Subscription Box
-or-
Heavyweight Tote Bag (I chose one with leather handles)
A Linocut Block
A Linocut Tool
These Templates (or a silhouette drawing of your choice)
A Pencil
Acrylic Fabric Printing Medium
& A Way to Apply the Ink to the Block (more on this below)

Plus you will need a way to heat set the ink before you wash and wear your item. Read the directions on the fabric ink you use, when in doubt, but most fabric paint will need a tumble in the dryer or to be ironed. I usually prefer an iron.

cut out the linocut templates diy pop shop america

use a template for linocut block printing pop shop america

What type of Image Can I Use for a Linocut Block Design?

The 1st step when making a linocut is to plan and design your linocut block. You can use any of these free templates here. Or you can design your own.

The images you choose should be silhouettes or graphic images with a clear and distinct border. Any image you choose needs to have a distinct subject and distinct background. Shading can be done, but it’s quite advanced. The background will be carved away while the object will be the tallest part of the linocut block. It’s just like a rubber stamp!

place your image on the linocut block printing tutorial

With your design, start simple. Even 1 linocut block, can make 2 or more print blocks depending on the size. Start with something that will be easy to create shape so you can get used to working with the linocut tool.

cut the linocut block if it's too big block printing tutorial

How to Transfer an Image to the Linocut Block

Transferring an image to a linocut block is simple. First, find your favorite template and cut any borders around the image. In most cases scissors will work, but a x-acto knife is perfect for small, tiny edges and interior portions.

Then firmly hold the template in place and use a pencil to trace around the template and mark the linocut block.

trace the outside of the template to make a linocut

You will want your traced image to be near the edge of the block. It will make it easier to cut and will save materials so you can make more print blocks. If you have extra space on your block for more images, use a box cutter or x-acto knife to cut the block into smaller pieces.

traced template on linocut block tutorial

Once your image is traced and your linocut block is the right shape, it’s time to get your linocut tool ready!

Linocut tools can vary in size, and just about any size will work for this project.

carve the linocut block diy pop shop america

How to Use a Linocut Tool

There are 4 main features of these tools that will help you produce perfect print blocks:

1. Use the Edge of the Tool:

A linocut tool is shaped like a scoop with sharp edges on both sides. It is these edges that actually cut the block. So line up the edge of the linocut tool with the edge of your image. Be sure to cut the outside of the image so that the background in scooped away as you cut.

carve a linocut block printing tutorial pop shop america

2. Make Short Cuts:

It’s harder to control longer cuts. So instead make cuts that are around 1 inch or shorter to prevent making any mistakes. All your cuts are permanent, so work slowly.

3. Make Shallow Cuts:

To cut small areas, use shallow cuts or even tilt your linocut tool to the side. It’s better to make multiple cuts across the same area than to cut too much. Don’t cut through the entire block to the other side. Leave enough of the block to be able to press it and use it as a stamp.

beginners block printing tutorial cutting a linocut

4. Cut in the Right Direction:

Cut in a direction that will allow you to use smooth lines. For my monstera leaf, I made most of my cuts from the base toward the tip of the leaf. Additionally, you can turn the block instead of your tool to gain a little control.

carve the linocut block to leave tall surface

Hold your linocut tool just like a pencil. Or if needed, hold the tool closer to the top next to your cutter.

On most linocut tools, the cutter, or “gouge” as it is often called can be removed. So you can change the shape or size of your gouge. And if it gets dull over time, you can replace it.

how to make a linocut block from a template diy

Now just cut!

I always start in an area that doesn’t need to be as perfect. I like to start so that if I make a mistake, it won’t affect the finished block.

start by carving the edge of the linocut block

I cut all the way around my edges first which will leave all the detail and interior portions for last.

If you accidentally cut too deep, just remove your linocut tool from the block and start again.

carve the interior after the exterior of the linocut

Once you are ready to cut the interior portions, details and shallow portions, work carefully.

Small, thin areas require very shallow cuts. Try tilting your linocut tool to the side slightly.

carve the interior of the block printing surface

To make a circle, try holding your linocut tool in place, and twisting the block around in a circle.

shave the outside of the block print down

Once you have your basic shape cut, continue to carve the edges of the block so the image is the highest part.

Cut halfway through the depth of the of the block, don’t cut any deeper.

keep the central image of your linocut block taller

How to Apply Fabric Paint to Your Print Block

The best way to apply any printing ink to your block is to use a roller. With a roller you can get a smooth even coat. But it’s not necessary.

An easy way, that’s more disposable, is to use a foam brush or to even make a palette of paint and stamp the block into the ink, just like a stamp pad.

brush fabric ink on the block print

All you need is a thin, even coat. If you see ink pooling in the edges of the block, remove them before you begin to print. And if you have any ink outside the image, remove that as well.

Since your linocut block is nice and soft, it’s easy to end up with ink in places where you don’t want it while you are printing. That’s why it’s best to remove any excess ink before you begin to print.

brush fabric paint onto the block print

I chose gold fabric paint for my monstera leaf because I wanted something luxurious but not too high contrast. Black ink is a classic, but you could use any color you love – electric pink, turquoise, or a combination of colors.

coat the linocut block with fabric paint craft tutorial

Once you have fabric paint on your block work quickly, because some inks can dry fast.

how to print with linocuts beginners guide

How to Print with a Linocut Block

To print, hold your block along the edges, and find your perfect placement on your tote. When you are ready to press the block, use only an up and down motion. Don’t move the block towards the tote at an angle. Gently set the block in place and press from edge to edge across the entire block for just a few seconds.

Be careful to not move the block so the image comes out clear. To remove the block, lift straight up.

linocut block printing tutorial on fabric

press the linocut block into the fabric to make a print

Block prints can feel handmade and have a touch of variation. So don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Just go with it!

If you don’t love the way print turns out, you can remove the ink (in some cases.) Of course, it won’t perfectly wash out, but if you don’t set the ink most of it will come out – especially the lighter colors, like the gold I chose.

remove the block print to reveal the printed image

For each print, coat the block with fresh fabric paint again. Use the same technique and work slowly to prevent mistakes.

I chose to print 3 monstera leaves next to each other. But you can layer or customize any way you like!

lift the linocut directly off the printed tote

Use 1 color or many colors. Use 1 block or multiple blocks! The choices are endless. Once your images are printed on your tote bag, there’s just one more step – to set the ink.

block printing on fabric tutorial pop shop america

How to Set Fabric Ink

You can use a heat press, an iron, or a dryer to set fabric ink. But not all methods are equal, especially for a project that uses a tote with leather handles!

continue to block print the tote bag diy tutorial

Because of the leather handles, an iron is the best way to set the ink. But an iron only works for natural materials like this canvas tote and zipper pouch! For a synthetic material, use a dryer or another method.

With any technique let the fabric ink dry completely before setting it.

finished block printed tote bag diy tutorial

To use an iron to set the fabric ink, heat the iron on medium. Place a piece of fabric in between the iron and the designs or flip the tote inside out.

Iron across the designs for 3-5 minutes, moving the iron around, like you ordinarily would to prevent scorching. And viola! Now you have a gorgeous block printed tote bag! It’s perfect for the farmer’s market, a long weekend out of town, or a picnic!

finished block printed tote bag and zipper pouch set

Where are you going to use your tote bag? And what designs did you print? Show us in the comments or tag us on social so we can see your creations. And if you love this diy, shop all the supplies in one place with the Block Printing Craft Kit!

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