If you are familiar with traditional lino prints you may like to extend your pritnmaking by exploring lino etching. This is a fascinating technique combining etching with traditional lino prints.

Making etched lino printing plates involves removing areas of the surface of the lino with caustic soda. Sounds simple? As always there are loads of different ways to do it….

This post is about using stop-out varnish as a resist with a caustic soda etch to create textured lino plates for printing as either relief or intaglio.

lino plate with caustic soda on it

Have you tried lino etching yet?

This is such an exciting technique with so many possibilities. You can see a body of work I made on the theme ’walking’, all created with etched lino plates in the Projects section of the gallery here. Making all the blocks, prints and cards was an intense time working with etched lino and I became quite passionate about it.

Lino etching takes a bit of trial and error but when you get everything in balance it is a wonderful technique. I have been corresponding with David about it, and he captures the pain and pleasure of the technique really well in an email he sent me.

I like the heart-felt way he describes the process of getting to grips with lino etching. I found his message really inspiring and wanted to share it with you fellow printmakers;


“Finally, I got the natural linoleum. I´m from Bogotá, Colombia, and here it is hard to find. In the art stores they sell the synthetic. I just found the natural one in an architectural exports store. And even there, they didn’t know if the linoleum would be affected by the caustic soda. I bought a piece following the instructions, and seeing it has the coarse fabric, the hessian in its back side. I need to use sandpaper to remove some protection and the caustic really works.

Some thought I had during the process, after all the problems, and a lot of despair is that finally getting the desired result, I felt a bit more artist, a bit more engraver, a bit more teacher and finally a bit more human. It teached me a lot of about life and me.”

Explore more possibilities with lino etching

Lino etching will encourage you to experiment, loosen up and go with the flow. You can plan your print up to a point but you also need to trust the process, be open to new discoveries, and prepared to change and adapt your design as the process unfolds.

I have done a few other posts on different aspects of lino etching; for a general introdution to it have a look at the lino etching post, and also using tape to mask the lino plate before etching it.

I also found an interesting article on Kate Watkins blog about etching lino with Steve Edwards. You can see some of his work on the post about other artists working with etched lino.

What is stop-out varnish?

Stopping out means finding ways to stop the caustic mix reaching the lino.  Stop-out varnish is a very effective method. It is a quick drying acid resistant varnish, usually used when etching metal plates. Plates are covered with varnish to prevent the acid reaching the metal and eating away the surface. Areas with no varnish will be etched when the metal plate is submerged in the acid bath, while the surface that is protected by varnish will stay smooth and shiny as the acid can’t reach it.

The image shows stop out varnish on the lino after it has been etched.

two different bottles of stop-out varnish

We are going to loook at two types of stop-out varnish, and also vaseline.

1. Lascaux stop out resist – blue colour
This is an acrylic based ‘safe etching’ product. Clean up with soap and water. Here is the technical data sheet for those of you who want more details; Technical info on Lascaux stop out.

2. Traditional stopping out varnish
This brown varnish is petroleum based, and clean-up is with white spirit. Here is the technical data sheet for those of you who want more details; Stop out tech data


Lascaux stop-out resist

Lascaux bright blue stop-out is quite thick straight from the pot, you can thin it with water if needed, but this means the caustic soda will etch through it faster.

It makes bold graphic lines when painted on with a brush directly from the pot. In this image I traced the design onto the lino and painted the stop-out on.

(The background here is painted with brown stop-out.)

lino painted with Lascaux stop-out resist
design scratched into the stop-out resist and printed in relief

As well as painting a design on the lino, you can use the traditional etching method of covering the plate with stop-out, then scratching areas off. In this test piece I used   drypoint tools, and also a soldering iron to melt throught the stop-out before etching it. The image on the right hand side is a relief print taken after etching the plate.

This stop-out stands up very well to the caustic etch if you get it on fairly thick. The etch started to bite through after about an hour – this gave an interesting layered effect which could be explored further.

Remove the Lascaux stop-out when it is still wet with soap and water, but once dry it doesn’t come off. (I think it needs a special remover which I don’t have)

At first this concerned me, but In fact this worked well as it made the surface of the lino shiny so it took relief ink very well and wiped back to bright white in an intaglio process.

This image shows the blue stop-out left on the lino after etching.

Print as either relief or intaglio

Relief printing is the usual method to use for lino. Ink is rolled on the top surface and the recessed areas remain white. The face on the left was printed like htis, the ink also shows the rough texture of the etched lino.

 With intaglio inking (the face on the right hand side) the whole plate is covered in ink and it is wiped off the raised or smooth areas. The rough surface of the etched lino holds lots of ink, and the smooth blue lines are wiped clean of ink so they print as light areas against a dark ground.

etched lino print in relief and intaglio

Traditional Stop-out Varnish

etched lino print with brown stop-out showing crackle

I had a lovely surprise with this stop-out when it crazed on the lino and made lots of fine lines. Presumably this was due to the lino stretching and shrinking during the etching process.

My first test piece had a great result, but when I tried to do it deliberately it was not so dramatic, (isn’t that always the way?) possibly due to using a small piece of lino for the test and bigger sheet for second one so it was more stable. You may need to deliberately manipulate the lino by heating and chilling it to get this cracked effect.

The example here was printed with the stop out left intact on the lino. It took some scrubbing with fine wire wool and white spirit to get it off though. I think it is fine to leave it on – it tends to gradually wear off during the inking up process anyway. 

Where do you get stop-out varnish from?

Most big art suppliers stock it, I got mine from Jacksons on line. I noticed that Steve Edwards reccommends bitumen paint, I’ve not tried this yet, but there is some in the shed so that will be next! Get this from Diy stores or builders merchants.


Vaseline with stop-out varnish

This is a brilliant stop out for lino etching, although not so controllable as the varnishes – it seems to reliably block the etch for a long time, and can be scratched/scraped into to reveal interesting lines. The only difficulty is that it remains soft so you must ‘blob’ the etch on gently so as not to smudge it.

stop-out patterns stamped on lino printing plate before etching

I had the idea of mixing Vaseline with the brown stop out to make the varnish thicker and the Vaseline a bit firmer. The mix was about 50/50. I used this like block printing ink and stamped patterns onto the lino using the end of a pipe and edge of card.

I left it overnight before etching it to make sure it was as set as possible. The texture was quite robust and it did not smudge when painting on the caustic soda mix so it definitely worth doing.

The picture shows the lino plate before etching, with blue stop out lines, brown stop-out with lines scratched off, and stamped patterns with the vaseline and brown stop-out mix.


Keep on printing!

As David has already said, the technique needs a bit of practice and its a good idea to plan to do several small test pieces to discover what works for you, before embarking on a big print.

If you decide to explore the world of etched lino I can guarantee that stop-out varnish will be in your tool kit. I hope you will have many happy of creative experimentation with it.

'Walk', big etched Lino print