(+44) 01562 60787 info@essdee.co.uk

Colour Mixing with Dave Hall

Hello Printmakers! I am Dave Hall, an artist based in Bristol specialising in lino block printing. My work is always bright, colourful and quirky and often influenced by my graphic design background.

Geomertic fan shap drawn in pencil on a piece of tracing paper

I work from a small home studio where storage space is at a premium and although I would love to have a spectrum of printing ink bottles at my fingertips, I have to be resourceful with my printmaking kit. Luckily, I haven’t met a colour yet which couldn’t be mixed with just five tubes of Essdee Block Printing Ink.

Years ago when I was pulling together my lino printing paraphernalia, I bought Essdee block printing ink in Black, White, Brilliant Red, Brilliant Yellow and Turquoise, fully expecting to purchase more colours once I was up and running. However, with some basic colour theory and plenty of ink-roller elbow grease I was able to mix every colour I needed from these five tubes, thus saving me money and shelf space. The only limitations are fluorescent or metallic colours, which are also available from Essdee.

Mixing your own colours from store-bought shades is an easy way to diversify your prints, making them more personal, unique and valuable. The beauty of lino block printing is the differences in texture and depth each print can deliver, so why not add an extra layer of individuality by using colours unique to you. You may even end up creating a signature colour scheme, which helps people identify a piece of work as yours.

Fan image being transferred from tracing paper onto softcut material

Here are my top tips for achieving an endless rainbow of colours from just a handful of Essdee Block Printing Inks.

Work Light-to-Dark

I always begin with the lighter or less dominant colour in my ink tray then very gradually add the stronger colour to reach the shade I need. For example, when using White and Brilliant Red to create Pink, I begin with a solid layer of white in my ink tray then add tiny dabs of Red with a paintbrush or pallet knife, fully blending the colours together with my roller until I reach the perfect shade.

Once you know the colour theory, don’t assume the ratio will be 50/50; some colour pigments can be very strong and it’s easier to add ink than to take it away.

Brush Up

Before you commit to using your ink roller, try mixing different combinations of ink with a paintbrush, using your ink tray like a painters pallet. A few minutes of experimentation will save you wasting ink on gloomy colours and you may come across a colour combination you hadn’t considered before. You can even create a colour reference chart to hang on your studio wall, which will help to remind you of all the possibilities you have at hand.

Lino cutter being used to carve edge of fan design

Swatch Test

Once block printing ink has fully dried, it can appear lighter and brighter than it did when you first removed your block from the paper. When you’re trying to work out your colour scheme, it is well worth letting swatches of the colours dry out on your chosen paper to get a true idea of how they will look. See how the colours stand out when they are printed side by side, overlaid or printed twice on the same spot. 

There a have been a few occasions when I went to bed disappointed with a print, only to be thrilled in the morning when I saw that the colours had dried much more vibrantly! 

Black fabric ink being rolled out in a white ink tray using a fabric roller

Keep Track

Once you have concocted the perfect shade of ink for your prints, make sure you take the time to write down your ‘recipe’ so you can create the same shade again later. Most of the time you won’t be using enough volume of ink to record the combination in grams or mililitres but just the list of colours will jog your memory;

Did you create that beautiful shade of purple with just Red, White and Blue? Or is there a dab of Black in there as well? Did you begin with a Pink and gradually add Blue? Or start with Dark Blue and gradually add White? Even the order you added your colours will have an effect on the outcome so it’s worth writing it down.

Black fabric ink being transferred onto fan design using a fabric roller

Stock Up

If you are producing a large edition of prints it might be worth mixing handy pots of all the colours you need before you begin. Keep a few small airtight containers in your studio for storing mixed colours and you won’t have to fret about colour matching your ink if you are unable to complete the print edition in one session. Any excess ink can be stored or adjusted by adding new colours for your next design.


Experiment with different papers

There is no need to stick to white cartridge paper when block printing and you can achieve brilliant results on all kinds of colours, textures and weights of paper. An ink colour that appears dull on white paper could look amazing in contrast against a coloured paper background.

My own favourite material to print on is brown recycled kraft paper. Essdee ink colours appear really rich and vivid against the muted brown and each sheet has it’s own details and character. Old maps, sheet music or newspaper text will add a unique depth to your printmaking and the upcycle is friendly to the environment. Coloured inks look great against black cartridge paper too, but you may need to print your image in pure white ink first then layer over the top with the coloured print.

Fan image printed in black onto paper next to mastercut stamp

You can find my work on Instagram page “davehallprintmaking” and also my Facebook group “Dave Hall Printmaking”. Facebook is also the best place to hear if I’m involved in any local exhibitions.  I also have an Etsy shop (DaveHallPrintmaking on Etsy).

Image credit: Photographs Dave Hall


Created something beautiful? Tag us @essdee_uk or use #essdee for a featured post on our Instagram page!


Got 5 minutes? Have a read of one of our other blogs for more inspiration!