AY Honors/Block Printing/Answer Key

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Block Printing

Skill Level






Approval authority

General Conference

Block Printing AY Honor.png
Block Printing
Arts, Crafts and Hobbies
Skill Level
Approval authority
General Conference
Year of Introduction
See also


List the tools and equipment necessary for block printing.

A variety of brayers
The block is a piece of material into which the design to be printed is carved. Linoleum is a common block material, but people also use wood, or even potatoes. Linoleum is inexpensive, easy to carve, and makes good prints. Wood is more difficult to work with, and potatoes do not make the greatest prints. Also, you can't really save a potato, as it will begin to decompose as soon as it is cut. Linoleum can be put away for several years and then reused. A new technique uses hobby foam sheets glued to Styrofoam or some other base, which allows you to carve the image without reversing it. Another easy to work with block material is lightweight foam (perhaps from recycled fast food take out containers) as used in this video.
If you are using linoleum or wood, you will need to sand the surface first to eliminate the texturing. Texturing will come through in your print, which may or may not be desired.
Ink or Paint
Many people prefer to use oil-based ink, but beware - oil-based inks will permanently stain clothing. If you are teaching this honor to a group of children, you would be well advised to stick with water soluble ink. For different effects you can use water soluable paints.
A brayer is a hand roller used in printmaking techniques to spread ink or to offset an image from a plate to paper. They can be made of rubber, sponge, acrylic, or leather. Rubber brayers come in varieties of hardness and are primarily used for relief printing. Leather rollers are only used in lithography. Sponge rollers are used only for scrapbooking and other craft applications. A spoon can stand in for the brayer.
Piece of Glass
Ink is poured onto a piece of glass, and then the brayer is rolled over it. This transfers the ink to the brayer. An old picture frame can work well for this.
Paper or fabric
Your design must be printed on something, right?
The baren is a disk like device with a flat bottom and on the reverse side, a knotted handle. The baren is used to burnish (firmly rub) the paper to pick up ink that has been rolled onto a wood. linoleum, or hobby foam cut. You can also use a wooden spoon, soup spoon or even a rolling pin for this.
Carbon paper
Optional item for transferring traced images to the linoleum
Paper towels
For cleaning up!


Write a paragraph on the principles of design and lettering as applied to block printing.

The most confusing aspect of block printing letters is that the letters must be carved into the block as a mirror-image. When the block is pressed to the paper, the image will be reversed, and the letter will look proper. The saying "watch your p's and q's" comes from the fact that a p looks like a q, and a q looks like a p when viewing the type (whether movable type, or letters carved into a block).

The design to be printed must be carved into the block, or more specifically, the negative part of the design must be carved out. In other words, every part of the design that you wish to appear in the final product must be left intact in the block. Everything that you wish to not appear in the final product must be carved out of the block.

For multi-color prints, you will need a block for each color. All the red parts of the design are left intact, and the non-red parts are carved away. Repeat for other colors. When printing, pay close attention to the block's registration - that is, that each color block is correctly lined up. Once an inked block touches the paper, it's too late to make an adjustment.

For your initial prints, it is best to avoid highly detailed designs. Start with one color, and use large shapes. As your skills improve, you may include greater and greater detail and incorporate multiple colors.


Using a potato, carve a design incorporating your initials into it, and use it to print your initials on paper.

Remember to reverse the letters and to put your first initial on the right side of the potato, and your last initial on the left.

First cut the potato in half. The cut must be straight, so use a large knife for this, and cut it with one smooth motion. Your initials will be carved into the freshly cut surface, so it needs to be as flat as possible.

Using a sharp knife (a paring knife, pocket knife, X-acto knife, etc...) mark out the letters. Make vertical incisions into the potato to mark out the boundaries of the letters. Once this is done, you can move in from the side and carve off the negative spaces. For spaces inside the letters (such as the middle portion of an A or an O you will need to angle the knife down and pop out a portion of the hole. Then try it again from the other side.

Once you have all of the negative space removed, roll some ink onto your potato and press it firmly to a sheet of paper. Do not move the potato once it touches the paper, except to press it more firmly into the paper, or to lift it straight off. Any side-to-side motion will smear the print.


Design and print at least one greeting card.

For this, we highly recommend that you use linoleum for the printing block. As you should well know from your experience with the previous requirement, potato printing leaves a lot to be desired.

Avoid the heavy use of lettering. Letters are hard, and you can write a note onto your greeting card once you have printed it. Images of trees, flowers, and animals on the other hand do not suffer from accidental image reversal as letters do. Long strings of text are also difficult to keep aligned.

Once you have chosen a design, follow these steps:

  1. Sand your piece of linoleum until it is smooth. Start with coarse grade sand paper (80 grit), follow that with finer grade (100 grit), and finally, use an even finer grade paper (120 grit).
  2. Draw your design on a piece of paper, and then transfer it to the piece of linoleum. If you draw the design in pencil, you may be able to transfer it by placing it face-down on the linoleum, and then tracing over the back, being sure to use plenty of pressure and covering every line, stroke, and dot. You can also draw your design directly onto the linoleum, but you must remember to draw it in reverse!
  3. Now you are ready to begin carving. Use a set of carving gouges for this, and always cut away from your hands and fingers. Do not cut too deeply. Remove all the negative space from the design, and be careful to leave the positive space intact. Once you cut it - it is gone.
  4. Once the linoleum has been carved, pour a small amount of ink onto the piece of glass. Then roll the brayer over the ink. Be sure to roll it in only one direction, not back and forth. If you roll it back and forth, you will not move the ink around. Instead, roll it forward, pick it up, pull it back towards yourself, and roll it forward again.
  5. Coat the linoleum with a thin layer of ink. Then coat it again. Several thin coats are better than one thick, gloppy coat.
  6. Place your blank greeting card (don't fold it until after it has been printed!) face up on your work surface. Then carefully place the inked surface of the block on it without moving it from side-to-side. Apply even pressure using the brayer, rolling pin, or the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to move the linoleum with respect to the paper at this point!
  7. Carefully lift the block from the paper and admire your results (or try again).


Design and print one bookplate or book cover.

Follow the procedure outlined in the previous requirement. A bookplate is a small piece of paper that is glued to the inside cover of a book to identify the owner. This obviously will require you to print some text, as that's the only way most of us write our names. A book cover should have the book's title as well as the author's name. It should be large enough to cover the outside of the book.


Going through the steps of designing, carving, and printing, create another original piece of work of your choice.

This could be a poster, another greeting card, another bookplate, another book cover, or whatever you would like to make. Repeating a carved pattern, while rotating it and/or changing the color can can create art work worth framing.

This requirement should be saved for last - it's your masterpiece!