There are a lot of linocut tools available for the budding linocut printmaker, and few are as important as the humble ink roller, or brayer as they are also referred as. Like many tools available in the market I’ve found that there are some great ink rollers you can purchase for your lino printing kit, and there are also some distinctly less worthy tools. It’s not unsafe to assume that you get what you pay for, so if you go for a cheap option you’ll soon enough find yourself looking for a better solution. So look no further friends, here is my round up of the rollers I’ve tried and tested.
Linocut Ink Rollers (or brayers)
Ink rollers come in a variety of sizes. There are two key dimensions to pay attention to; 1.) The width of the roller and 2.) the circumference of the roller. The width is important because ideally you want a roller that is a little bit wider than your linocut design. This means that it’s easier to get a good coverage of ink applied to your block when you come to print. Circumference is important because this determines the length of ink you can roll out. For instance if you have a 1.25 inch diameter roller with a lovely even covering of ink applied to it, you could roll that out for 3.75 inches without the same part of the roller touching the block twice. I like to use a roller with a 2 inch diameter, although if I could have a bigger one I would!
The roller itself is typically made of rubber or some synthetic substitute (like polyurethane) and they come in hard or soft rubber options. The softer the surface, the more it will mould around the edges cut into your linocut block when you roll the ink on – so you don’t want a really soft rubber. Equally, you don’t want a really hard one either as this will roll over any small imperfections you actually want to apply ink to. Like all things I’d recommend you try and find an option that suits your particular style and ways of working best, but personally I like a roller with a substrate somewhere in the middle.
Cheap Plastic Red Handle Ink Rollers
These are available everywhere and they are probably the first roller you bought when you were getting your printmaking kit together. Personally I don’t like them, the build quality is poor, the rubber on the roller is too hard and the diameter is consistently too small – typically around 1.25 inch. This means that unless you are doing very small work, you will spend a lot of time reapplying ink to the roller and then transferring that again and again to the block. This means you risk not applying a consistent layer of ink which can be painfully apparent only after you’ve pulled back the paper to reveal your print. They also feel like if you apply a moderate amount of downward force when rolling the ink onto the block, they will buckle and break.
These are cheap and cheerful, they come in loads of sizes and are freely available almost everywhere you care to look. They are good for a beginner not wanting to over-invest on start-up costs but if you are a serious printmaker or just enjoy using good tools then don’t waste your time with these.
Japanese Ink Rollers
I quickly moved to using Japanese Rollers for printing my linocut artwork. Like a lot of the printing tools and materials available, Japanese ink rollers are superior in quality and manufacture but they do come at a higher cost. There are soft and hard rubber rollers available in a variety of sizes. It’s good to have a few sizes available in your tool kit but it’s better to go slightly larger than you need in my view if you are limited on funds or space to store your kit. The rollers are available in 30mm, 100mm, 165mm & 215mm width variants.
The japanese rollers also come in soft and hard versions, I use the hard versions which seem to have a terracotta red/brown colour to the rubber roller. The soft rollers are black (I think). The hard rubber rollers are not as hard as the plastic red handled versions described in the section above and the depth of the rubber layer is a lot thicker which I think may also account for them not feeling as hard – this extra depth allows for a certain amount of give when applying ink to your design.
The roller is screwed onto the handle via a thread which means you can take them apart to clean them and also replace the rubber roller if/when you need to.
I got my Japanese ink rollers from my local printmaker supply shop, Intaglio Printmakers, who have a really wide selection. You can order them online here: http://intaglioprintmaker.com/category/japanese-hard-rubber-rollers