Like all designers I absolutely love typography, so when I started linocutting I was eager to create myself some linocut letters and numbers to print with. The perfect excuse came when I had to create table numbers for the reception at my wedding.
I spent a few hours researching and carefully drawing out the numbers before spending a few more hours cutting them carefully out. Now imaging my frustration and disappointment when I printed them and realised that all my hard work would need to be redone. Why? Because when you carve letters and numbers you need to carve them in a mirrored (reversed) reflection of themselves! All the numbers I had carved (except 8 and 0) printed the wrong way around. Doh!?
This principle is true of all lino printing but at no time is it more important to remember than when printing something that somebody needs to read. To most people this is surely quite obvious, but I am amazed (and relieved) to find that I am not the only person that has made this mistake, so I wanted to write this quick post to save a few of you out there from following in my footsteps.
The plus side to my error was that all I had to do was then print my incorrectly cut letters onto a new piece of linoleum, and once the ink had dried I had a perfect template for the mirrored letterforms I needed. I quickly cut these out and printed them in a beautiful gold ink for the table plans. They looked fantastic and brought another great hand made and personal touch to the big day.
However, if you don’t want to do it the way I did, there are plenty of better ways to draw reversed type onto lino before cutting it out.
Tracing Paper and Carbon Transfer Paper
Using some transparent tracing paper or opaque layout paper draw your text out how you want it to appear on your design. You can draw this out in the normal manner, and don’t have to worry about mirror writing (which can really tax the brain believe me!). Once your design is ready lay a sheet of carbon paper over a sheet of fresh lino and then lay your tracing/layout paper with the text you’ve designed face down on top. This will essentially give you a mirrored lettering template you can transfer to the lino. Fasten the carbon paper and the tracing paper with the text down so it can’t move about and then trace over the lettering, following the lines as closely as you can from your initial design. This will transfer the design onto the lino, and when you peel back the layers you should have a perfect template to carve out with your lino cutting tools. Nice work!
Reverse letters in Photoshop
This technique can be great if you have access to photoshop or illustrator and you really want to be quite precise with your composition. Essentially all you have to do is create a file that has the right proportions to what you want to print, set out your typographic arrangement and when you are happy, flatten the layers and flip the arrangement horizontally. Then you print the composition and transfer it onto the lino in the same way as I described above using a sheet of carbon transfer paper, carefully tracing around the edges of the letters so that as you push down, the carbon on the carbon tracing paper is transferred onto the sheet of lino.
So there you have it, get yourself into linocut letters and numbers, they’re great fun and make you look like a linocut Jedi master! I hope you enjoy experimenting with your own linocut and lino printing typographic projects!