Block Printing on Fabric (Pt.1): Linoleum vs. Rubber Blocks

When I first started experimenting with block printing many years ago, I remember being really overwhelmed walking into the art store to pick up some quick supplies. The aisles were stocked from top to bottom with colored bottles, pads of paper, brushes, markers, and 1,000 different types of pens.

The printmaking section was sparingly stocked, but I ended up leaving that day with a set of carving tools (which I later found out were made for carving wood) and one small linoleum block.

Since that first experience I've done a ton more printing, but it took a while to figure out which were the best types of blocks, inks, and other supplies to use to get the exact look I was after.

I get a lot of questions about what exact supplies to use, so I put together a 2 part guide comparing the different types of block printing blocks and also the different types of fabric inks out there.

If you have been wanting to try out block printing on fabric at home, this guide will get you started on picking out the right supplies for whatever project you decide to try.

Download Your Block Printing Resources List!

A list of every tool you'll need for creating beautiful block printed fabric <3

So here it is! Part 1 of the Block Printing on Fabric Guide <3



Part 1: Linoleum Blocks vs. Rubber Blocks

Before I get started, I just want to mention that although I have used a lot of these materials extensively and have my own unique process, there are no right or wrong ways to go about printmaking. So feel free to experiment! 


Let's start out with the basics. This is your average linoleum block printing 'block':

Linoleum block for block printing at home

Speedball brand blocks are the most common brand you'll probably see around when you start hunting for supplies (whether it's rubber or linoleum). You may see some that are grey as well. Here's some that I had on hand in my studio -

Linoleum blocks for block printing at home on fabric

Obviously the brown block has been carved and used for printing already, but it's a good example of what it will look like once you get there. You can also see what the grey block looks like. 

Linoleum block printing blocks for printing on fabric at homeFrom the side, you can see that the linoleum only makes up a tiny part of the block. The rest consists of a thick particle board that stabilizes the linoleum and keeps it from bending or snapping.

You may also come across another type of linoleum block that looks like just the linoleum minus the particle board and looks like this-

Linoleum block printing for fabric at home
Again, this could be grey or the same brown color as the other blocks. There's no difference between the colors. These thinner blocks have a jute backing that helps keep them from snapping so easily (although they still can), but one nice thing about these blocks is that you can cut into them for trimming purposes.

So here are some things to think about when you're working with LINOLEUM:

Linoleum is hard. Like literally.

It's super dense to the point where it's difficult to push your fingernails in and make a dent. This means that when you're carving, your hand is going to get tired and you'll probably have to take breaks on larger projects.

This mostly sucks, but the good thing about that is that because it's so dense, you can get really detailed and refined lines.

Linoleum takes longer to carve

Because it's more dense, you'll find that carving linoleum vs. rubber blocks will take you much longer. Once I carved a design in linoleum that took me 8 hours. Then I carved the same design twice as large, but in rubber. That also took me 8 hours. So you can safely say that linoleum block carving will be much more time consuming.

Linoleum blocks = oil based inks

This one is subjective, but I only use oil based inks on linoleum blocks. You can use water based inks with linoleum, but I haven't had much luck with it. I'll get more detailed about ink later in Part 2.

Ok, now moving on to.....



Rubber blocks come in various colors, but most of them carve the same. You may come across blocks that look like any of these:

Block printing on fabric rubber blocks


I've seen them in blue, pink, grey, and off-white. The blue tends to be more crumbly than other blocks so I usually avoid it.  I prefer the grey and the pink blocks because they are the smoothest, so try and find those if you can. In general though, they all work the same.

Here are some things to think about when you're working with RUBBER: 

Rubber blocks are super soft & bendy

These blocks are super easy and quick to carve. My students have consistently used the word "therapeutic" to describe the act of carving which is a lot more than I can say for carving linoleum blocks!

Rubber blocks can be easily trimmed and cut

Since they are so soft, it's easy to grab a pair of scissors when you're done carving to trim off excess rubber. If you have a piece of mounted linoleum you won't have that luxury and risk excess paint getting on your fabric.

Rubber blocks = water based inks

Again, this one is subjective, but I only use water based inks on rubber blocks. Water based inks are extremely easy to work with and even easier to clean up.


So, which is better?


Well, the annoyingly short answer depends.

You'll have to ask yourself a few questions to start:

What are you printing on?

If you know that then you can just work backwards. 

Paper > Oil > Linoleum

Fabric > Water > Rubber

For example:

  • If you wanted to print some art for your wall onto paper, you would use linoleum blocks and oil based ink.

  • If you wanted to print a set of dishtowels for a gift, you'd use rubber blocks and water based ink on your fabric.

Or, feel free to mix those around, these are just what I've found to be the best combinations in my experience. 

How detailed is your block?

If there are a lot of fine lines then you may be better off with linoleum, even though it's more difficult and time consuming. Creating super detailed designs in rubber can be frustrating if you're not experienced. 


Whatever block you choose, it all depends on your pattern and what you'll be printing on. Once you try working with both types of blocks you'll probably know right away which you like better, so when in doubt, give both a test run!

In general, I prefer using rubber blocks even though it can be difficult for details because it's quick and easy, I can use water based inks, and there's less pressure if I screw something up because I can start over again relatively easily (not that that has EVER happened ;) )


Read Part 2 Here!



Download Your Block Printing Resources List!

A list of every tool you'll need for creating beautiful block printed fabric <3